Don’t look, Ethel.

First, a quote:

Here he comes, boogie-dy, boogie-dy
There he goes, boogie-dy, boogie-dy
And he ain’t wearin’ no clothes

Oh yes, they call him the streak
Fastest thing on two feet
He’s just as proud as he can be
Of his anatomy
He’s gonna give us a peek
Oh yes, they call him the streak
He likes to show off his physique
If there’s an audience to be found
He’ll be streakin’ around
Invitin’ public critique…

–Ray Stevens, The Streak

In keeping with the spirit of this post, Here’s a YouTube clip providing the original — superior — version of the song, accompanied with a video that is…pure entertainment. Brilliant:

1974 was a bizarre year for several reasons. Patricia Hearst is kidnapped; Phillip K. Dick has his wisdom teeth extracted and, upon answering the door for a delivery of painkillers, sees a pendant around the neck of the delivery woman and begins seeing visions (to be fair, though, that’s not the weird part); The Brady Bunch is canceled (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”); ABBA, Waterloo; the Darwin Beer Can Regatta (honestly, now, do you even need to click the link?); and one name: Ronald DeFeo, Jr..

Certainly one of the more culturally bizarre was the practice of streaking. According to Wikipedia:

Streaking is the non-sexual act of taking off one’s clothes and running naked through a public place.

When you are aged three and younger, that’s considered fairly normal behavior. After that, apparently, the rules change significantly and materially.

(Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but not everything is beautiful.)

As bizarre as streaking might have been viewed — and, frankly, it did not disturb me all that much given the fact that the only streakers I personally viewed were of the fairer sex (a fine example of the fairer sex) — it served a purpose: to draw attention to the streaker. That’s it. You can go home now.

Through the intervening years, young people have attempted and implemented various cultural devices by which they might draw undue attention to themselves. Maybe it’s just me, but streaking trumps a blue mohawk every day and twice on Sunday, especially if the streaker is a redheaded chick. (Again, maybe that’s just me.)

But the point, really, is attention. Since a tree falling in a forest with no one there to hear it clearly makes no noise, winking in the dark doesn’t accomplish a whole lot more; you have to have an audience.

Enter YouTube.

YouTube can be to magicians with a video camera, what a Super Bowl halftime commercial is to advertisers — a guaranteed audience (only a lot less expensive.)

YouTube also can be to magic and mentalism what Allen Funt was to people who unwittingly do stupid things. And to just as frighteningly large an audience. On demand.

YouTube further supports the notion that Johannes probably had the last laugh.

YouTube, like the Internet and, specifically the Worldwide Web on which YouTube relies, is a conduit for information. Put a search box on the conduit and you have a double-edged sword. Allow anyone with the ability to upload a video and you have one example after another of someone falling on their own double-edged sword over and over and over and…

(The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it’s not nearly as much fun watching someone falling on his own pen as the other thing.)

Anything wrong with that? If the InnernetWeb can’t amuse, why bother paying $80 a month for 10MB download speed?

In the larger picture of things, yes, there can be something wrong with that. Magic and mentalism is not easy to do. It’s even harder to do well. Doing it great? Few do. By default, YouTube falls in line to prove Theodore Sturgeon correct. Hey, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law, man.

The good Mr. Sturgeon’s corollary states:

“The existence of immense quantities of trash in science fiction is admitted and it is regrettable; but it is no more unnatural than the existence of trash anywhere.”

True. But that doesn’t ameliorate the wounds, now does it? That’s not much better than “misery loves company” (although this version is far superior.)

While Joseph Juran may have cared about the law, he was also a principled man. He thought enough of Vilfredo Pareto’s observation that 80% of income in Italy went to 20% of the population, that he named the Pareto Principle after Pareto. The Pareto Principle is known worldwide, though under the more familiar “80-20 Principle” — 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. (Helpdesk people will tell you 80% of the calls come from 20% of the customers, but that’s another blog post for another day.)

Combine Sturgeon’s Law with the Pareto Principle and we can safely suggest that 80% of the people searching for magic on the Internet will find the 20% of videos most easily displayed on YouTube to represent the 90% of crap they fully expect it to look like to begin with. Further, it might be safe to state that 20% of the good videos represent 80% of the views they may never get while people are viewing the other 90% of the crap you find on YouTube.

Or something like that.

Is there a solution? Hmmm. I’m not so sure there’s even a problem. Allow me, please, to explain.

There are some in the world of magic and mentalism who hold the position that, to perform any piece publicly in a less than a well constructed, fully practiced manner injures magic in the same way the culturally popular death of a thousand cuts can. If that were true, magic would have died a hundred years ago. (Here is where the obligatory and fully appropriate link to Max Maven’s Protocols of the Elders of Magic should appear. But let’s not throw a rock at that bee’s nest, shall we?)

Another faction suggests that we “old guys” are loathe to throw away our buggy whips (not to mention the buggies) in favor of embracing more modern transportation. To that I can only say you’ve never had to walk back and forth to to school, uphill, both ways, in the snow. So don’t pour me a glass of water and tell me it’s raining.

Yet another faction suggests YouTube is The Next Step in successful marketing. (But, marketing what? Who cares! “Two million views is two million views Mr. I had To Ride My Dinosaur To School.”)

In his book, Engineering Persuasion, Richard Bandler and John La Valle make the point:

When you look at the selling process, we like to start from the end. Many sales training programs start with the beginning of the process. After all, when you know where you’re going, it’s much easier to get there. Then you run the process backwards for yourself so you know what steps you take to get there.

Start with the end in mind. In other words, “what’s the goal?”

What’s the goal of a magician posting a video to YouTube? If it is merely to feed an ego, then not much more thought needs to be considered. If the goal is loftier than that, it may be a good idea to clone another aspect of David Blaine’s success: get a director. Or at least someone who can tell you the truth without you going on a digital rampage posting paragraph after paragraph explaining why your reviewer doesn’t know his nostril from a hole in the ground.

Just a suggestion. But what do I know? I have to feed my dinosaur now.

Short and sweet.

I can think of several reasons why I like Richard Kaufman. This evening one of those reasons decussated the unspoken reason I have yet to view the motion picture The Prestige:

The editing and twisting of the narrative wasn’t hard to follow, but watching a film over two hours long about two asshole magicians who are a pair of conceited bastards was extremely tedious.
Richard Kaufman

Sure, it’s still on my Netflix queue (it was recommended by a few friends, though I’m now wondering if there was some underlying motivation over which I should be offended) but it’s not a priority. Instead, I’m looking forward to a viewing of How to Eat Fried Worms. Now there’s a plot I can sink my teeth into.

The nicest guy in rock and roll.

Brad Delp
June 12, 1951 – March 9, 2007

Remembering Brad Delp
Delp remembered as generous, unassuming star

UPDATE: I’m going to add this quote, currently the home page of the web site for the band Boston. I’m posting it here because it’s not likely to stay there, but it should remain visible:

As you all know by now, BOSTON’S lead singer, Brad Delp, was found dead in his home on Friday, March 9th 2007. Plans for live BOSTON performances this summer have, of course, been cancelled.

My heart goes out to his wonderful fiance Pamela, his two children and other family members, his close friends and band mates, and to the millions of people whose lives were made a little brighter by the sound of his voice. He will be dearly missed.

–Tom Scholz


Redefining “red hot” in “Red Hot Cold Reading”

Heard the one about the re-release of “Red Hot Cold Reading”, one of the seminal cold reading books, by Herb Dewey and Thomas K. Saville?

Well, I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first? Okay, the good news.

The good news is, “Red Hot Cold Reading” was re-released.

The bad news? It may be that it was not supposed to be released. As in, unauthorized.

If that is the case — and we don’t yet know — I’ve got news worse than that: I have a pretty good idea who is personally involved in “Dragon Books” — the purported publisher.

If it turns out this is unauthorized, unfortunately for me, I ordered two copies — one to replace my ragged one, and one as a surprise for a friend. I ordered them from a fellow I’ve done business with over the years, and find him to be a good and decent dealer. $20 each plus shipping. (Update: Not that it should surprise anyone, considering who the dealer was, I got a full refund of my purchase plus shipping charges. The “unfortunate” part was not about the money; it was about the fact that I may not have two legitimate copies of the book.)

Unfortunately, when they arrived, I was not happy. At all.

Here’s the cover:

The red hot Red Hot Cold Readings cover

And trust me when I tell you, its rear end is no beauty either.

Does that look look at all familiar? Well, it would if you’re like me and purchase e-books only to cart them off to Kinkos so they can turn it into a dead-tree version — which is the right way to read a book. (If I were to guess, this the way the Almighty would want His books if He were in our sandals. Although, I guess that comparison sort of falls down when one considers the subject matter of the book.)

Like you, I purchase e-books usually because it’s the only format available for some things in our weird little world. Usually they are a form of evil that I tolerate only as long as it takes for the college kids to print and bind a nice copy for me. (Not everyone has the skills to produce an attractive e-book. Most I’ve seen look like…well, this one.)

Granted, I usually go with a softer color for the cover — you know, maybe something in a pastel.

This “version” of “Red Hot Cold Reading” looks like someone scanned the original book and ran it through an OCR program. While I admire someone with the stamina to correct the inevitable bajillion spelling errors this process no doubt created (the original book was apparently manually typed on a circa-1621 typewriter, its ink obviously provided by crumbling into powder burning leaves from outside the cave and pressed into something one might loosely refer to as “fabric ribbon”) it remains to be proven if this published version is legal.

(The proof-reader did manage to leave the original’s “Saville” as “Seville”, and retitled the books as “Red Hot Cold Readings” — but why get picky?)

None of us can any longer discuss the matter with Herb (unless your name is John Edward, in which case you should go straight to hell, do not pass go and stop collecting $200, and stop reading my blog), and — to the best of my knowledge — Thomas K. Saville has proven to be difficult to locate.

I’m going to watch this issue — as should you — to see if, indeed, this is unauthorized and, if so, if my guess about the perpetrator is correct. If I am…

Piracy — the word many of us use in regards to the unauthorized publishing of something not within the legal rights of the bastard individual doing the publishing — is a criminal offense. How criminal is criminal? How serious may this issue be? Well, the United States Department of Justice could already be involved.

Given the pox found all over the body of magic, thanks to intellectual property thieves, I would be very happy to see some of this sort of serious justice dealt in the world of magic and mentalism. We’ve tried the “police ourselves” route — it didn’t work.

UPDATE: Silly me. I forgot to add part of the email Charlie sent out on March 2, 2007:

I’ve removed Red Hot Cold Reading from the site. There was a reaction that it may have been pirated.

I have pressed the publisher of this new edition for more concrete proof of rights. In the meantime, I am withdrawing it.

Still waiting to hear more…

Strip tease.

In the 90s there were not many web sites dedicated to magic. As I recall, we were all (nearly) on a first-name basis. Rhett Bryson, Christian V. Andersen, Jeff Lindsay, Dodd Vickers and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, Richard Robinson’s All Magic site — those are some of the names from the links page from one of my first web sites.

There are few sites from that era still breathing. Most of the web sites that you can still locate from the Worldwide Web’s version of “the 70s” look a lot like a flash-frozen woolly mammoth with grass still in his mouth, albeit with a blinking HTML tag on his hiney. (I forgive you Lou.)

One site still up and running is Steve Bryant’s, once the home of the monthly Little Egypt Gazette (now flash-frozen, though without the blink tag) and now the monthly Little Egypt Magic.

February’s issue covered Steve’s recent trip to Las Vegas where he attended World Magic Seminar XXX and, in reading his notes, made me regretful that I didn’t attend yet again. (This is a long, long running string of regrets.)

I often point people in the direction of the Little Egypt Magic web site (it’s also in my list of magic links here on Escamoteurettes) because it’s a place I like to visit. If you’ve never stopped by, do so now. And then add it to your bookmarks.

“Something selfless for the society.”

Recently I was informed that I should do “something selfless for the society.”

Now, I’m not entirely sure which “society” to which this individual refers. I decided to choose magic. I hope you’ll forgive me. (Or thank me. Your choice, really.)

So. With ladybug tricks suddenly gaining some traction, I thought I’d offer this free trick to the community in lieu of creating an instructional DVD, 4-color process booklet, and $100 price tag. Here it is for your consideration.

Name: Crushed and Restored Ladybug

Effect: The performer squeezes a ladybug between his thumb and forefinger until a slight “pop” is heard. The remains fall into the performers palm, the hand closes. When the performer’s hand opens again, a live ladybug crawls around.

Secret: What, are you nuts — N-V-T-S nuts? This isn’t a magic exposure site.

(I will give you a hint, though: you can get 1500 ladybugs for only $5.95. If you give one out at each performance, that’s a 750-performance pack!)

Aaaahhhh…something selfless for the society.” Soul cleansing, indeed.

P.S. Before you animal rights extremists burst a blood vessel, I want you to know I am a part-time humorist and a full-time pacifist. I wouldn’t hurt a fly.

(But a ladybug? Now that’s a different story.)

Do You Believe in Magic?

Like the web of which it is part, Youtube continues to be a source of both irritation and information. Here’s some of the information side of things.

Daniel Roth Productions, in partnership with Movie Makers International, will release later this year a full length documentary titled, “Do You Believe in Magic?” based on the The College of Magic in Cape Town, South Africa.

From Cape Town to Las Vegas. View a terrific trailer here.

Rumors of my death.

I suppose it would be responsible of me to at least say something to explain the nearly seven month gap between the notice of the death of that wonderful human being who was Tommy Wonder, and this 2007 inaugural post. And I would if I were a responsible-type adult.

Okay, I was serving time. (Just kidding — the conviction was overturned.)

I’ll borrow from one of my previous posts’ quotes:

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 was David Allan Coe. And I agreed with him then, and still do now: you have to have something to say. And I’d run into a patch where I thought I’d said most of what I had to say.

The reasons I started this blog a couple of years ago are somewhat different from the reasons I continue it today. Back then, there weren’t many magic-related blogs at all. And a painfully high percentage of those that were around then were dedicated to skewering the keptin of the green ship. I avoided direct participation (and even indirect participation, most of the time) in that endeavor and focused on other things.

Due to the shear numbers of blogs started with the singular goal of harpooning one fellow only served to light a fuse that virtually guaranteed the majority would quickly run their course and fall off the edge of the great flat earth. There are only so many non-clever ways to call someone stupid or fat before you, yourself begin to look…. Well, you know.

As a result, there are many, many magic-related blogs that now litter the digital highway with their dead carcasses. Escamoteurettes did not die; it simply took a nap, but not a dirt nap. And that’s the distinction.

So. What’s changed in the last seven months?

Offering up audio on a blog is far more popular today than it was when I stuck a toe or two into the waters. I don’t feel all that much different about it today than I did when I put the kibosh on it here. It takes time to listen to audio — attentive time. Podcasts aren’t like listening to music in the background.

Some blogs are gone; some new ones have popped up. Even Richard Kaufman blogs (and I’m glad to see it. Someone light a fire under Stan’s chair, please.)

So what have I really been doing? In part, I spent the last seven months putting into action some of the concepts I’ve pointed to, suggested, preached about, and admonished in these digital pages, the results of which I will share with you this year. I may not have been blogging, but I have been writing. This will be a year of education as well as a healthy helping of the sort of silliness you’ve come to love and expect from Casa Escamoteurettes.

Oh, in case you haven’t noticed, I changed the old design when I upgraded WordPress from 1.2 (the writing on cave walls version) to 2.1 (the brand spanking new, days-old version.) It was a new design, or spend another seven months shoe-horning the old design into the new template structure. And I didn’t have the stomach for that sort of excitement. (Expect a few broken links here and there. Sorry, Charlie, can’t help it.)

I’ll temporarily close by appropriating the essence of a well-known movie quote:

“You smell that? Do you smell that? Literacy, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of literacy in the morning.”

Cry ‘Havoc.’ It’s begun again.

David Blaine, or magician?

What do you think normal people seek when they think of our weirdness? Do they think they want to see a “magician” or a “mentalist”? Or do they search for something else?

Here are some search request estimates that combine results from Google, MSN, and Yahoo! to give you an idea what it is people are searching for:

Estimated number of times per month people search for:

“David Blaine”: 1,944,572

“Criss Angel”: 311,801

“magician”: 105,574

“Copperfield”: 77, 294

“Penn & Teller”: 29,421

“Lance Burton”: 5,163

“mentalist”: 3,875

“Kreskin”: 2,527

“Banachek”: 987

“Harrison Greenbaum”: 0

“Ford Kross”: 0

Well. There you have it. Make of it what you will.

But I will note that years ago Tom Peters strongly and enthusiastically suggested that people in business should consider themselves the CEO of “Brand Me, Inc.” and conduct themselves accordingly. It was true when he stated it; it’s true today; and I assure you it will be even more true after you read this line.