Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Max and Minch and Protocols - oh my!

The cat's out of the bag regarding the contents of Max Maven's book The Protocols of the Elders of Magic (a title I still find a wee distasteful).

Bloggers everywhere (not here) have revealed it, and Jamy Ian Swiss spilled the beans in his review in the December issue of Genii.

I still have to wonder: Would the book have sold out - especially prior to release - if people knew what they were buying?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Well, it sounded good in theory...

Magic theory. Not an exact science. Yet get a few (serious) magicians together and they'll hash and rehash the reasons behind the success or failure of various ventures, deconstruct endless routines, and spout bon mots from their favorite authors.

So where does theory meet practice? Do I discard theory altogether? Is Henning Nelms hopelessly out of date? Does Tommy Wonder's advice only work for him?

It comes down to this: magic is applied psychology. And psychology is neither a hard science nor an exact science. It's constantly being refined as we better understand ourselves and as the dynamics of human interactions change.

So it means that magic theory, like any theory, must be tested. If we really want to get our ducks in a row we ought to change our language. Things fairly well tested are theories. Relativity. Evolution (oops, going to catch some flak for that...). Spectators tend to focus on things that move rather than things that sit still, in the absence of other stimuli.

Those things not yet satisfactorily borne out by practice are postulates, not yet theories. Red cards are better than blue (or vice versa). One should never (or always) write one's own magic script. You shouldn't do card tricks for kids.

Why worry about magic theory at all? Because it can save a lot of time - otherwise each routine, each move, each line has to be developed in vacuo, with nothing to inform as to it's value other than empirical testing. That would be fun, wouldn't it - having to do market research on every facet of a routine before it became audience-ready? Also, understanding your personal theoretical underpinnings will help you develop as a magician. You'll know your foundation and will have that foundation to build against.

Monday, November 14, 2005

It was bad, but at least nobody watched

The latest Penn & Teller special (Off the Deep End) looked, from my point of view, to be a carbon copy of everything they've been railing against for years.

And to think I used to respect them.

The good news? They tanked (no pun intended) in the ratings.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

So why do I keep coming back...

...if magic and magicians suck as hard as I say they do?

Good question.

A couple of reasons, I think. The first sounds a bit like a Zen koan. I was in bitch mode one time, threatening to quit the whole magic mess, when an acquaintance hit me with these words: "You can't quit. You didn't choose magic. It chose you." I haven't heard from that acquaintance for a number of years but I have pondered those words often since he spoke them to me a couple of decades ago.

The other reason can be summed up in a song lyric that I'll get to in a minute. There are dilettantes in magic, and dumb shits, and dickheads, but some of my closest friends and some of my finest hours have been due to magic and magicians - it's just easier sometimes, when life seems to be a little rougher than you'd wish, to write about the bad stuff. Oh, that lyric?

The moon has a face

And it smiles on the lake

And causes the ripples in Time

I'm lucky to be here

With someone I like

Who maketh my spirit to shine

Those who know me will know the artist. Those who don't can use a good search engine (I recommend vivisimo). And if you think the lyric refers to you, it probably does.

Speaking of which, if you're interested in learning more about magic, you might go here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


I want magic to be more of a mainstream art. I don't want it to be a diversion, something "for the kiddies," a placeholder between the eating of the cake and the opening of the gifts. When people speak of great artists I'd like Cardini to be discussed along with Nureyev and Shakespeare and Monet and Enrico Caruso.

Then again, I'd love for horror fiction to not be considered "genre" fiction, and for good horror writers to be discussed as good writers, not as good "in their field". And when I played table tennis I longed for the day when people considered it a real sport and not just some genteel parlor recreation. I'd recite the facts about how a table tennis match provides the same aerobic exercise as a three mile race but you'd only get bored and it wouldn't change your mind anyway.

The point of all this? I'm not sure there is one, except that maybe I'm involved in so many fringe pursuits that I don't fit in anywhere. I'm a minority of one. This isn't always something to celebrate if one is looking for connections.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Magic sucks

A secondhand story, but from two sources, both of whom I consider reliable:

The setting: The local magic club meeting
The cast: The club regulars, along with a couple of visitors
The plot: Secrets may be revealed to people who are (gasp!) not club members, sending some into a tizzy
The theme: magicians are idiots

So there were visitors at the local magic club this particular night. Not an issue, right? You'd think not, but we're not dealing with reasonable people here - we're dealing with magicians. Any intersection between magicians and common sense is purely coincidental, and if you're concerned, don't be. The union won't last long.

During one of the segments anyone who signed up was to perform, then teach, a trick. None of the tricks were earth-shattering. None were proprietary. In fact, all of the effects taught that night are available for free in books at my local library.

And the visitors...Were they just people who wandered in off the street? Were they hooligans who somehow crashed this exclusive magicians soiree? Nope, they were recent graduates of a magic camp who had been told about this 'wonderful' club by the proprietors of the camp.

I'm betting you're getting ahead of me at this point. Anyway, the time comes to teach these ever-so-valuable secrets and a hue and cry goes up: we must not allow the visitors to stay while we exhibit our superior knowledge! A debate ensues. After much haranguing and hair-pulling it is decided that perhaps, just this once, these neophytes can be allowed a peek behind the curtain.


They had already demonstrated an interest in magic by graduating from the magic camp, and by seeking out the club. And the difference between those deemed worthy to learn these deep, dark secrets and those doomed to ignorance? Fifteen dollars. That's right. No test, no initiation, no apprenticeship. Hand me your check and we ain't got no problem.

There are those in magic who have a slavish devotion to keeping the secrets of magic, well, secret. Unfortunately they often do this blindly, never looking to see if what they are doing is causing a greater harm.

If I were among those visitors that night I would have grabbed my wallet, headed toward the door, and bid those creepy magicians a fond farewell, letting them keep their 'secrets' as I went off and learned magic.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Carry On, Wayward Son

Ah, but can life ever return to normal? And what is "normal"? And why do I post way past my bedtime so you have to read this unintelligible drivel?

I've found it hard to settle back into any sort of rhythm lately, and to get excited about magic. I mean, who cares? Card tricks. Bleh. In the grand scheme, it's nothing. That's the thing about performance art anyway -- by it's very nature it's ephemeral. Writers can create things that last at least hundreds of years. Ditto painters and sculptors. But once a dancer or an actor or a magician is done, his or her creation is gone, less than a puff of smoke, no more impression than a shadow.

Great performance artists at least can leave memories. Magicians are still talking about Hofzinser (but, to prove my point, ask 1000 members of the general public who he was...), Lionel Barrymore's name still comes up in acting circles, jugglers still talk about Enrico Rastelli and singers still mention Jenny Lind. But who am I kiddin'? I never was a great performance artist. I'd have to work hard to scratch my way up to mediocre. I'm not even good in my circle of performance acquaintances. So why care? Why keep it up? Why get excited?

Maybe it's just the circumstances -- all that's happened recently, and the fact that I'm posting this way past my bedtime in a quiet apartment after a tough day at work. Or maybe it really doesn't matter any more and I need to find something to do with the shelves full of magic books and the decks of cards and the half dollars that nobody else but magic nerds carry. There's always eBay.


Monday, September 05, 2005

ob-la-di ob-la-da life goes on

I haven't post much or done much magic recently, even though I have some new (and old) goodies I haven't really touched. My brother's death has affected me more than I want to admit. But life goes on for the rest of us and I don't want to get caught in a spiral of gloom and doom.

(Side note: Hi, Kigali!)

Old and new items I'll be working on and/or reviewing in the near future include Barrie Richardson's Act Two, Daniel Garcia's Torn DVD, and a couple of tricks: "Sideswiped" by Simon Aronson and Ton Onosaka's "Bicycle Built For Five."

If you have any words of wisdom to help me through these tough times either email me or leave them as comments.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005


My brother was cremated today. I don't think he expressed a preference so my youngest brother made the decision. He seems partial to cremation, for reasons we will not explore. None of us are particularly religious (some of us less particularly than others...) so there was no formal service.

There are loose plans to gather some time in the future and either reminisce or curse him soundly, depending on the mood of the day and the amount of alcohol involved. I'm in the midst of an internal debate as to whether I'd attend such a gathering.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A waste

One of my younger brothers died yesterday. He took his own life. Apparently he hooked a hose to the tailpipe of his cab, ran it through the driver's side window and met oblivion. If he arranged it like he did the rest of his life there were probably drugs involved.

I don't believe in God, Jesus, life after death or that Jonathan Edward is anything other than a slimeball scam artist who takes advantage of people at their most vulnerable, so I don't think he's in "a better place." I think he's dead. Gone. Finis. Kaput.

People tell me I'm smart. He had an IQ that was off scale. Drugs took care of that, not by decreasing his intelligence per se but by killing his motivation. He stopped breathing yesterday but he effectively died a long time ago.

Anyone who says marijuana is harmless is going to get a fierce argument from me. In fact, who I'd really like the argument to be with is my brother. I'll take whoever says that and put them in the coffin with his decomposing corpse. They can tell him how harmless it is.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Caving in to pressure

Just for my favorite niece, I've opened up comments on the blog. What can I say? I have a weakness for cuteness.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I never thought this tunnel would be so long

I'm on a couple of magic message boards. On several of them people have complained about the Criss Angel (or "Chris", or "Cris" or "Angle") specials because on several of them - the helicopter fishhook suspension, for example - he does things that aren't magic.


Darren Romeo sings in his magic act. Should we criticize him? Goldfinger and Dove dance. Is that wrong? Arguably the most famous name in magic, Houdini, mostly did escapes, not magic.

I would also bet that most of the people offering up the criticism of Criss/Cris/Chris Angel/Angle also do the odd balloon animal or bit of juggling. But again, it's always the other guy that's wrong, isn't it?

I found some things I didn't care for on the two Krissss Anjul shows I watched, but bashing him because he did things that weren't magic? Come on. He didn't sign a pact with you, me or anyone that said, "I will do magician's tricks and only magician's tricks, so help me [insert your favorite demon here]."

Shows with only one thematic element have no texture. Fault Mr. Ainchel for many things, but at least he has vision.

It astounds me that in a pursuit that should attract creative types and stimulate the mind as much as magic should, that so many of us suffer from constipation of the imagination.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Tunnel vision, pt. 2

Many magicians (and I'm being generous with the term...) bemoan magic's standing among the arts. They want it to be taken as seriously as film or writing or dance or music. Ask them to quit wearing the same tuxedo they've been wearing for 25 years, though, and using the same stolen lines they've been using even longer, and you'll get variations on, "But the audience loves me!" It's always the other guy who is holding magic back. Me, I'm doing the classics.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Tunnel vision

I'm about a fourth of the way through the latest Harry Potter book. I'm a fan: I think Ms. Rowling's a good writer who deserves all the perks that have come her way. I'm hesitant to jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon vis a vis magic routining, though. Because that's what it is - a bandwagon.

Magicians have tunnel vision when it comes to putting together magic routines. They do magic about magic. Our "stories" are about finding cards or producing birds or pulling middles out of vacuously smiling girls because, well, because we can.

Every now and then someone gets "creative" and notices that the Harry Potter books and movies have the word "magic" in them, so there must be a tie-in to that stuff we do. So the next time that ever-so-creative individual does a mathematical card trick he doesn't call them cards, he calls them house-elves and poof! a new routine is born! (The really creative ones also notice there are wizards and such in the Tolkein books/movies so the terms they steal and use incorrectly come from those sources.)

Imagine if all movies referenced movies, or all songs were about music. How incredibly boring, just like most magic! The movies I love are about universal themes: love, loss, death, betrayal, redemption. For that matter, so are the Tolkein and Rowling books. But in our narrow focus we don't want to touch it, or don't know how, unless it explicitly says "magic."

Magic is just a vehicle. It is our song, our movie, our book, our dance. It is a means of expression, a way to tell a story. If the story you want to tell is, "I can do silly little inbred things that may fool you if you don't think about them for too long," fine. My ambition is to tell greater stories than that.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

You're not all that

A good magic critic is hard to find. Friends either don't want to hurt your feelings or don't know enough to be helpful. Strangers? Fuhgettaboutit. Look at most of the blogs and talk to most of the members of your average magic club and you'll see the results of this: they think they're Buddha's gift to magic.

Since magic isn't as prevalent as music, acting or painting, most people don't have much, if any, basis for comparison. And since most magicians spend damn little time on their art, ten minutes "routining" my dove pan makes me look, relatively speaking, like a genius.

If everyone is telling you you're the second coming of [insert your favorite magician here], then you have little incentive to work on your act, and then where's the improvement? I think the acts that became incredibly entertaining - the Bill Malones, the Tina Lenerts, the Max Mavens, the Cardinis - actively sought out people who told them they sucked. It didn't stop there, though. They found out where and why they sucked, then they worked to eliminate those weak spots.

Even if you're a hobbyist, performing for your friends down at the bar, don't you want to be a better hobbyist? Don't you owe it to your drunk friends to give them the best experience you possibly can?

I've slacked at times, but I've also had a hell of a time getting honest feedback. I want to improve. I want to be the next Cardini, Dunninger, whoever. So next time I ask you for feedback, don't hold back. Tell me where I suck, and how I might improve. Don't worry about hurting my feelings. I'm a big boy. I'll get over it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Torn up about a failure of imagination

Lots of people are coming out with torn and restored card plots and methods. Reviews on methods are mixed - Daniel Garcia's "Torn" seems to get fairly uniformly high marks - but many (most?) of the reviewers take issue with the torn and restored card effect. They wonder why there is so much attention paid to what they consider at best a throwaway piece, and at worst a worthless, non-magical non-effect. I consider this a failure of imagination on the reviewers' part.

Magic almost never has intrinsic meaning. We (the magicians) usually have to provide a framework that imbues the piece with something that grabs the spectator with more than, "Look at what I can do!" I think anything we can mutilate then restore provides the possibility for such a framework. If what I just wrote doesn't bring to mind "loss and redemption" you either aren't awake or are way too literal to be a magician anyway.

On a more mundane level, spectators are often freaked when we destroy a card. (I've never understood why...I can replace the deck for under $3.00.) When I perform, say, Card Warp, one of the things that gets to people is that I would purposely tear up cards. It would be a nifty follow-up to show them that hey, it's no big deal, because you can always put them back together again.

So the torn and restored card is not about tearing a card and putting it back together again. It's about doing something you regret, then redeeming yourself and regaining that which was lost.

If you're not seeing that, good luck with your dove pan.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Give 'em what they want - sometimes it's a dollar

Another Maven effect, personalized, for the sister of my previous victim, name of Bailey. Like the whole family, very attractive. Later I asked how she liked it. She said it was "crazy." I've learned that's her euphemism for "really cool."

Feeling pretty good about myself and my magic, I asked, out of all the things I've done for her (she's a fan; I've done plenty) what was her favorite.

She said it was hard to decide between the dollar bill rabbit in the hat and the dollar bill jumping frog.

Nice to have my magical ego shot down like that, and it only costs a buck.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A lesson. Maybe I'll learn it.

The other day I was at my regular restaurant with a magician friend. The waitresses seem to like it when I come in - they often stop by to chat and to request some magic. This time I had my version of Max Maven's "PrediXion" (from Prism) ready. I told Reagan, my victim that evening, that I had developed a trick just for her.

A few days later I asked how she liked it. She proclaimed it her favorite of all the things I had done for her. Now "PrediXion" is a really strong effect, but I don't think that's why it had such an effect on her; I'd shown her strong magic before. I think she liked it so much because I'd personalized it. I took the time to develop something just for her. Never mind that I can use that presentational hook every time I do the trick - in her mind it's her trick. It's like that old joke: the most important thing in show business is sincerity...If you can learn to fake that you've got it made.

Note to self: learn to connect with audience.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Performance art

I admire lots of people in magic. I admire the collectors and writers for preserving our history. I admire the creators for giving us such marvelous new wonders. But magic is, if nothing else, a performing art. And it is the performers I admire most of all.

What do the collectors collect? That which belonged to (or was identified with) a performer. Who do writers write for, and about? Performers. Do creators create in a vacuum? No, although many creations suck. They create so their offspring can be performed.

Collectors, writers and creators ply their trades for themselves or for other magicians, mostly. Even if they do so for the general public it is for a really small subset. Performers, though, are for the world.

After all, a magic effect doesn't need props, or music, or a script. It really only needs an audience. And a true performer is all about the audience.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Soo good

When I finish it I'll post a more complete review. But hey, it's Steinmeyer, it's magic history, it's got to be good.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Too much is never enough

I bought some new magic today, and ordered some more from Denny & Lee.

Freakin' materialist. I'm becoming most of the things in magic I hate. I really gotta quit this shit.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Everybody picks on Sturgeon

In an interview with science fiction writer Ted Sturgeon the interviewer mentions that 90% of science fiction is crud. Sturgeon replies with what has become known as Sturgeon's Law: "...90% of everything is crud!"

Since then it's been popular to be a pessimist: to claim Sturgeon was too conservative in his percentages. I'm not that down on things, except about magic.

Magicians delude themselves. Guitarists know, for the most part, when they are not Eddie Van Halen. Hack painters are pretty much aware they are hacks. Magicians think that a day with an Invisible Deck makes them ready for the big time.

There are a number of magic blogs out there. There are maybe two that have consistent magic content and are consistently good. Other "magic" blogs either don't deal in magic much, aren't very good, or leave for really squirrelly reasons (or no reason at all). One popular blog had the tag line "For serious magicians only." As best I could tell this had to be a joke because he was never serious and never had magic content.

Magic blogs...Now there's a recipe for disaster: combine the internet - where any anonymous preteen with unresolved parental issues can share an opinion with the world, no matter how twisted - with magic, which is a magnet for social misfits.

90%? Don't be such an optimist.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Live and learn

In a previous similar venture I started worrying about how many were paying attention and what they thought. It started influencing my style, to its detriment. This time, no hit counter, no comments.

I may rethink the comments but there will never be a hit counter.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Spectacularly silly

I'm reading The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick: How a Spectacular Hoax Became History. So far it's spectacularly silly. In what I suppose is an effort to avoid an overly dry style the author, Peter Lamont, goes too far and distracts with attempted wit. The subject can stand on its own, Peter. It doesn't need bad Monty Python imitations in a misguided attempt to keep the reader's interest. The research is good. The schtick isn't.