Jack Parker's 52 Memories by Andi Gladwin
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii May, 2008)
Jack Parker was a beloved figure in British card magic who was taken from the world at a tragically young age in July of 2007. Before his death a number of his friends produced a book to help raise funds for Parker and his family; The Magician's Ltd Cookbook was well received (and reviewed by this writer in Genii, May 2007). Parker's work was popular beyond the borders of the U.K., as reflected in, among other places, two one-man "Magicana" features in the pages of Genii (June 2006 and June 2007). (The book at hand includes a thorough bibliography of Parker's extensive body of published work.) And he was also a core member of The Second Deal internet card magic discussion group, which also holds an annual gathering for like-minded aficionados.
After recognizing that he was inescapably dying of cancer, Parker embarked on a project with his friend Andi Gladwin to create a book that would serve as his legacy. As Parker explains in the introduction, he did not expect to live to see the final product, and indeed this did, sadly, turn out to be the case. But Gladwin worked quickly and efficiently, and I'm sure both parties were equally gladdened when Parker had the opportunity to read at least a completed first draft of all the material.
Mr. Gladwin has provided a lovely tribute to his friend, in a beautifully produced book that he wrote, designed, and produced. As suggested by the title, the book contains 52 tricks, presented in eight chapters, along with a final essay by Jack Parker. The chapter headings provide a reasonable indication of the contents, being broken into: Small Packet Miracles; Moves & Tools; Tricks With a Full 52; Magic from the Lamp (meaning magic that first appeared in Gen/7; coincidentally, one of the chapters of material I most enjoyed); That Little Something Extra; Assemblage (as in card assemblies); The Old Itch Again (sneaky variants of the venerable "21 Card Trick," essentially intended to fool your fellow cardician); and finally You Plus One, an exercise and experiment in the clever application of stooging (and which Parker used once to fool a roomful of well-posted magicians).
At his best, Mr. Parker's work reflects a healthy and fun fascination with method and what can be accomplished with it. The goal here if I may be forgiven for saying so (and some may not be so forgiving)—is not always to produce the most commercial or even most deceptive effect, but rather to explore the intricacies and possibilities of a method, and creatively apply it in original ways to both standard and distinctly novel plots. There is a long tradition of such work in magic, and many are devoted to these paths of exploration. It is interesting to note that this is a very different style of exercising one's conjuring passions than, say, that of David Regal who devotes, for example, an entire essay to the value of effects in which just one thing happens, a clear contrast to Mr. Parker's work, in which multi-phase effects are the norm.
Among the items I most liked in 52 Memories are "Double Barreled Shotgun," a reasonably straightforward effect which begins with a series of direct Ambitious Card repetitions, whereupon a spectator makes several attempts at duplicating the feat, apparently unsuccessful. However when the pack is spread, the target card along with its three mates are found reversed in four different parts of the pack.
"Oddservation" is a nice plot about testing the spectator's skills of observation, performed with two packets each comprised of four random cards. The magician and spectator each exchange a card with one another, only to find that the magician's four cards change into the two selections, and the spectator now has the four Aces. "Twisted Inversion" gives four miscellaneous cards to each of two spectators; each thinks of a card and mixes it among the rest; when the two packets are spread, it's found that each contains a reversed card the other participant's selection. "Remote Control" is a simple (indeed sleight-free) trick in which the spectator turns a card face down amid each of two halves of the pack; even though the magician never touches the pack throughout, he reveals that the spectator has reversed a pair of mates. And among the non-card material, Mr. Parker's "Ring Vanish Sequence" provides an excellent bare-handed vanish of a finger ring that seems to become completely invisible both hands are seen to be empty— before elegantly and mysteriously reconstituting itself into visibility.
These are some of the items I liked, and given the selection of material provided, many readers may find a completely different set of items to be of appeal. I must confess that in the larger scheme of things, this is not particularly my kind of material. While on the surface of it, some may compare Mr. Parker's work to that of Bro. John Hamman, I think that the influence demonstrates itself more in the effect department than in the method. In studying Hamman's work, subtle bluffs sneaky counts and bold mis-shows always seem to occur at precisely the correct psychological moment. Mr. Parker's work sometimes fails in this department; to me, techniques like the Jennings Rhythm Count or the Flushtration Count (popularly associated with Hamman but more properly credited to Norm Houghton) work best when used to confirm a set of conditions that have already been apparently well established in the spectator's mind. By contrast, Mr. Parker often begins with such false shows to establish the initial conditions before the trick takes place, and frankly I find his confidence sometimes misplaced in such dubious procedures. This is fine when sitting around among other clever card men equally amused by method; real layman, however, may just nail such attempts right between the eyes.
I dearly wish the illustrations had been provided primarily from the performer's vantage rather than the audience's attempting to learn a false count from the audience's viewpoint is an exercise in self-induced insanity. Mr. Gladwin's descriptions also are frustrating at times; I've read a lot of card magic descriptions in my day, and there were times here when I found procedures to be all but incomprehensible, lacking timely check point reviews or strategically provided illustrations, and often requiring repeated readings before the intended message came into focus. The credits, while thorough on the face of it, often reflect some of the bizarre Marlovian obsession of the Second Deal crowd, still wondering if the Depth Illusion was created by Vernon (get over it, boys), and occasionally endorsing merely ludicrous claims, such as a reference to a published description circa 1986 that is somehow supposed to take precedence over the actual originator of the Stuart Gordon Double-Lift (hint: that would be Stuart Gordon), whose original sleight was seen in Los Angeles by multiple reliable witnesses circa 1974. Only Marlo himself, or someone similarly deluded, would claim that publication is the sole determining factor of the published record as opposed to reasonable and intelligent consideration of the available facts and such cluelessness only serves to embarrass and undermine otherwise sincere efforts at responsible academic crediting.
These observations aside, the book is beautifully produced, with a genuine cloth cover with embossed foil printing, place marking ribbon, glossy oversized pages on heavy stock, and lovely colorizing of Tony Dunn's illustration. Those who were fortunate enough to know Jack Parker will doubtless be grateful for the gift of these 52 Memories to add to their collective and personal recollections of their departed and sorely missed friend. For those of us who did not get to know the man, 52 Memories is a powerful and loving tribute, and all of us should be grateful to Andi Gladwin for providing this generous monument.