Kerouac reads from his seminal Beat novel on The Steve Allen Show, while Steve provides backup. This is the only known film of Kerouac reading his own work.
Thanks to YouTuber Historic Films Stock Footage Archive
Kerouac reads from his seminal Beat novel on The Steve Allen Show, while Steve provides backup. This is the only known film of Kerouac reading his own work.
Thanks to YouTuber Historic Films Stock Footage Archive
Last week, I posted Part One of my interview with Malcolm Harris. Here’s how I introduced it:
“The young people tagged as Millennials have been called entitled, lazy, narcissistic, snow flakes and so on—but are those stereotypes the real deal? In his book, Kids These Days: The Making of Millennials, author Malcolm Harris investigates the political and economic forces that are squeezing and shaping his generation. In so doing, he also reveals some of the unique features of this stage of late capitalism.”
Now you can hear Part Two of my eye-opening interview with Harris as broadcast yesterday on radio station WBAI 99.5 FM NYC. The first part of the interview covered the life of millennials up to college; in this week’s Part Two, Harris focuses on the world of work, and why all of us, millennials or not, are headed in the same direction.
Click on the grey triangle above to listen.
The young people tagged as Millennials have been called entitled, lazy, narcissistic, snow flakes and so on—but are those stereotypes the real deal? In his book, Kids These Days: The Making of Millennials, author Malcolm Harris investigates the political and economic forces that are squeezing and shaping his generation. In so doing, he also reveals some of the unique features of this stage of late capitalism.
You can listen to the first part of the interview I did with Harris as broadcast yesterday on Arts Express on radio station WBAI 99.5 FM NYC. Click on the grey triangle to listen.
You can listen to Part Two here.
In 1998 the acclaimed playwright and director David Hare took on his most challenging theatrical task to date: to act for the first time since he was in grade school. Granted, he would play himself in his own play, Via Dolorosa, but doing so would not only require him to tread the boards for the first time, but also to hold forth on stage alone for a full ninety minutes.
Fortunately, Hare kept a written diary from the first day of rehearsal, on to performances in London, and then to the final curtain on Broadway, a hundred performances later. I say “fortunately” because it is a wonderful read about learning to act by someone who had been in the theater all his professional life, but who finally had to come to grips with a craft he knew little about from the inside.
As such, it’s quite different from most texts about acting. It’s full of quirky insights about the joys, frustrations, and struggles of learning to act, told contemporaneously as he wrestles with each day’s rehearsal or performance. It’s one of the best books I’ve read about acting and the theater because it takes the reader on the actor’s journey as it unfolds performance upon performance. In Hare’s previous playwrighting and directing work, he had collaborated with some of the greatest actors of the English stage, so throughout the diary Hare reflects on what he has learned from those performers, but also what he has had to sort out each day for himself.
It’ a funny, profane book and Hare is a cranky, boozy character who names names and is ruthlessly honest about himself and his colleagues. I’ve excerpted some of my favorite comments about theater from the book below. An essay could be written about each individual excerpt, but I’ll be quiet now and leave you to enjoy and mull over them yourself.
[On receiving direction at the first rehearsal from director Stephen Daldry]: “I am confused by a mix of feelings brought on by direction about something I understand better than anyone else in the room, i.e writing, and something I do worse than anyone in the room, i.e. acting.”
“The slower people speak, the harder they are to understand. Dialogue is rhythm, and there is some scientific rhythm which I believe corresponds to the natural pace of activity in our brains.”
“I have always had a problem with assistant directors. . . What the fuck does the assistant director do, except wield power without responsibility? In the arts, opinion is cheap. Only people who are risking something on the outcome have the right to shape the performance.”
[Hare directed Anthony Hopkins in King Lear; Hopkins said]: “I know I’ve got the performance worked out for the nights when the juice is there. But what worries me is that I still don’t have it for the nights when I don’t.”
[Ingmar Bergman said]: “It’s part of a director’s duty to be in a good mood at work.”
[After a seemingly unresponsive matinee performance] “I came off swearing …that they [the audience] were the worst bunch of motherfuckers I’d ever encountered. I walked back to a solid wall of cheering, almost the best reception I had ever had. Stephen [the director] told me it was the best show he’d seen. What do I know?”
“As soon as you achieve a particular way of doing anything you can at once see the charms of doing its opposite.”
“There are two kinds of directors…I call the two types editors and interventionists. Crudely, interventionists possess a vision of the work towards, which they are, at all times working….Editors, to the contrary, work pragmatically, looking all the time at what they are offered, refining it constantly, and then exercising their taste to help the actor give of their best…Neither kind of director is necessarily superior to the other.”
“Doing it ‘better’ doesn’t seem to make it any better. Is the greater part of an actor’s effort directed to a five percent improvement which no one notices anyway? Is it the thing itself which people respond to and are all our obsessive efforts around just on the margin?”
[Mike Nichols who Hare directed in The Designated Mourner said]: “Only the very greatest actors can convince you that other people’s words are their own, and that there is nothing at all between you and their feelings.”
[Harrison Ford who was being considered for a part in a Hare film, said]: “When I’m offered a part, then I’m aware that I bring a certain amount of baggage with me, in terms of how the audience views me. So the first thing I question is whether the baggage is going to be helpful to the picture or not.”
“The play is not the play. It is the interaction between the audience and the play.”
“[Voice coach] Patsy Rodenburg, from London, describes to me the frustration of regularly auditioning young actors who arrive to see her, well turned out, presentable, competent, assured. Yet they lack the element that would make sense of their chosen profession. They do not convince you of their need to speak.”
I’ve been working on a radio project about the Russian humorist and storyteller, Sholom Aleichem, and while researching his life, I came across some quotes of his that you may enjoy. Like Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Oscar Wilde, there are so many quotable writings, that the problem becomes limiting oneself to only a few. Here are some of my favorites.
* “And books — she swallows like dumplings.”
* “While I kept playing chess with him, his mind was elsewhere. I took his queen and he took my Rose.”
* Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.
* The rich swell up with pride, the poor from hunger.
* When you die, others who think they know you, will concoct things about you… Better pick up a pen and write it yourself, for you know yourself best.
* No matter how bad things get you got to go on living, even if it kills you.
* A bachelor is a man who comes to work each morning from a different direction.
* If somebody tells you that you have ears like a donkey, pay no attention. But if two people tell you so, buy yourself a saddle.
* This is an ugly and mean world, and only to spite it we mustn’t weep. If you want to know, this is the constant source of my good spirit, of my humor. Not to cry, out of spite, only to laugh out of spite, only to laugh.
* A wise word is not a substitute for a piece of herring.
With thanks to the following websites:
I’ve written here about Gerald Deutsch before, and I’ve even posted video here of me performing some of his magic, so I’m happy to report the publication this week of a beautiful hardcover 470+ page book chock full of Jerry Deutsch’s unique brand of magic called Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: The First Sixteen Years. Later in this post I’ll talk about the genesis of the book and my role in producing it, but first I’d like to explain a little more about what “Perverse Magic” is.
Magic is a wonderful entertainment and sometimes art, but there is an aspect of it that can potentially turn audiences off. A performer says to an audience, in effect, “See how wonderful I am,” but a performer claiming such magical power risks getting into a power struggle with a certain kind of spectator.
But Jerry’s style of magic, “Perverse Magic,” (the term is taken from an early magician, Charles Waller, who first mentioned this style of magic) eliminates this potential friction point between performer and audience. The magic happening is attributed not to the performer’s will, but to causes outside it. In other words, the magician appears to be just as baffled (Acting!) as the audience member is; in that way, the performer is on the same side of the spectator, rather than an antagonist.
Jerry has described six possible entertaining categories of Perverse Magic:
1. Something just happens without the performer’s knowledge, and without the performer wanting it to happen. You can see this in the magic of Cardini, where cards and cigarettes appear in his hands out of his control.
2. The performer expects one kind of outcome, but something else happens instead. For example, the magician says he will make a selected card penetrate a handkerchief; instead, when the hankie is opened, the card face is blank and the hankie has a large size copy of the chosen card printed on the handkerchief.
3. The magician says he’s going to do something; but instead, that something happens by itself. For example, a rope suddenly unties itself.
4. The magician does something and is caught; but when he confesses, it’s not what the audience thought–nor what the magician thought either. For example, in an egg bag routine, the magician admits that he has been hiding a spare egg in his armpit. But when he lifts his arm to retrieve the egg, to the surprise of both the performer and audience, the egg has vanished.
5. The magician and the audience are on different planes as to what each sees. This is a whimsical approach: for example, a magician pays for some candy with a half-dollar that s/he offhandedly pulls from a pen cap.
6. The performer doesn’t understand why what happens, happens. For example, the performer fails to find the spectator’s card, even after several tries. In disgust, s/he throws the cards upwards–and to the performer’s, and the rest of the audience’s amazement, the spectator’s card sticks to the ceiling.
It’s a great way to solve the ego problem in magic.
Let me explain a bit on how this book came to be. For the past sixteen years, every single month Jerry Deutsch has been posting Perverse Magic effects to the Genii magic forum. Finally, a few months ago, Jerry brought an end to the wonderful series.
Jerry’s posts instantly resonated with me–I had tinkered around with something I called “Accidental Magic” for a while, when I discovered that Jerry had been doing this for decades before. When I discovered Jerry’s Genii thread, I was enchanted. I looked forward every month to Jerry’s latest perverse entry on the Genii forum.
I thought it would be nice to gather up all of Jerry’s posts and put them into book form so that I could study Perverse Magic more closely for my own personal use. I’m a book guy, that’s how I learn. So I began putting the book together, and as I progressed I thought, wouldn’t it be a great tribute to Jerry to release this to the general magic public?
I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, so I asked Richard Kaufman, editor of Genii, what he thought, and he gave the project his approval. I asked Jerry, and he was happy to be getting a copy, but he preferred not to release it to the general magic public.
I prevailed upon Jerry, telling him that there were three good reasons for having the book released:
1) He deserves financial remuneration for his efforts.
2) For many people, book form is more convenient to learn from than a website.
3) Most importantly, Jerry’s landmark contributions to the art of magic in developing this unique form of magic should be documented, appreciated, and preserved in a more permanent way than the internet cloud.
Jerry still demurred, even after I assured him that I wanted no remuneration for myself. I was disappointed, but I continued working on the book. When it was finally finished, having designed the book layout and cover, and copy-edited it, I sent Jerry a copy.
A few days later I got a call from Jerry, who I had never spoken to on the phone before. He was really happy about the book, and wanted to release it to the general magic public with one important condition: that all proceeds would go to charity.
I was so happy when he said this. It was the perfect solution! Jerry mentioned that he had done work volunteering in hospitals, doing magic for young patients, and that he would like to find a charity that would support that kind of work.
We did some research and we came up with a perfect fit: Open Heart Magic. They are a non-profit charity whose main mission specifically is to train volunteers to do magic in hospitals for young patients. We spoke to the folks at OHM, and they were happy to help set things up so that all the proceeds of Jerry’s book would go to their foundation. You can take a look at the great work these people do at http://www.openheartmagic.org
So if you’d like to treat yourself to the book, I think you’re making a great decision: Jerry’s effects are terrific and well-explained, the price is right, and the cause is a great cause to support. It also makes a great gift. You can order it here:
In a world gone crazy, we might need to put the entire planet on the couch. Bruce Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist often at odds with the mainstream of his profession, argues in his newest book, Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian, for the essential value of anti-authoritarians in a democracy, and questions their treatment by the medical establishment. He also dishes a few pro-tips on how resisters can survive the slings and arrows of an authoritarian society.
You can listen to my interview with Bruce Levine as broadcast this week on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC, by clicking on the grey triangle above.
What did Ray Bradbury, James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, Ernest Hemingway, and Hannah Arendt all have in common? They were all victims of FBI surveillance under J. Edgar Hoover. You can listen to my radio interview, which ran yesterday on Arts Express WBAI 99.5 FM NYC, with J. Pat Brown, editor of Writers Under Surveillance, a collection of FBI files obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act, by clicking on the grey triangle above.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying reading a few magic biographies. All three books are highly recommended, and any one of them would make a nice gift for that magic aficionado in your life.
1) “If there was any doubt that Guy Jarrett was nuts, it ended in 1936.” That’s how magic inventor and writer Jim Steinmeyer in Jarrett introduces the cantankerous illusionist, author of the eponymous Jarrett, Magic and Stagecraft, Technical. It’s not hard to see why Jim Steinmeyer was drawn to write about Jarrett. Jarrett was not just a magician but, like Steinmeyer, a stage illusion inventor of extraordinary ingenuity. Couple that with Jarrett’s eccentric life, acerbic wit, and amusing public persona and you have the kind of subject that an author loves to write about.
Jarrett enjoyed publicly trashing the magic royalty of the day. Houdini, Goldin, Thurston, —none of them were off limits. With the introduction and annotations by Steinmeyer, it soon becomes apparent that Jarrett’s curse and glory was his perfectionism. To Jarrett’s mind, the shaving of a few inches off the side of a production cabinet or table was the difference between beauty and illusion on the one hand, and utter crap on the other. Practicality and budget were excuses to him, and as far as Jarrett was concerned most of the illusionists of the day like Thurston were satisfied to settle on crap.
As befits a man who spoke his mind so openly and contemptuously, Jarrett didn’t retain a wide circle of friends. With his characteristic self-sufficiency, Jarrett published his book himself, setting all the type himself on a foundry typesetting press, pretty much as Gutenberg had done centuries before.
But the eccentric Jarrett (my favorite photo in the book is Jarrett at 74 years old standing upside down in the top of a tree) according to Steinmeyer was the real deal when it came to designing illusions. Jarrett’s efficient descriptions and drawings of such illusions as “The 21 Person Cabinet” and the disappearance of Bela Lugosi in the original Broadway production of Dracula make for entertaining reading and broadened my appreciation of illusion design.
2) Dai Vernon: A Biography, by David Ben, is the authorized biography of the man who revolutionized the study and performance of close-up magic. and it draws upon many previously unseen original sources. It has some wonderful photos, including the famous one, repeated many years later, of Vernon, cigarette in hand, staring down at the Ace of Clubs. Ben’s prose is pretty pedestrian, but it gives a fully rounded picture of the man and his times. What one really gets from this portrait of Vernon is just how tenaciously Vernon strove to carve out his own artistic path. As an art student at the Art Students’ League an artist he met told him that continuing in art school would ruin him for creativity and originality. Vernon took that to heart and never allowed himself to swerve from a life that would allow him the freedom to explore and play to his heart’s content. Many times he could have traded on his skill and connections to become famous with the general public, but at each turn he almost compulsively avoided or sabotaged those opportunities in favor of living a Bohemian lifestyle, free from the hard spotlight of fame and stultifying routine. He was a brilliant ne’er-do-well who was terrified of being tied down to any responsibility but his art.
Another wonderful revelation in the book is the portrait of his wife, Jeannie. She was a Coney Island magician’s assistant, full of practical knowledge and no mean slouch either when it came to art. She was a very creative person in her own right, an accomplished costumer and mask maker (there’s a wonderful photo of her beautifully lifelike mask of Cardini) and she was essential in costuming Vernon’s Harlequin turn. She understood her own predicament in being the creative spouse of another more talented and obsessive creative person. Once she had left Vernon she wrote her own account of what it was like to live with him in her manuscript, I Married Mr. Magic, or Laughter is the Only Shield.
This volume, the first of two, only covers the years 1894-1941, when Vernon had the construction accident which was to break his arms and change his life. Unfortunately, there is no word on Ben’s website as to when Volume II is expected (it’s been over a decade now), so we’ll have to be patient. But surely, that too promises to be fascinating, as it will cover the Magic Castle years to Vernon’s death. This is a compelling portrait of genius at work and play.
3) Milo and Roger: A Magical Life is the title of Arthur Brandon’s autobiographical account of his childhood, and his longtime partnership with Roger Coker as the comedy magic team Milo and Roger. If there is a sweeter and funnier account of one’s magical journey, I don’t know of it. Brandon devotes a lot of the book to his Norman Rockwell upbringing in small town Ohio, and he vividly brings to life the characters, the grifters, and the tradespeople who inhabited his childhood world. His parents—his mother in particular—were lovable eccentrics who were accepting and encouraging of their moony son’s infatuation with all things magical. Brandon goes on to small time fame by following his instinct and love for magic, meeting along the way his lifelong partner Roger who complements everything Arthur does. They travel the world together, much of the time only a few dollars short of broke, but somehow they always make it out to their next adventure, spurred on by their love for show business and magic. At turns nostalgic, laugh-out-loud funny, sweet, sour, and sad, this is one of the most entertaining show business autobiographies I’ve read. I can well understand why this is a favorite of many.
Mark Twain’s bittersweet short fairy story, as broadcast last week on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5FM NYC. Performed and produced by Mary Murphy and myself.
Click on the grey triangle to listen.
Thanks to my readers here for putting up with my seemingly interminable series on producing radio interviews. But now I have compiled and updated that series into one convenient 50+ page booklet which you can download for free here:
I think it’s a pretty good way to start learning about interviewing technique, equipment, and editing for radio or podcast. It assumes you know nothing about radio and takes you from wondering about who to interview to the finished mixed audio file with bells and whistles. If you think you’d like to make a go at it, or are just curious, or would just like to see if your advice matches my advice, it’s all there in one convenient free booklet.
Go Forth and Interview.
This week was the fourth anniversary of this blog, November 2, to be exact. Thanks to all for your support. As we go into our fifth year, it’s been the anniversary tradition here to list my favorite posts of the past year. You may enjoy catching up on some of them:
A big thanks to everyone who participated in the contest. It was really enjoyable reading the entries. The assignment was to elucidate what you considered the three greatest tricks in Our Magic.
At first, I wasn’t exactly sure what my criteria was going to be in judging the entries, but as I was reading them, it soon became clear that the best ones were the ones whose descriptions were so compelling that they made me say to myself, “Hey, that’s a trick that I want to go out and perform right now.”
The first-prize winner was Sean-Dylan Riedweg whose entry described exactly why he thought each of the three tricks he nominated were winners, and he also provided meticulous citations for each effect. Sean-Dylan chose Semi-Automatic Card Tricks Vol III by Steve Beam as his prize.
The second-prize winner was Abe Carnow. Abe made a very strong case for a trick which most of us have in our drawers, but disdain to use during performance. Sometimes we forget how good some of the most common ideas in magic are. He chose Stewart James: The First Fifty Years as his prize. We advise Mr. Carnow to get into good physical shape with a few bench presses before attempting to lift that weighty tome.
Third Prize went to Steven Go. Steven also advocated for a trick that most would consider very commonplace, but Steven provided a very wonderful description of the effect of the trick on his young daughter. He really brought to life what a special moment was created between the two of them because of that trick. He chose the DVD Time is Money by Asi Wind as his prize.
And finally Honorable Mention to Steven Bryant for his incredible poetic entry, which was part of an even larger Magic Castle New Year’s magical poetic ode.
Thanks again to all who entered. Sometime next week, everyone who participated will receive a pdf compilation of all the entries that were sent in.
Okay, rest up and if there’s enough demand, we’ll do this again next year.
John Barrymore chewing up the scenery in this no-holds-barred performance as the crook-back’d Richard, Duke of Gloucester, on the eve of gaining the Crown as Richard III.
This is from Henry VI, the prequel to Richard III, which details Gloucester’s rise.
Thanks to YouTuber erfv102012
And don’t forget to enter the Fourth Annual Shalom Blog Magic Contest. It’s fun and easy with great prizes. Read the details here:
Deadline coming up, now’s a good time to enter.
A Walk in the woods, Anne Tyler, authors, B. Traven, Bill Bryson, book, books, Bruce Kayton, Clock Dance, Government, Jennifer Tepper, novel, Radical Walking Tours of New York City, review, The Untold Stories of Broadway, writing
For the past decade or more, my reading habits have been very cyclical: for months at a time, I can’t seem to pick up a book, and then all of a sudden, something will kick in and I’m reading a lot. So, since it’s been a while since I’ve done a non-magic edition of Book Nook, here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed reading lately:
Government by B. Traven
This is the first of the mysterious B. Traven’s Mexican “Jungle novels” a sharply provocative and humorous set of novels set in Mexico just before the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s. This initial book is a masterpiece of dry humor and wry observation. It’s major subject is the petty and not-so-petty corruption of government officials at every level of society. But Traven makes clear that the corruption of the local officials in their drive to exploit every peso and drop of sweat out of the local Indian population is just a reflection of the larger overall exploitative capitalist system happening on the national level. The author pulls no punches and names things for what they are. It’s a system where friends and family catapult you into power, but you must always watch your back or you’ll get stabbed by one of them. The parallels to today couldn’t be more apt or timely. This is a book that shows you the blueprint. Especially remarkable as well is a contrasting passage where Traven describes how the tribe of local Indians choose their leaders democratically, in a way that ascribes grave responsibility and accountability to the chosen one.
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
I enjoy Anne Tyler’s novels because when reading her books, I get the sense that she is in no hurry. She’s a writer who knows that after this one’s finished she’s going to write another one, and the current one is a wave in the larger ocean of her work. She doesn’t feel that she has to put everything she knows in one book. So this story is a small one of a woman’s life viewed at several milestone years. Externally, not a lot happens. But we see how a child of promise slowly has her options closed off as life proceeds and what it might take to find some sense of freedom in the end. Tyler’s characters always feel real enough so that you feel a sense of loss when a book is over, loss for the people who you have met in the course of reading the novel.
Radical Walking Tours of New York City by Bruce Kayton
It’s rare that one can read a guide book straight through like a work of fiction, but Radical Walking Tours of NYC is one such book. It takes us on over a dozen walking tours of several neighborhoods of NYC, and vividly depicts the rich labor and political history of this city which has been home and host to so many great figures and stories. Along the way you’ll learn a lot about history they never told you about in school. Whether it’s the location of Allen Ginsberg’s apartment or Emma Goldman’s massage parlor, you’re sure to find out something new here. Bruce Kayton is well qualified for the task as he for many years led such tours through the city.
The Untold Stories of Broadway by Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Years ago, Mary Henderson wrote a seminal work on the history of New York City Theater buildings, The City and the Theater, and now Jennifer Ashley Tepper has come out with an oral history of the people who worked and performed in those buildings in The Untold Stories of Broadway. The multi-volumed series is organized by theater building, and in each chapter the people who worked in each theater on various productions tell what it was like to be part of that experience. The author has interviewed scores of people. The work is valuable in the 360-degree view that the book gives you of theatrical production. So, for example, in a chapter on the Shubert Theatre, you not only get the point of view of the actors who worked on such shows as Spamalot, Rent, and A Chorus Line, but you also get commentary from the house manager and even the concession stand operators. You’ll also learn a lot about the physical layout of each theatre, and why some theaters are suitable for one kind of show, while other buildings are better for other kinds.These stories are not necessarily juicy remembrances of gossip, but honest, workaday accounts of people’s experiences from the inside. Many books purport to give a “backstage” view–this one really does it. Highly recommended for Broadway Babies.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
For years, my friend Tom has been trying to get me to read Bill Bryson’s books, and now I finally understand why he is such a fan. Bryson is a very entertaining writer and this account of his attempt to walk the Appalachian trail is a fun read. A gentle humorist in the vein of Dave Barry, Bryson takes you along his sometimes grueling hike, and introduces you to a wonderful set of characters, both those who join him to walk the trail, like his unprepared but faithful companion Katz, and the variety of hikers he meets along the way. Bryson is funny, but he also succeeds at communicating the awe-inspiring nature of the path, and the sheer doggedness and courage it takes to accomplish completing the trail. At times, the tale proves unexpectedly touching. For myself, I was very happy to sit in my easy chair and nod my head saying to myself, “Yup, that’s why I’m sitting here.”
A socialist revolution in the United States in 2044? In activist Mike Albert’s new fictional journalistic account, RPS/2044, you can learn how it happened. This is the second part of the interview with Albert that I produced for the Arts Express radio program. Mike talks about what a Revolutionary Participatory Society might look like, why it’s important for present-day activists to lay out a vision for the future, and how we might get from here to there.
Click on the grey triangle above to listen.
You can listen to Part One here.
(And for local listeners to Arts Express on WBAI 99.5 FM and wbai.org be advised that Arts Express has been moved to the new edgier time slot of Tuesdays at 11pm.)
It’s the year 2044, and praise to the goddesses, a socialist revolution in the United States is well in progress. How did it happen? Fortunately we have an account of the 2044 revolution in this set of oral histories that journalist Miguel Guevera has conducted with many of the heroes of the revolution. Guevera (aka 2018 activist Mike Albert) talks about the workings of a Revolutionary Participatory Society and economy in this interview I produced, broadcast yesterday for the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NY.
Click on the grey triangle above to listen.
And you can hear Part Two here:
(And for local listeners to the show, be advised that Arts Express has been moved to the new edgier time slot of Tuesdays at 11pm.)
If Lenny Bruce were a magician, he would be Steve Spill.
Lenny has long since passed onto that great big comedy stage in the sky, but fortunately our friend Steve Spill is alive and well and has come out with a new book aimed at magicians called How To Make Love The Steve Spill Way. His first book, I Lie For Money, was aimed at a general audience and contained lots of advice on how to live a creative life. It was served along with large dollops of autobiography and spit-take funny stories about the people he met along the path while building an artistic life for himself. In this new book, Steve not only continues his general advice for would-be artists, but also gives up the details of a dozen of his most creative and hilarious tricks. It would be an understatement to say that I think everyone interested in performing magic should read this book.
It’s always a great gift when a wonderful performer tips the secrets of his act, but it’s an even greater gift when the performer himself does the literate and humorous writing chore. Because it’s in that act of writing that Spill divulges his biggest secret: the most powerful thing a performer can do is to find her or his own quirkiness and unique qualities and put them out on display in a performance-oriented way.
When you read one of Spill’s books, you instantly understand what he’s talking about when he says to trust your own personality, because the pages of his books are drenched in the unique persona which he has nurtured. While on the one hand it’s instructive to pick up a Dai Vernon book written by someone like Lewis Ganson, on the other hand, the fact that Ganson, not Vernon, wrote it deprives the reader of real insight into much of Vernon’s personality. With a writer like Steve, though, it’s all hanging out there, and it’s plain as day. You understand immediately that the twelve killer presentations that Spill has detailed are perfect for Spill. Those who are not Steve would most likely fall on their faces if they did his presentations verbatim, but that’s not the point. The point is…who are you?
There are so many lessons to be learned here, not the least of which is the courage of one’s convictions. I read the beginning chapters twice, because the first time through I was laughing too much at the jokes to pay attention to the content.
But if you’ve got as warped and crazy a mind as Steve does (that’s a compliment, I think) there are bound to be doubts about whether anyone else will appreciate what you’re doing. However, Steve’s examples of himself being true to form, along with his constant brainstorming, testing, discarding, and revising of effects, serve as a model of what can be done, and act as a spur to one’s own creativity.
For each of the twelve effects Spill describes, he gives the background story on how and why he created it, and these stories are useful adjuncts to understanding how to create your own effects. The methods are tried and true, and for the most part they probably won’t surprise you with their cleverness after the fact. But that’s not what Steve is after—what will surprise and delight you is the way that Steve takes an effect from column A and a presentation from column Z, and juxtaposes them to create something never seen before, something to amuse and mystify an audience, which leaves them with the impression of a strong magical personality and experience.
What’s in the tricks section? Well it’s a compilation of Spill’s greatest hits—The Lemon thing, the Needle thing, The Himber Ring thing, the drug and hemorrhoid jokes, they’re all there, with full scripts and extra handling and performance tips explained with loving care. The most audacious routine is one called “Abra Cadavers” which involves, well, a tale of cadavers wrapped in a personal story of tragedy. You would have to be nuts to perform it. I’m happy to report that Spill has done it many times, and tells you how to do it so that you too can be the object of abject speechless horror. I also thought that the presentation given for the UltraMental Deck was one of the best ideas for it I’ve ever come across.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the British magician David Devant expressed his appreciation of his audience with the tagline, “All Done By Kindness.” Likewise, Devant’s American contemporary, Howard Thurston, would prepare to go onstage by intoning in the wings to an imaginary audience, “Thank you, thank you for coming to my show tonight. God Bless You.” And now in the same spirit, as we navigate the twenty-first century, Steve Spill urges us to make love The Steve Spill Way. His love for magic, his love for his audiences and for his unique self are all part and parcel of How to Make Love The Steve Spill Way.
I’m not a big fan of clothes shopping, so when I needed some lightweight chinos last week, I ducked into the first store I saw, rifled through the pants on the first table as one walks in the door, and found two pairs in my waist and inseam size. As I carried the two identical slacks to the cashier, the clerk chased after me, asking if I was going to try them on.
I was in a hurry for another appointment, and I know my fit pretty well, so I told him no thanks. He shrugged his shoulders, and I continued walking over to the cashier. The cashier rings them up, and for the two of them it comes to $200 plus tax. I was non-plussed. I have never paid that much for chinos in my life. I would have expected that for such a price they would have diamonds and rubies embedded in the slacks. But I swallowed hard, paid for them, and headed back home with them.
A week later, I still haven’t tried them on or cut out the labels, but I figure, let me see why these chinos are worth $100 apiece. As soon as I start to try to get into them, the awful truth becomes apparent: they are way too small. I can barely squeeze into them. My memory of my correct waist size was, shall we say…faulty.
My wife’s reaction makes it clear that, “No, Jack, that’s not the style, and onlookers should not be intimately aware of whether you dress left or right.” So it’s clear I look even more foolish than usual in those pants. So with a sigh. I’m resigned to exchanging the pants for a better size that would not force me to use a crowbar to get into them.
I’m more than annoyed, since the shop was an hour subway ride away, and this is going to kill a whole weekend afternoon, but I took a book along with me to pass the time on the trip. Turns out it was a pretty interesting book, Tyrant: Shakespeare & Politics by Stephen Greenblatt.
I go into the store, and fortunately I’m able to find some sizes of the same chinos I had bought that look like they might be candidates for fitting me properly. I take them into the fitting room and actually try them on—what a concept!—and one of them fits perfectly this time. So I grab another pair of the same size, and go up to the cashier for the exchange.
As the young woman at the cash register starts to swap my pants for the exchange, she glances at the Shakespeare book in my hand and asks me if it was an interesting book.
“Yes, sure. It’s a very interesting book. It’s got a lot in common with your store. It’s about Banana Republics.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s about the kings and emperors in Shakespeare. The author asks, “What did Shakespeare have to say about tyrants?”
“In what sense?”
“What’s the psychological make-up of a tyrant? Where does that personality come from? How are tyrants allowed to come to power? How do they rule, how are they resisted, and most importantly, how are they finally stopped?”
“Well, Trump’s name is never mentioned, but it’s clear that that’s who the author is directly pointing to. Julius Caesar, Richard III, Coriolanus. The lust for power, the appeal to a false populism even as he despises the common people, and the demand for narcissistic approval from all around him.”
“Like King Lear, who had to have the approval of all three of his daughters, or else he would retaliate with vindictive power.”
“Exactly. Are you an actor?”
“No, I read a lot of Shakespeare. I was an English major in college. That’s why now I’m a cashier. Speaking of which, instead of doing an exchange of your pants, I got a better idea. I just noticed that these pants just went on sale yesterday. They’re actually on a two for one sale. So rather than exchange them, I’ll put this transaction in the system as a return of the ones you bought last week, which will give you a credit on your card for $200. Then I’ll ring up these two new pants as a separate transaction so you’ll be eligible for the two for one sale for $100.”
I was beyond happy.
And so, thanks to Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt, and a very kind young woman, I got the right size pants, $100 off my original bill, and met another Shakespeare lover.
A good day after all.
Whenever I am envious of the talent and skill of a great performing artist, I like to remember the following story, which the famous one-armed Spanish magician, Rene Levand, told in his book about his magic and life, Mysteries of My Life:
A man sees the great virtuoso cello player Pablo Casals crossing the street. The man, so thrilled to get a glimpse of his artistic idol, dashes across the street and manages to catch up with Casals.
“Maestro,” the man says, almost out of breath, “I just wanted you to know that I’d give my life to be you!”
Casals pauses and then replies drily, “I already did.”