More Lynda Barry at https://www.drawnandquarterly.com/author/lynda-barry
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:
At one time, Carl Sandburg was everywhere: as a working-class people’s poet, a folk music populist, and an award-winning historian. He’s not as widely listened to anymore, but recently Linda Shalom and I performed some of his poems, broadcast over WBAI radio, on the Arts Express program.
We had great fun becoming familiar with, and voicing, these poems. You can listen by clicking on the grey triangle above.
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.
As we end the year this Monday, we might think on Robert Burns. His most famous poem, written in 1788, was first set to music five years later. But it wasn’t until 1799, a few years after Burns premature death, that the poem was set to the melody we know today. Here’s our friend and Arts Express colleague Mary Murphy performing Auld Lang Syne with the original Scottish pronunciation and words of Robert Burns. Wishing all our readers a happy 2019, and remembrances to friends past and present.
Click on the grey triangle to listen.
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.
Jonathan Swift’s brilliant satirical proposal regarding the dual problems of poverty and famine still feels fresh and apropos. Here’s a version I performed and produced that was broadcast yesterday on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC.
Thanks to Mary Murphy for directing the piece.
Click on the grey triangle to listen.
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:
Yes, it’s time once again for this blog’s annual World Famous Magic Contest (“World Famous,” as in my local restaurant’s “Sam’s World-Famous pastrami-on-rye sandwich, one trip to the salad bar only, please”).
So here is the challenge this year:
Last year at a magic Convention I overheard the tail end of a conversation where a well-respected famous magician was saying to his companions, “Well, that’s because that’s the Greatest Trick in Magic…” I kept on eavesdropping, but I never heard just what that earth-shaking Greatest Trick in Magic was.
So your mission, Jim and Cinnamon, if you should choose to accept it, is to tell us what the three greatest tricks are in magic. But please don’t just list them. You must explain why you consider each trick a great one. Extra points for coherence, unexpectedness, humor, and persuasiveness.
And wonderful prizes, as always, will be awarded:
First prize is first choice from the terrific grab bag of wonderful magic books, tricks, and DVDs I’ve put together; second prize is second choice from the grab bag; and third prize, in a parallel, numerically pleasing manner, is third choice from the grab bag. The items in the grab bag are all commercial books, tricks, or DVDs, at least one of which, I guarantee, you will be very happy to own.
And in the spirit of everyone being a winner, I’ll also ask all entrants to allow me to make up a pdf file which includes their entry. This pdf will not be sold, but will be offered only as a free download to all those who enter.
Send your entries please to email@example.com
Make sure to put the word CONTEST in the subject line
Deadline Wednesday, Oct 31, 11:59 PM.
All are eligible except those who have won 1st, 2nd, or 3rd prize in the previous two years.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
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.”