On Friday morning, February 15, the patrons at Krakatoa café in Golden Hill sipped on blood red pomegranate tea and poked at laptops. They repositioned patio chairs to allow the sun’s rays to land on their skin.
At 11:30, 43-year-old Scott Nelson, a.k.a. Murrugun the Mystic, emerged from the shadows. His chest-length, freshly dyed burgundy hair contrasted with his black attire.
“I heard that you’re a part of the underwater sword-swallowing club now!” said an older, wrinkled gentleman to Nelson as he walked by. Plumes of white cigarette smoke issued from the man’s mouth and nose.
“Yeah, and I almost drowned myself,” Nelson responded. “Look in my eyes. You know I don’t scare easy. I was scared. Water is the ultimate torture.” Then he let out a loud, intense cackle.
Nelson turned his attention away from his acquaintance. There was no sign of fear in his eyes.
He took a sip of hot tea from a large green mug before picking out a cigarette from the pocket of his jeans. In the full sunlight, his face appeared weathered and aged. He looked like a circus sideshow version of actor Willem Dafoe. Dark blue bruises from puncture wounds were visible on his pale and lean left bicep. It was safe to assume that the rest of his body had many similar wounds. He smoked his cigarette and laid out tentative plans for his act at Lestat’s Coffee House later that night.
On the agenda for his first full show in over a year: swallowing string and cutting it out from the side of his body with a scalpel, hammering a five-inch-long nail into his nasal cavity, blowing fire from his mouth and his nose, piercing his skin with 14-gauge wire, and swallowing a handful of swords at one time.
Nelson, a San Diego native, spent his first 12 years in Normal Heights, performing magic acts in his back yard for neighborhood kids. It wasn’t until his family moved to Bonita in 1978 that he finally had enough space and privacy to perform stunts such as breathing fire. The fire breathing didn’t take him far at first. Nelson dropped out of high school at 17 and devoted his time to his guitar and bass while working construction.
He performed stunts at bars and for friends. “Probably by, like, ’91 or ’92, I had a piercing put in my tongue. You know, no one really had one then. I would take out my piercing and go to bars and stick stuff through the hole. I made money doing it, so it was cool. Then one day my girlfriend at the time bet me that I couldn’t sniff a condom through my nose and pull it out of my mouth — you know, just some random $20 bet. I did it and started going to bars and doing it.”
Nelson’s unique talents remained in the category of stupid party tricks until 2002, when a local musician, the late Bernard Seigal, better known as Buddy Blue, invited him onstage to perform while the Buddy Blue Band played.
“He gave me a wad of money to go up and gross everyone out. I remember it was at the old Catamaran, and I got up and made half of the whole crowd leave. The best thing was, he didn’t care that everyone left.” Nelson let out a guttural smoker’s laugh.
In 2003, he landed a spot on a late-night Las Vegas show called Shock, substituting for former Jim Rose Circus Sideshow performer Zamora the Torture King. Shortly after, Nelson was invited to perform alongside the Bros. Grim Side Show on the Vans Warped Tour. “It was good. That’s when I sold all my music equipment and stopped torturing myself trying to play music and just started torturing myself.”
After screeching out of the Krakatoa’s parking lot in his dented Nissan pickup truck, Nelson went to gather gear for the show, stored in his grandfather’s small, cluttered garage. Old, dismantled Flying V guitars sat next to coffin-shaped guitar cases. He rummaged through bags in an excited, disorganized manner. He set aside dusty swords that later would find their way down his throat and paused while concentrating on collecting the other items needed for the performance.
At 10:30 p.m. in the side room next door to Lestat’s, dressed in colorful striped pants and a velvet vest, pink and purple sashes tied around his thin frame, Murrugun the Mystic appeared on the plywood stage in front of the 80-plus in attendance.
For his first stunt, the yogi floss, Murrugun swallowed a ten-foot-long piece of string. Grabbing a scalpel and hemostats, he made a small incision near his waist. He grimaced as he fished around inside his flesh until he came out with one end of the string; then he walked around the audience as he pulled it inch by inch from his body.
He went on to hammer a nail straight up his nasal cavity, pull a condom from his nose to his mouth, breath fire, break a cinder block on his chest while lying on a bed of swords, and pierce his body with 14-gauge wire.
Nelson’s mother, Helen Nelson, sat in the front row. Although she winced from act to act, she supports her son’s direction. “I actually get a kick out of what Scott does — he is entertaining, outgoing, and really enjoys what he does. I got used to it. As he grew up, the stunts got more extreme, but by then I grew with them.”
The toughest act for her to watch was the one in which he pierced his bicep, side, and forearm, and the area under his chin with 14-gauge wire. “As a kid, Scott used to hate needles,” she said. “He used to have tonsillitis and have to get shots. He hated them, and now look at him. I don’t get it!”
For the grand finale, Murrugun attempted to swallow six double-edged swords at one time, two more than his previous best. As he spent a few minutes stacking the swords, members of the audience tried to dissuade him, yelling, “Just do four!” Nelson didn’t listen. He gripped the swords together, took a deep breath, then hoisted them into his mouth and let go as they slid down his throat.
To end the performance, he invited people to staple money onto his body. A long line quickly formed, and at the end of the show, Murrugun the Mystic left the stage with $20s stapled to his forehead, $10s on his chest, and dollar bills on his stomach.
The hour-long show was hard to watch for reasons other than the sheer brutality. There were many silent pauses and an obvious disorganization. Nelson’s trips back and forth to the green room and his breaks to smoke broke the show’s intensity. But according to Nelson, that’s exactly how he likes it. “I can’t get stressed out about organization. When I’m up there, I kind of change my mind. There’ll be stuff that I put on a list and then change because of the audience or the way I feel. Yeah, the show was a little loose, but I just got off of doing the exact opposite for the Warped Tour, so it’s nice for me to relax up there and go back and forth with the audience.”
A few days later, Nelson’s only wounds from the performance were the small red dots from the staples. He said his worst injury of the night came from breathing fire. “That night after the show, I had white blisters on the inside of my lips, but by the next morning they were all healed.”
He owes his ability to withstand pain to his grandfather, James Dickes, who taught Nelson meditation and relaxation at an early age. “He taught me metaphysics when I was 10 or 11 because I was some wild kid who never settled down. I use it now. It’s kind of like partial hypnosis or self-entrancement.”
Nelson has little time for relaxation. He has recently been invited to perform in Istanbul for a Turkish television program, and he will be on Dave Navarro’s maniaTV Internet television program in late March.
Locally, Nelson is planning another show at Lestat’s Coffee House sometime in April and is involved in starting up a 12-person sideshow/circus group called Zirk Ubu.
Updated events can be found on Nelson’s MySpace website, myspace.com/murrugun.