During my “magic lifetime” (a tad over 35 years) magic publishing has experienced two major paradigm shifts. When I started buying magic books in earnest (a nice way of saying “out of control”), most new publications were usually paperback. Generally octavo in size, perfect bound, stapled or comb bound affairs, many with questionable production values—but they were quite affordable ($5-$15). There was the occasional hardbound book (at premium prices, about $15-$25), and many of the older books (those not yet reprinted by Dover) were hardbound as well. But the majority of the new stuff was inexpensively produced (keep in mind that there were, of course, many exceptions).
Sometime in the late 1970s somebody got the wild notion that magic books could be better—a lot better: Quarto in size, quality boards and acid-free paper with prices that matched this premium level of quality. Pretty soon everyone was in the big-book, big-price ($35-$45) business. Hardbound books in the $25 to $30 range were bargains! Paperbacks at $20 were steals since that’s how much lecture notes were beginning to cost.
Now books in this price range are cheap. We had become accustomed to paying $40 to $50 for a good book when the next change occurred: bigger, better, “deluxe.” Somebody else decided that we would be prepared to pay $100 (give or take a 20) for a quality book—sometimes more. “Trade” editions routinely sell for $50 to $100 while their deluxe, slip-cased and signed/numbered counterparts—the “must have” editions—sell for at least twice the price. Some of these books are mammoth in size; many hundreds of quarto size pages with color plates and work-of-art dust jackets worthy of framing. And the publishers were correct: we shelled out the cash—willingly, sometimes wantonly.
There are, of course, reasons for this major price escalation, but one in particular stands out: For centuries, the only way magical information could be disseminated (beyond a personal relationship with a teacher) was through the printed word. Video changed all that and DVDs have made videotape nearly obsolete. Simply put, books have become a hard sell. Publishers are producing and selling fewer units, therefore they have to price their works higher and in order to justify that, the books have to be perceived as high-end in terms of production values, size and/or content. Most of the time they are and some of the time, well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Somewhere during the “big” era and into the transitional period to “bigger,” desktop publishing snuck in. Anyone with a PC could publish their “contributions” to magic. Much of the time we would wonder why they bothered. Other times we thanked our lucky stars they did bother (with some of us privately wishing they hadn’t).
We are lucky when someone like Michael Close is compelled to share his contributions with us. It’s widely known that one of the reasons Mr. Close released his Workers series was to get his work into the printed record before someone else chose to do it for him. It’s quite possible he really didn’t want to do it: it’s just that he realized that he had to do it. So we become the beneficiary of this paradox. But we are also very lucky that Michael Close’s character and his love of—and sense of responsibility to—the art of magic prevented him from taking the low road of simply publishing his tricks (effect and method only). This would have satisfied the “printed record” issue and, frankly, he probably would have sold just as many books. But this would not have satisfied his sense of duty. Since he had to do it, he chose to do it thoroughly: every possible aspect of the magic shared in the Workers books was offered up; nothing was held back. Included with the magic are some of the most lucid essays ever written on the myriad of subjects that he covers. Combined, the five Workers books may very well be the most focused lessons in magic ever published. Closely Guarded Secrets takes up where Workers left off—and then some.
The Times They Are A-Changin’.
It would have been very simple for Michael Close to call his latest work Workers Six and then publish it with the same production values as the previous five. However, to do so would have meant that Mr. Close would have chosen the low road and he has already shown us that this is not in his character. CGS is as much about evolution as it is about Mr. Close’s latest performance pieces and this evolution touches every aspect of this book: the effects, the thinking; the production values and the medium in which they are all captured.
In regard to that medium, the book purists out there, though perhaps a bit miffed by the necessity to print it themselves, will be very pleased with the final product. Those with the pragmatic (and I believe correctly held) belief that video can be a valuable subsidiary tool when learning sleight of hand will be pleased with the amazing imbedded videos. For those who think they can learn only from video, well, bummer. You’ll have to wait and see if Mr. Close releases this material on DVD. In the mean time, the rest of us will benefit from the lessons and the material included in this EBook. But keep in mind that since not everything shared here in print could possibly be included on a DVD, you will short-change yourself. That would be a shame since there is so much here that can enrich the growth of any student of the art. Even in the case, like me, that you cannot find one trick (out of the many very good ones) here that you plan to add to your repertoire (and this is perhaps the highest complement I can give any book) you will find that the true value of this book is not the tricks, but the substance that is behind every one of them.
Reading through each piece is requisite if you wish to garner everything you can from this book. Skipping an effect because it doesn’t interest you or is beyond your level of expertise could mean missing valuable lessons on multiple levels of magical thinking that can be applied immediately to the magic you already do. Years of experience on what to do in many given situations which are common to many magic tricks are offered here—One simply cannot put a price on that, and all the reader has to do is recognize those given circumstances and apply the lessons. For example, should you skip any one of the first three effects you will miss a lesson in the construction of a “set” of tricks: The blending three individual effects into one cohesive performance piece without ever saying “And for my next trick” (or anything even suggesting that vulgarity).
Many of these lessons are in the application of timing patter with technique (Mr. Close is a devotee of the Erdnase admonition of “changing the moment”), but for him it goes beyond just saying “something” (or cracking a meaningless joke) at the right time to cover technique: It’s about meaning and logic. Some of the most powerful misdirection in magic is when that misdirection is something so natural that it is innocuous. The amount of thought and effort Michael Close puts into the seemingly ordinary (in the minds of the audience) is extraordinary and he is freely shares the fruits of that effort time and again in CGS.
To lift magic—all magic—out of the realm of puzzles, an emotional hook is needed. One of the things we learn here is that, besides something interesting about the trick (the story, the circumstances, etc.), the emotional hook must also be the performer—particularly in close-up situations. If your audience likes you and/or can relate to you, they will give you miles of latitude. This is exactly why good performers can successfully do card tricks for people who otherwise hate card tricks. Puzzles become magical and the “challenge” aspect of some effects goes unnoticed. Throughout CGS we see how Mr. Close hooks his audience. Though he uses gambits such as winning at gambling, these strategies are always bolstered by the audience’s interest in him.
Years of technical expertise and finesse is also revealed in CGS in the “On Sleights” section. Like most great performers, Mr. Close chooses the technique that gets him where he wants the effect to take his audience. If this means a palm or using a pass is the best tool, he uses it. But he doesn’t use a sleight just for the sake of using the sleight. In fact, one of his best pieces of advice in regard to learning sleight of hand appears early in the book and is a testament to one of the many subtexts that run throughout this book: this one being the subtext of “focus.”
A Michael Close book (‘E’ or otherwise) would not be complete without an essay or two. Though the introduction covers aspects of the medium he chose to publish the book, there is also food for thought in the reaffirmation of Mr. Close’s firmly held belief of what magic is to him (and thus to his audience). And while short, in “On Venue and Evolution” Mr. Close shares more valuable experience that could otherwise only be learned through personal trials (and if there is “trial” there must be “error”). Pay attention and you can save some of what is the most precious commodity we all have: time.
In keeping with the subtext of “evolution,” there are two sections in this EBook that are a departure for Michael Close: a section devoted to fooling only other magicians and a section of “Pipedreams”: untried ideas that have merit and might get your creative juices flowing. But a personal word of caution: If you do expand on any of these ideas and create something you feel worthy of dissemination, don’t forget where you got the idea and take the appropriate (and ethical) steps prior to doing so.
I must confess that the penultimate section on Dean Dill’s Box made my stomach sink. Not because it was included (I understand his reasons for doing so), but because of the similarity some of the introductory patter I came up with for the piece has with that given here (keeping in mind that I have never seen Mr. Close perform his version). The upside is that I cannot be accused of stealing (since his is now published), but the downside is that I will be seen as unoriginal and the very unattractive fact that others will be doing his piece; it’s that good. (For the record—for those keeping score—I talk briefly about the Fox sisters and the Davenports and their cabinet).
To close out the EBook, the author revisits (some briefly, some more extensively) several of the pieces that appeared in the Workers series. Two things in particular caught my attention. First, I am curious about how many magicians went running to their shelves to scour through 20 years of Apocalypse indexes (you’ll have to buy the EBook to find out what I’m talking about, as long as no one else spills the beans). Second, and most interesting to me, is that Mr. Close never specifically mentions any of the several superb essays that appeared throughout the Workers series. I see this as an affirmation of my belief that he “got it right” the first time.
Closely Guarded Secrets is a triumph in terms of content as well as medium. Though not the first of its kind, I believe CGS will be recognized as the rocket that propelled (from the launching pad of the e-version of Giobbi’s Card College 1) magic publishing into a new era. Yes, the times they are a-changin’.