I don’t often do this (umm…never in fact), but I enjoy Edward Law’s daily blog Learn Fun Facts so much that I’m re-blogging his kind post where he offers other bloggers a place to share their blogs. Thanks, Edward. I think that if you enjoy reading my blog you will also greatly enjoy Edward’s daily posts as well.
Andy is now well into year two of The Jerx, and Issue #4 of the JAMM monthly newsletter. While the first year’s blog had quite a number of very strong effects, some of which made it into The Jerx book, the second year saves most of the tricks for the newsletter. Now the blog is for the most part Andy’s attempts to flesh out a theory of amateur performance (interspersed with ads in support of his website). Leaving aside the newsletter for now, I thought I’d link to some of my favorite second-year blog posts.
A few things first, though. Number one: I have no idea what sort of human being Andy is in his other lives, but in his Jerx life, he has been, contrary to the expectations of many skeptical magicians, a model citizen. He has delivered everything that he has promised—two books, a monthly newsletter, other paraphernalia, and most importantly in my opinion, his blog—in a timely manner. While this is the normal expectation in most spheres of commerce, sadly, for some reason in the magic world, it’s too often the exception rather than the rule. So although Andy would probably cringe at the designation, he has been a man of integrity.
Number two: I’m sort of done with telling folks how good some of this stuff is. There’s enough for free on the blog to decide whether it’s your kind of thing or not. Andy takes a kind of cost-analysis approach to his magic that basically asks: what investment of time/money/practice will best improve the experience of magic for the audience? Andy’s real strength is that when he puts forth an idea, he really explores it and puts it into practice, rather than just giving lip service to the concept. But because improved audience impact often has nothing to do with issues of method, and rather results from focusing more on presentational issues, some will bypass The Jerx. All I can do is shrug my shoulders.
So, here are some of the Year Two blog posts I’ve enjoyed:
I don’t usually do guest posts here (okay, I’ve never done guest posts here), because it’s not that kind of a blog, but I thought I’d make an exception. Last year’s magic contest winner, Joe Mckay of England, asked me if he could present his case here for financially supporting the magic site The Jerx. I’ve written about the site before, of which I’m a great admirer, and right now the site is at a crossroads: after a year of entertaining posts including some very good, original effects and method descriptions, the site is asking for donations to continue.
I think it’s a fair request, and as Michael Close wrote recently in a completely different context, the site is “that kind of thing that those who like that kind of thing will like.”
And yes, this request is totally selfish on my part, as I have pledged towards the site’s money target—but there will be no continuation of the site until it’s completely funded. As of this writing, the site has reached 88% of its goal. So I’m hoping that Joe’s post might entice you to donate (invest?), so that we can all enjoy another year of the site.
Here’s Joe’s post (make sure to follow the links for some great magic):
“Go check out www.thejerx.com— it is a magic blog written by an anonymous figure called Andy who lives in New York.
He is my favourite thinker in magic today and his blog is something all magicians should check out. He has been posting about 3-5 times a week for the past 18 months. There is a ton of great stuff there. Offbeat magic unlike anything else around. Very funny commentary and a ton of useful theory that overturns a lot of the conventional wisdom we see in most books on magic. A lot of the biggest names in magic are hip to the blog and you should be to.
Andy has a remarkable brain. Imagine if Paul Harris, Derren Brown and Penn & Teller were genetically spliced together and then dropped into an episode of the Twilight Zone. That is how Andy thinks about magic.
Here are some of my favourite tricks from the blog:
1) A lovely trick that was inspired by the effect that climaxed Derren Brown’s first TV special here in the UK. I have never seen an ending to a trick as sweet as this one. That sounds twee but Andy has introduced something new here. It has a lovely nostalgic touch I have never seen before in a trick.
2) Andy applies takes one of my favourite principles in magic (UF Grant’s Million Dollar Mystery) and extends it into an instant transposition that takes place over thousands of miles.
3) Andy reworks The Invisible Deck to create a totally different effect. In this case – you convince the spectator you have hypnotized him. The thinking here is equal parts strange and sneaky. I cannot imagine the odd effect this would create in the spectator’s brain.
4) You introduce yourself to a spectator and blow his mind by convincing him he is your long lost twin. The presentation and method here play off each other in a way that builds and builds. This is both hilarious and deceptive. This would definitely have fooled me if I have experienced it live.
Another favourite is the trick where you transport a spectator to parallel universe (I am not kidding). But I will leave that one for you to try and track down as you work through the blog.
I could mention a ton of other great things about the blog. But brevity is useful with any recommendation. So I don’t want to make this one too long. It will take a couple of weeks of intensive reading for people to catch up with all the posts. But it is definitely worth doing.
On the left hand side of this post is a list of some of my favorite blogs. I think you’ll enjoy visiting them if you enjoy this blog. I’d also like to recommend to you some new blogs I’ve been following recently which I think you’ll enjoy as well:
Alec Nevala-Lee: Nevala-Lee is a writer who posts daily. He talks about writing and has great quotes from all kinds of writers, often theatre workers.
Rhys Tranter: also a writer, posts many times a day and has an excellent nose for interviews with literary figures and other cultural commentary.
Perspectives on Life, The Universe and Everything: AB is a photographer who is quite prolific. He does a lot of street photography, and nine times out of ten, when I see his photos, I think to myself, I wish I had taken that one!
When I started this blog exactly one year ago, 365 consecutive posts ago, I never thought that it would bring the fun and opportunities that I’ve experienced over the past year. I started it mainly as an exercise and a way to document for myself where my life was going. But I’ve met so many nice people and enjoyed myself in so many ways directly due to this blog.
So I want to thank all of you who have ever visited this site for your support. It’s really gratifying to think that there are others who have some of the same strange interests that I do, and that I’m not just writing into the wind.
To celebrate, I’m listing my favorite posts from the last year. They may not all have garnered a lot of hits, but I think you’ll enjoy catching up with them. Sometimes people don’t have the time at first to read a long essay, follow the links, or listen to an audio clip when it’s first posted, so now is the time to sit back, relax, and catch up with what you’ve missed. Here, grouped by category, but in no particular order otherwise, are my top 30 favorite interviews, stories, poems, essays, and photos of the past year.
If you like this blog, the one single way you can best help spread the word is to please click on the Facebook or Twitter share buttons at the bottom of each post each time you see something that you enjoy. It’s incredible what a difference it makes in the number of views a particular post gets, and it gives me encouragement. Again thanks for a great year, and Music will be back tomorrow!
Rodney King, the Interview: http://jackshalom.net/2014/12/20/923/
Tales of Highdini: Magician Steve Spill Spills the Beans: http://jackshalom.net/2015/04/03/tales-of-highdini-and-more-magician-steve-spill-spills-the-beans/
The Outsider Artist, Don Porcella: http://jackshalom.net/2015/08/06/the-outsider-as-artist/
My Son the Waiter: A Jewish Tragedy: http://jackshalom.net/2014/11/08/my-most-unforgettable-theatre-performance/
To Infinity and Beyond: The Buzz Aldrin Interview: http://jackshalom.net/2015/09/25/to-infinity-and-beyond-the-buzz-aldrin-interview/
They Shoot Black People, Don’t They: Cartoonist Keith Knight: http://jackshalom.net/2014/11/26/a-room-with-a-view-wagering-it-all-on-one-scene/
A Little Sparrow Told Me, Activist Poet and Holy Fool, Sparrow: http://jackshalom.net/2015/09/11/a-little-sparrow-told-me/
Stories and Poems
Michael Potato: http://jackshalom.net/2015/01/16/michael-potato/
Marcie At Work: http://jackshalom.net/2015/04/24/marcie-at-work/
Poem: Autumn: http://jackshalom.net/2014/11/20/poem-autumn/
Poem: Adornments: http://jackshalom.net/2014/12/02/poem-adornments/
Poem: Paths: https://wordpress.com/post/78159920/1268/
Essays on Writing, Theatre, Education, and Magic
A Matter of Taste: http://jackshalom.net/2015/09/08/a-matter-of-taste/
The Actor Who Made Me Gasp: http://jackshalom.net/2014/11/08/my-most-unforgettable-theatre-performance/
Reflections on a Year of Teaching: http://jackshalom.net/2015/05/06/reflections-on-a-year-of-teaching/
On Patience: http://jackshalom.net/2014/12/06/patience/
Fumbling, Failing, Falling: http://jackshalom.net/2014/11/19/fumbling-failing-falling-wild-mind-living-the-writers-life/
Breathing Room: http://jackshalom.net/2015/01/28/take-a-deep-breath/
A Room with a View: Wagering It All On One Scene: http://jackshalom.net/2014/11/26/a-room-with-a-view-wagering-it-all-on-one-scene/
A Warning: http://jackshalom.net/2015/08/12/a-warning/
Time For Enlightenment: http://jackshalom.net/2015/08/29/time-for-enlightenment/
Morley: “If You’re Feeling Helpless”: http://jackshalom.net/2014/11/22/morley-make-a-mess-then-find-a-way-to-make-it-beautiful/
Face the Music: http://jackshalom.net/2015/01/31/face-the-music/
State Police/Police State: http://jackshalom.net/2014/11/30/state-police-police-state/
The New World: http://jackshalom.net/2015/10/02/the-new-world/
God Bless America: http://jackshalom.net/2015/03/29/god-bless-america/
Milk Chocolate Overlords: http://jackshalom.net/2015/09/06/i-for-one-welcome-our-milk-chocolate-overlords/
Snow Tree: http://jackshalom.net/2015/03/22/snow-tree/
I’d like to recommend a magic blog to you: The Jerx. The Jerx, whose name and logo are a satirical tribute to Ted Annemann’s mentalism periodical, The Jinx (which in turn was a satirical tribute to the magic periodical, The Sphinx), is the reincarnation of the legendary Magic Circle Jerk blog that ran from 2003–2005. The main goal of the MCJ then was to bedevil and taunt the owners and staff of The Magic Cafe, a noble mission, good even onto itself. However, about three months ago, Andy, the one-named former proprietor of the MCJ, started a new daily magic blog, the aforementioned The Jerx. And even though once in a while it still ridicules The Magic Cafe, this time Andy has cast his net wider to include thinking deeply about what makes an audience enjoy a magic effect. It’s well worth reading every day.
In its new incarnation, The Jerx is still profane, funny, at times hopelessly adolescent, sexy, maybe at times sexist, and oh yes, more than occasionally tinged with genius.
The Jerx‘s operating assumption is that the single most important way for magicians to improve their magic is to focus on the audience’s experience; to this end Andy puts in a ridiculous (no, the correct!) amount of thought to scripting and performance. Andy’s descriptions of the elaborate set-ups he devotes to entertaining his friends and colleagues in everyday situations are downright inspiring, favoring effects that grow out of the organic relationships already present. If reading the description of his Borrowed Money Teleported to Paris effect doesn’t move you to scrap everything you’re doing in magic and start all over, then maybe you should apply to be a Grammar Host at The Magic Cafe. (And, no, I’m not going to link to that post. Dig and find it yourself, it’s worth the effort.)
What I like about Andy’s work especially is that he goes back and forth between theory and practical experiments to see if a proposed theory holds water. He experiments to see which of several hypotheses work out best for him in his world. By this method, he has found a fascinating corollary to the Whit Haydn theory of magic—that theory which states that the best magic is when the audience confronts the experience of the insoluble dilemma: There’s no such thing as magic / There’s no other answer to explain what just happened.
Andy, in one of his recent posts, provides a very nice extension of that theory. You should read the whole post, but the essence of it is this: A successful effect according to Haydn is one that puts an audience member onto the horns of that dilemma and provides no escape. But a big problem that Andy addresses is that spectators will try to dislodge themselves from those horns one way or another. If you give them no possibility of a method, they give up and surrender, falling on one side of the dilemma—which is okay, but not as good as keeping them dangling. If, on the other hand, you give them a believable implied method, even if its wrong, they’ll take comfort in that, and again dislodge themselves from those horns. But the most diabolical strategy is to give an implied method that on quick audience reflection cannot be true. It’s as if
“you’re in a sealed room with a little tiny door the size of a cereal box. You’re trapped, but there’s this thing that beckons you as if it’s an exit. Your rational mind knows it’s not. You know you’ll never fit through it, but you can’t help but keep returning to it and shoving a hand or a leg out and seeing if maybe there’s some way to work your way through. Rationally, you know it’s not the way out, but it’s the only thing that even suggests a way out, so your mind keeps returning to it.“
And this is where Mr. Haydn and Andy would like their audiences to end up—endlessly going over each part of the trick over and over again, to take home and re-tell later to their friends and family. The most effective magic, in this view, is the magic that gives the spectator’s brain no rest.
You can read a lot of fancy books about magic detailing the latest tricks and the newest micro-variation of Triumph and Ambitious Card, but if doing and thinking about informal magic is something you enjoy, and you like starting each day with a laugh, The Jerx is required daily reading.
I recently came across an excellent magic blog, The Houdini File, authored by writer David Saltman. Although I had never heard of Mr. Saltman before, I soon realized that we share some of the same obsessions: magic, novel writing, and nineteenth-century variety arts history. He is about to have an historical novel published by Maiden Lane Press entitled The Secret Notebooks of Harry Houdini. The novel follows Harry as he tours through Russia in 1903, spying on the Tsar for Teddy Roosevelt. Saltman posts about once a week.
Two weeks ago, the well-known Spanish-born magician Rene Lavand died, and you can see a nice tribute to Lavand that Saltman did here. But also look around at all his other posts if you have any interest at all in the art of magic and all things Houdini.