And you can quote him on that.

Richard Kaufman, the Chief Genii at Genii Magazine, is good for any number of outstanding quotes going back decades. Here’s one that’s mere hours old:

It doesn’t matter how much you think about magic, or practice, in isolation: nothing makes you a performer but working for real people on a regular basis.
Richard Kaufman

The commercial side of mystery entertainment (that is, the side which offers for sale tricks, books, DVDs and the sort to teach others) relies on the fact that, for many purchasers, it’s quite enough to just be able to imagine being able to do this stuff for others without actually doing this stuff for others. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just don’t confuse that with being a performer. A performer performs.

It’s been a long two days. I’m not much for celebrating Christmas, but that’s a post for another blog at another time. I will say this is a time that naturally causes me to think about people I hold very dear to me. In this strange little world, that includes two people I haven’t spent nearly enough time with lately — two real world performers I call my friends — Jim Sisti and Richard Osterlind. Among the other things you may have done today, I hope you’ve spent some time thinking about people like that in your life.

Two good men, R.I.P.

UPDATE: Welcome friends of Sam Bacchiocchi. I see many of you Googled Sam’s passing and found your way here. Before you read my brief note about Sam, please take a moment to read this entire note to honor the life of a friend who passed away this morning battling the same type of disease.

This morning’s email brought sad news.

At 4:21 this morning. Larry White passed away.

I’m ill equipped to write of the many accomplishments of Larry — there are others who can do so better and more accurately than I could possibly. What I can do is mention three gifts I received from him.

Years ago, in one of the private email discussion lists to which I subscribe, I described an idea using a certain office supply product that had a wonderful property. Larry wrote and asked at what store he might find this, and I replied that if he’d send me his mailing address, I’d send him a lifetime’s supply. He asked for my mailing address, saying he had something he wanted to sent to me.

A few days later, after our mutual care packages passed one another in the U.S. Postal system, I received a little box. Inside was a kind note and two tricks of his. The note mentioned these were never offered for sale and that he only gave them as personal gifts.

The third gift I received from Larry is the gift of his time and kindness. He cared about people and he cared about the effect magic (and magick) should have on people and his considerable contributions bare that out. Among the many avenues he used to spread this particular version of the good news were the tricks he released, and the columns he contributed to magic’s “house organs” as well as the magazine he and David Goodsell started, ORACLE Magic Magazine.

But my favorite would have to be the email discussion group I mentioned earlier. In it, among the hundreds of notes he posted, he often took the role of “Headmaster” of the fictional “Shadowland High” and we were his students. A familiar opening would include something along the lines of “Hats off, shoes on the floor, gum out, Thinking caps on.” (Later he used, “Cell phones off, I-Pods out and eyes open.”) What followed was always interesting and funny and pulled from the vast science knowledge he stored in his cranium.

He shared a lot, and I learned a lot. Over the years we traded emails and I’m better for knowing him, even as little as I did.

Among the people he left behind is his sweet wife Doris, to whom he was married 48 years.

When it’s my time to go I wish I could have it said of me what it is I can say of Larry White: he was a good man and I will miss him.

Today’s email was not kind. In another note, I received news that, shortly after midnight early Saturday morning, Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi passed away. As in the case of Larry, I’m ill equipped to write on this man’s important and interesting life. Despite whatever your religious (or irreligious) position may be, Sam’s life is worth a peek at his Biblical Perspectives web site. At the time of his passing, Sam was surrounded by his wife — with whom he would have celebrated today 47 years of marriage — and three children and, for what it may be worth to those of you to whom religion is important, they together read 2 Timothy 4:6-8. Sam was a good man, and I’ll miss him.

A quick note.

Escamoteurettes came into the world on October 1, 2004. Weblogging was fairly young and magic blogging was downright embryonic. I began writing this thing because it was easier than than finding an old priest and a young priest.

“The power of Max compells you. The power of Max compells you…”

(Sorry. That was borderline inappropriate. Just save me a seat if you get there before me.)

Over the last few days I read the archives start to finish. Wow. This blog would fill a book. (Not that it should, just that it could.) I covered so much ground — and all from my little, insignificant point of view. That I had any readers at all was miraculous to me. That the stats still show a healthy level of activity, especially considering the anemic post count over the last year or so, is truly ponderous. Appreciated, for sure, but ponderous.

And that leads me to this minor update.

Over the last year I’ve received a heartwarming number of emails asking about the blog and why there aren’t new posts. (I also continue to receive an alarming number of emails that, to be frank, have begun to trouble me. My mental state is in pretty good shape, I don’t need pain killers or drugs to help me sleep, I don’t need to refinance my home or any more credit cards, and my Special Purpose is in pretty good shape. But those emails still offer to help.)

Simply put, I’ve said most of what I can and want to say on a multitude of topics and, in some cases, said it more than once. Any arrogance I may have hosted in my mind surely didn’t spill over into my opinion of what I write; I’ve never thought the quality of what I write should even be measured against most of magic’s literarati. My keyboard simply takes dictation from my thoughts — as troubling a concept as that may be. The silly cat fights that occasionally erupt in our strange little world hold less interest to me that they ever did, so I hardly see the value in pretending I am magic’s Perez Hilton. (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that…”) It comes down to having something to say.

To demonstrate what I just wrote, I’ll repeat what I wrote in March 2005:

I’ve got something to say, boys,
I’ve got something to say.
Just as soon as I can find a way, boys,
I’ve got something to say.

That’s David Allan Coe. It seems to me that to consider writing, one should have something to say. I’ve been relatively quiet for any number of reasons, but that’s the best one of the bunch. And, as soon as I find something to say, I’ll get to it again.

Maybe I should (re)visit some the 173 odd drafts I have stored here at Casa Escamoteurettes that have never seen the light of day.



My chest hurts.

At my age, that’s not the best way to start polite conversation, but Casa Escamoteurettes isn’t exactly known for its politeness, now is it. Just to settle the nerves of the three of you I may have concerned, the pain isn’t due to cardiac what-not. I finished listening to Michael Close’s audio book, That Reminds Me: Finding the Funny in a Serious World.

I had planned to order the book from but my friend Jim Sisti suggested a few reasons why the audio book might be the better way to go.

For one thing, reading jokes can be fun (and funny.) But there’s a lot to be said for experiencing the delivery and timing, which often takes a joke into the stratosphere of laugh-out-loud funny. By way of example, reading the Congressional Record isn’t nearly as absurdly funny as watching my two favorite soap operas: CSPAN and CSPAN2.

Hearing Close’s delivery and timing should help my own. For instance, here’s a joke of mine:

I just drove in from Houston and boy is my truck tired.

(Go ahead and laugh, but it kills ’em in redneck and hillbilly country.)

The book is only $20, and the audio book instant download (definition of instant relating, naturally, directly to how fast your broadband connection happens to run) is only $29. So, from where I sit, I paid $9 for Michael to hurt me. Where can you get a deal like that in Vegas, I ask.

Get it here.

Phone sax.

I’ve noticed Casa Escamoteurettes is visited quite a bit by people sporting web-enabled mobile devices. This is good, so long as you higher-tech visitors are not trying to drive while reading this blog; you run the risk of crashing into that idiot turning in front of you who doesn’t see you because she’s busy tapping out a text message.

Lest I be considered a Luddite — and I have been called worse — I have mobile-device enabled this blog. Trying it out on my smart phone I find I can jog my memory with regards to things I’ve written in fewer downloaded bytes than checking Houston conditions on The Weather Channel’s web site. Technology good. Excessive bandwith charges, bad. We aim to please.

As for the sax, here’s a demo of the Jazz & Big Band library offered by the fine folks at Gary Garritan’s group. (I am quite the fan of these sample libraries, having invested (cough, cough) dollars in several sets.) This saxophone solo demo is described thusly:

This excerpt comes from a track from the Sirius B album “Casa do Sol” geaturing Tenor player is Iain Ballamy , one of the UK’s top Jazz musicians. Joe Cavanagh & Markleford Friedman have realized this sax solo using one of the tenor saxes in the Jazz and Big Band library as well as the fretted bass, electric piano and fusion drum kit.

It is sax. Is uses the word “Casa.” It satisfies my juvenile need to tie in the words “phone” and “sax” in an attempt to lure you here. It’s also a fine piece of music.

Deep impact.

First, a quote:

“… well what I did was that I was the first one to just go out and just play steel guitar concerts and when I did it I didn’t just do it in the United States, I did it in England, and everybody kept on saying ” What are you going to sing?” and I would say “I don’t sing I just play the guitar and so I was the person who made that possible so in that sense I made the steel string guitar concert respectable. As for being the father of these other guitar player in any other sense, especially new age music, I do not want that appellation.” — John Fahey in an interview with Stefan Grossman

While listening to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir at absurdly high sound levels is sure to make it a good day, there are times — more often these days — when something a bit less…bombastic is what I care to hear. (Right now, as I write this. Vince Guaraldi is treating me to Days of Wine and Roses. It is — and has been — a good day.)

It’s hard for me to imagine not listening to steel-string solo acoustic guitar. I absolutely fell in love with the sound when I happened upon a three year-old (and well-used) copy of Christmas with John Fahey, Volume 2. This is all the more surprising when one considers my listening choices at that time were the aforementioned Led Zeppelin, along with Aerosmith, Bad Company, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. Like my driving habits at the time (at any moment in time my 1972 Camaro knew only one of two states: sitting still or full-throttle) my listening habits required the volume knob to be set either to 11 on the dial or fully off. Ah, youth.

(I’m sorry, did you say something?)

I loved that album so much I listened to it year round — a habit I maintain to this day.

John Fahey’s style is called “American primitive guitar.” To quote from a piece written by Matt Hanks in the May/June 1997 issue of No Depression Magazine“the bimonthly magazine surveying the past, present, and future of American music”:

To borrow again from Stanley Booth (maybe he should be writing this piece), like every true original, John Fahey has a strong sense of tradition. The components of his muse — his steel string guitar, his country blues, his love of classical melodicism and dissonance, his fascination with railroads and other manifestations of the industrial age — all have their origins in the early 20th century.

(You can — and should — read the entire article, reprinted with kind permission, on John Fahey’s official web site.)

Later in that article Hanks makes an excellent observation:

…Fahey suffused tradition with his own talents so seamlessly that his innovations were often indistinguishable from homage, or even hoax.

Matt’s words made perfect sense to me. Later in life when I sampled and, subsequently, fell in love with some of the same music that stoked Fahey’s fire, I could find the threads in Fahey’s music that pulled from early 20th century guitar players. There was a call-back, but it was a lot more than that. He may have purchased his first guitar in an effort to meet chicks, but thankfully he managed to change the world of music in addition.

Fahey released his work on his own label, Takoma Records. Takoma was home to a number of like-minded, remarkably talented musicians, including Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho.

It was for Takoma Records that John Fahey first recorded George Winston. (I’ve written of my deep love of Winston’s music more than once.) The album Ballads and Blues was released to the musical ether in 1972, and came and went roughly in the same moment.

In 1979, William Ackerman — a truly magical guitar player — went to visit George Winston. William wanted to sign George to Ackerman’s new label, Windham Hill. While staying over that night, after playing lovely slack-key guitar stuff, George sat behind the piano and began playing the music that became the basis of his first Windham Hill release, Autumn, released in 1980.

1982 saw the release of Winston’s second Windham Hill hit. It was called, December — and it was my first George Winston album.

Winston’s music — like that of Fahey — drew from a wide range of styles and from a wide range of performers who came before, making up a part of the raw material that became the music magic.

Tonight marks one year since I’ve seen George Winston in concert. I first saw him at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans in December 1983. Last year I saw him in the wonderful little Manship Theater in Baton Rouge, LA. We were two of some three hundred in the audience, each of us seated close enough that no sound reinforcement on the piano was necessary. Twenty-four years after my first George Winston concert — and who knows how many between — I found the magic was as alive as that first night on Rampart Street in New Orleans.

Winston riffs on the masters — from Vince Guaraldi to Dr. John. Still, his work is identifiable with him. A George Winston album is uniquely George Winston, just as anything John Fahey played was…well, sounded like Fahey.

Few of us in the world of mystery entertainment have the capacity to literally invent. At best, we read and learn and appropriate from here and there, inject a part of our own DNA and, with a bit of stardust, synthesize a new something. The question I have is this: is the end result uniquely you? When you riff, is it you, or is it a clone of someone else? (In an effort to be a kinder, gentler John LeBlanc, I didn’t insert the word pathetic where it logically belonged in that previous sentence.)

Let us continue with this:

“…he stared intently at me as he told me of the frustration of being pursued for more than 30 years by people who thought he was a guru of some sort, people who thought their emotional response to his music meant that he had something to tell them, people who wanted something from him that he didn’t have and didn’t want to give them. He didn’t understand what people were talking about when they tried to tell him how his old music made them feel and what they thought it meant. He hated his old music, he wanted to do something different and he wanted people to be interested in it. He said his reputation as a misanthrope was all wrong, he just couldn’t stand being around stupid people, he needed to be around intelligent, stimulating people. “

He would like very much to make a lot of money, but he doesn’t want it badly enough to spend the rest of his life playing the music the aging idiot hippie component of his audience wants to hear. He doesn’t really hate his old music, he hates the artistic straitjacket represented by it and the expectations of a close-minded, nostalgic audience.

That’s…hard. And I put it here for two reasons, really. One of them should point you to present day magic superstars like David Copperfield and Penn & Teller. Compare the early days of each with what you see today. Is there a message in there somewhere that may contain valuable guidance? I think so.

In bringing this post to a close, in February 2001, just a few days before what would have been his 62nd birthday, John Fahey died at Salem Hospital after undergoing a sextuple bypass operation. Go here to read an interview Stefan Grossman did with John. And when you’re done, go here and read one of the finest articles written. It was written by Joe Piecuch.

One last note. Personal. Over the last couple of years I’ve written quite a few words that are posted to Escamoteurettes. (Granted, I did take quite a few long naps in 2007, so my words-per-week is a bit low as a result.) Few topics have made me feel as artistically insignificant and superficial as writing about John Fahey and George Winston and Ted Anneman as though I had clue number one. To my credit — I hope — at least I am aware of my cluelessness, if not the depth thereof.

Still, this is about a deep impact, and I’ve done my best.

Ninety degrees.

As I put the finishing touches on another Opus Escamoteurettes (which is to say, a blog post too long to read in one sitting in the head, but too short to bother killing a real tree in order to publish it properly) I want to share a reference with you in hopes you will consider the magnitude it wields in This Thing of Ours:

Haunted Pack — Psychokenesis
Devano Rising Cards — magic trick

The difference? 90 degrees.

That’s the message found on page 195 of one of the most important books I have on my shelves of mystery entertainment related books: TA Waters’ Mind, Myth and Magick.

Blackface Mentalism

This post has been a long time coming.

But first, some lyrics:

Wheel about, an’ turn about, an’ do jis so;
Eb’ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.
— Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice, Jump Jim Crow


While Lewis Hallam is believed by some to be the first white comedian to perform in blackface (that was in 1789), and Robert Toll in Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America suggests it was Charles Matthews, it is Thomas Dartmouth Rice who is often acknowledged as the “father of American minstrelsy” — the first white stage performer to wear blackface makeup (at the time, burnt cork applied to the skin to darken it) and successfully perform as a black man. That was around 1828. He is most often associated with the phrase Jim Crow, a circa 1828 caricature of a crippled plantation slave, singing and dancing.

(I fully realize asking the obvious question — why not just get a black actor to play the part of a black man? — short-circuits the long, circuitous route I enjoy so much taking in making whatever point I have in mind in these blog posts, so why not let’s just forget I brought it up.)

Although closely identified with whites masquerading as blacks, minstrelsy was also later performed by black actors, too.

From the Wikipedia entry:

Minstrel shows portrayed and lampooned blacks in stereotypical and often disparaging ways: as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, joyous, and musical. The minstrel show began with brief burlesques and comic entr’actes in the early 1830s and emerged as a full-fledged form in the next decade.

Minstrelsy presented a version of black people that was based on exaggerated stereotypes. White actors playing the part of black people doing the sorts of things no one was actually doing. If there was anything to make it worse, its when black actors played the part of white actors playing the part of black actors doing things no one actually did in real life. (How’s that for convoluted?) The wild popularity of minstrel shows contributed to creating some of the racial epithets we carry with us to this very day. Once an idea takes hold, it’s almost impossible to blot out.

Allow me to be blasphemous for a moment: mentalism is a branch — a form — of magic. Now, I know that just irritates the snot out of some people, but it’s a fact hard to get around. Still, mentalism has a fit and form all its own — a face, if you will — that we know when we see it.

There is a growing contingent in the mystery entertainment world that suggests much of what passes for “mentalists” and/or “mentalism” is, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than magicians masquerading as real mentalists. And, I detect, the problem is not so much the lowly magician encroaching as it is magicians presenting a form of mentalism that is not genuine, real mentalism but, rather, a demeaning caricature.

What is real mentalism? I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t matter what we think it is, it’s only what audiences think it is. (And they don’t use the word mentalism anyway.)

If, in the world of blues guitar, Clapton is god, then in the world of mentalism, Annemann is god. From one end of the mentalist landscape to the other, Annemann’s work — especially The Jinx — is pointed to as seminal work. Max Maven is reported to consider the writings of Ted Annemann the greatest historical influence on his work. (M-U-M March 1979).

From the innaugural issue of The Jinx, October 1934:

“Conceived, written and published by Theo Annemann, The Jinx is not a magazine, neither is it a crusading sheet with a chip on its shoulder and a woodpile in reserve. All offices, both in an artistic and business sense are held by one individual who has but a single thought in mind, that of supplying magicians and mystery entertainers at large with practical effects and useful knowledge.”

Bob Cassidy
points to Henry Hays’ Amateur Magicians Handbook and states it was his “gateway into the world of magic and my first step to mentalism. It would be another five years before I heard of a guy named Corinda.” (Hay’s book is one of Cassidy’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps — A Mentalists Library of Essential Works.”)

Richard Osterlind regularly points to the Tarbell Course in Magic as a rich source of mentalism.

I could go on, but, at this point, I’m either preaching to the choir or talking to a wall.

People like John Edward and Sylvia Browne chap my base because they present a front that I consider an affront. In a very pleasant conversation I had recently with a cyber crime specialist in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, I made note that I consider what people like Edward and Browne do should be criminal. Unfortunately, I can only offer my opinion that their actions are morally and ethical corrupt.

How far between “mental magic” and Edward and Browne are your beliefs? Just asking.

It’s worth noting that Rice, the original Jim Crow, became rich and famous because of his skills as a minstrel. He may have lived “an extravagant lifestyle,” when he died in New York on September 19, 1860, he died in poverty.

One last note: Rice’s brand of entertainment would later be considered a form of racism, although it also opened the door for black performers.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

I thought about attempting to break my own record at how long I can go without peeping, but what’s the fun in that? So, instead, I thought I’d try an experiment that may interest some of you.

Suppose you could learn what are, for lack of any better way to describe them, the “secrets” (and I’m no fan of that word) of earning a rather substantial pile of shekels in exchange for performing this weird little thing of ours? Of course, they aren’t really secrets at all; I’ll simply point you in the right direction and add a bit of commentary.

Over the last ten years or so I’ve been compiling notes for a project that has never seen the light of day. I’m thinking this might be the appropriate venue for sharing that notebook-and-a-half of mine.

Yes, that might be gratifying.

In the mean time, my friend Jim Sisti has been sharing a few gems that, if you were to read between the lines, provides imporant insight in the business of magic. Visit here.