Arcade Fire

octubre 5, 2007

One of the worst things about getting older is feeling as if your tastes have become irrelevant. Take music. I listen to most current music and wonder, “What the hell is that?” In the car I always have the tuner set to the classic rock station…hard to believe that the music of the eighties is now classic. I imagine someday my contemporaries and I will be sitting around in a rest home reminiscing about Van Halen – shaking our fists impotently and proclaiming, “We can dance if we want to!”

I turned forty-four in May, which isn’t all that old in a society where Brad Pitt is about the same age. Then again, I didn’t look as good as Brad Pitt when I was twenty-three. For us mere mortals getting older just sucks. On the one hand you feel more sure of yourself than you’ve ever felt – after four decades you pretty much know who you are. On the other hand you’re experiencing the subtle diminishment of your faculties and knowing that the process will only become more pronounced as the days march relentlessly on, inexorably propelling you toward the abyss.

Hey, what a cheerful thought, huh? Aren’t you glad you dropped by? Maybe next post I can talk about mortuaries or picking out a tombstone or something equally uplifting. Coming soon: Autopsies, A to Z.

Sorry, my mind is straying – what do you want, I’m an old man! Back to the topic, such as it is. Um…what was it again? Ah, yes, getting old sucks. Where once you’re tastes were current, they’re now passé. That’s why it pleases me when I discover something new that I like, especially in music. It happens so infrequently that it always makes an impact.

When I first saw the video below on Saturday Night Live it certainly made an impact. I’d never heard of Arcade Fire and had no expectation that they’d do anything but bore me. Man, was I ever wrong. A great performance by one hell of a talented band – definitely something new I like. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go shuffle off and take me heart pill. Maybe eat a peach. Shake my fist at the kids walking across my yard. I’ll be back soon with something magic related…if the old ticker keeps ticking till then.


Okito Box Justification

octubre 4, 2007

I don’t use the Okito box much these days. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a great little prop which can be used to create some extremely convincing magic, only that it doesn’t mesh well with the kind of stuff I’m doing now. One of the things that always bothered me about magicians who use the Okito is their failure to justify its existence.

What am I talking about? Well, the Okito box has no reason for being in the real world – sort of like those little plastic paddles which magicians wave around. The times I’ve seen someone use an Okito, they either say nothing about it, as if everyone carries a little round brass box in his pocket, or try to pass it off as a coin box.

I don’t think you have to be a numismatist to realize the idea of a coin box is pretty lame. Most people know that coin collectors keep their coins in little plastic sleeves and the like so they don’t get scratched – not in a metal box where they’ll be clacking against each other. There’s no logical reason for carrying coins around in a box other than that it’ll aid you in doing a trick. So saying it’s a coin box is going to ring false.

What does it matter? It can be argued that as you’re showing them a trick they know up front they’re being deceived so they’ll just accept the thing as part of the deception. The problem is they’ll look at this thing with no reason for being and determine – quite rightly – that it’s responsible for the deception. They’ll reason that if they had one of those nifty little brass boxes they could do the deception quite as well as you – and it doesn’t matter that they can examine the thing. The impact of the magic is lost by introducing an object without providing any justification for doing so.

When I was using the Okito fairly regularly I was doing a handling of David Roth’s Out With Four. The justification I used was that the Okito was something pickpockets used to sharpen their skills – the idea being to get the coins from the box one by one without making any noise. I was showing how you could reach a degree of proficiency where you didn’t even appear to come near the box, playing it as a display of preternatural skill.

Now you may be saying that calling an Okito box a pickpocket’s practice device is no better than saying it’s a coin box. The spectators will still discount the thing as being an aid to do the trick. The difference is the majority of people are going to have no idea if pickpockets really use such things for practice. Plus, it made sense in the context of what I was doing – in fact it was an integral component in the proceedings. It wasn’t just a thing I was using to do a trick, it was an arcane little device I was demonstrating the use of. It was accepted because I was providing a justification for it, even if that justification made little sense outside the performance.

I think it’s vital that we always find ways of justifying the props we use and reasons for why we’re using them. Even if the reasoning is implied rather than stated that justification needs to always be there. See you next time.

The Pressure To Be Better

octubre 4, 2007

I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts that working for tough audiences will teach you the most. I wanted to elaborate on that idea this time around to try and show why.

I’ve lifted weights off and on for more than twenty years now, and one thing you find out from working with weights is that to gain muscle mass you have to overload. Say you’re doing x number of sets every time you go to the gym. If you keep doing the same number of sets without variation nothing changes. All you’ll really be doing is maintaining your current physique. To see some results you have to either do your sets faster or add more weight. Put simply, to get results you have to make it harder on yourself, and the harder you make it the better the results you’ll see.

The same is true of doing magic. Let’s say you do magic only for family and friends. If you continue doing magic only for family and friends you aren’t going to see any significant changes. Your sleights might improve, but you won’t grow as a performer. To make that happen you have to make things harder on yourself. You have to leave your comfort zone and take on new challenges.

I experienced this first hand starting out. Like many new magicians I took the advice given in books and gave free shows at rest homes, hospitals, VFW meetings, etc. Eventually I got pretty good at doing my twenty minute act in these kinds of venues. But after a while I realized I wasn’t really improving any; there was no real pressure to be any better.

The solution was fairly simple. I took out an ad in the paper and started doing birthday parties for a nominal fee. Suddenly I got better simply because I had to get better. The dynamic had been changed when I started charging for my services. To keep getting the work consistently I had to be better than the other guy.

As you can see, if you want to achieve a higher level you have to make things tougher on yourself. It’s not always as easy as charging for your services or charging more than the other guy. It’s much easier to approach a family when working in a restaurant than a group of loud, obviously drunk teens. Which group will test you as a performer? Which group will demand the best of your abilities to entertain?

Seek out challenges that will force you to improve. Take the tough gigs, the ones no one else will touch. Be fearless in this. The rewards aren’t just financial.

Would Malini have been the performer he was if he hadn’t plied his trade as a busker and saloon performer? Would Houdini be the legend he is if he hadn’t spent years working in dime museums and side shows? Leave your comfort zone and put yourself in positions where you have no choice but to be better. Do so and you might just surprise yourself. See you next time.

The Linked Saga Continues

octubre 2, 2007

Well it looks like Linked may turn out to be a complete scam, as Intensely Magic originally suspected it might be. If you’ve been following the Magic Café thread, which has expanded to ten pages, you’ll see a letter from Magic Box posted by a Café member. It reads:

Thanks for your mail. Unfortunatly and very angrily, we are still waiting for linked gimmicks from the manufacturer. He has promised to post on all magic forums that HE HAS NOT YET, SENT THEM TO US as previously stated. He has told us (again) they will be sent out this week. We have set a deadline, and if we do not recieve them they will be removed from our site.

So apparently Richard James just said he had sent out another shipment. Maybe he was planning on saying wolves intercepted the deliveryman or something. I really expected people would get something, just not what was promised. This is looking more and more like blatant theft. If Richard James has any sense – which is certainly debatable at this juncture – he’ll immediately come clean.

You’d also think Magic Box would pull the pre-order until they have some assurance that this even exists.

Living Your Dream

octubre 2, 2007

It’s not always easy to live your dream. Hell, most people never even come close. I firmly believe that the reason most never come close is that they give up. That simple. The road gets too treacherous and they decide to park it at the nearest roadhouse and sip a cold one or something.

If you have a dream and want to make it a reality perseverance is the key. This YouTube video by Tony Robbins, talking about Sylvester Stallone’s efforts to make Rocky, makes that pretty clear. It’s not always easy to keep going when nothing seems to be going your way, but if you stick it out your dream just might come true.


octubre 1, 2007

Actor Christian Bale lost an astonishing sixty-three pounds to play the lead role in The Machinist. Standing six feet tall and normally weighing one eighty-five, he dropped to a weight of one hundred and twenty-three pounds. If you haven’t seen the film, he turned himself into a living skeleton.

Even more amazingly, for his next role, playing Batman in Batman Begins, he gained one hundred pounds and got into peak physical condition. When he first landed the role he was unable to do a single push up. For the next three months he lifted weights three hours a day.

How was Christian Bale able to achieve such remarkable physical transformations? In a word, dedication. He began each project with a specific conceptualization of what the character should look like then took drastic measures to realize his vision. He was dedicated enough to the outcome of his vision to do whatever was necessary to make it a reality.

Go to any magic forum and you’ll find magicians complaining that they can’t get the muscle pass down.

When you take a look at what some actors, dancers, athletes, and others do in pursuit of their goals, magicians can look like a lot of whiners. I think much of the reason for this can be attributed to the misconception that magic is easy.

If you’re over the age of ten, you probably already know that anything worthwhile isn’t going to be easy. That’s the nature of magic and the nature of life. Yeah, you can get some boxes that make coins disappear and that kind of thing – props that all but scream fake – and go out and conceivably fool people with them. You can do that pretty easily, I would imagine. But to transform the experience of being fooled into one of being entertained is going to take some work. It’s going to take some thought and practice. You can’t just walk into a shop and buy a self working trick and be a magician. You have to become a magician.

How do you become a magician? Dedication. You begin with your conception of what a magician should be and work to make it a reality. There’s no secret formula or arcane bullshit. You want the thing you have to do whatever it takes to make it real.

Many don’t want to do the work. They seem to think that kind of good is good enough. They reason that if they fool someone they were successful. Doesn’t matter if they hemmed and hawed around or cracked corny jokes or had the shakes or whatever else.

Listen: This isn’t about being a professional or amateur. Being a professional doesn’t mean you’re any damn good. It’s about doing your magic professionally even if you never make a cent from it. And you really have to be dedicated to achieve that aim. It’s not always fun doing something over and over until you have it perfect, but nobody ever said it would be. And if they did they were a liar.

Every single time magic is done badly, every single time a magician gives a mediocre performance, another spade full of dirt is added to the grave of magic. Each of us has a responsibility in this – we’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. The things we have to master are really pretty simple when compared to the rigors practitioners in other disciplines go through. We need only exercise our dedication to make our magic the best it can be. See you next time.

The Natives Are Growing Restless

septiembre 30, 2007

Even though Richard James said that Magic Box would receive a shipment of his trick Linked on the twenty-eighth, the site continues to list it as a pre-order item. I don’t know what delivery services are like in the United Kingdom, but it’s getting harder and harder to believe that he can’t figure out some way of making sure a shipment arrives. I don’t think saying the shipment was lost or delayed in transit is going to carry much weight anymore — if that turns out to be the case once again.

As someone on the Magic Café thread commented, the correct thing would have been for Mr. James to personally send out the trick to those who had pre-ordered so they wouldn’t have to wait for their order to go through a middle man. Maybe he has a rationale for deciding that people who’ve already waited so long can just wait a little longer, but I can’t begin to guess what it is.

The clock is definitely ticking, and the natives are more than a little restless. And when the natives get too restless they have a nasty habit of dining indiscriminately. I hope for Mr. James’ sake that his latest shipment did in fact arrive on Friday and the orders will be going out soon. Otherwise his dwindling reputation and credibility are going to be served up as the main dish.