Fusillade: A Treatise on the Multiple Selection Routine by Doc Eason & Paul Cummins
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii March, 2001)
Who was the genius who said that one shouldn't do too many pick-a-card tricks? Of the many foolish declarations in the literature of conjuring, including other howlers like "it's fun to be fooled" and "women don't like card tricks" and "that was a great version of Nickles to Dimes" and "I finally found it on a Michael Ammar videotape," that first one should at last be put securely to bed by the publication of this book about the Multiple Selection Routine, a trick that has not only become the flavor-of-the-day in current commercial card magic circles, but is apparently based on the premise that if one pick-a-card trick is good, then pick-eight-or-ten-or-twenty-cards or so is better.
It shouldn't be surprising, I suppose, that this kind of routine has become so popular. The trick comes off like a feat worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records, yet at its most basic level, can be (but is not always necessarily) incredibly easy to execute. There's plenty of action and you needn't be much of a performer to get some kind of impact out of is it is memorable to boot, and keeps a lot of the audience directly involved (one of the reasons that pick-a-card tricks are so effective to begin with). As Doc Eason points out, its an excellent piece for large banquet tables, the toughest working situation most professional close-up magicians encounter. The trick has a long history in the conjuring literature (recounted in an excel-lent bibliography provided in this volume); while there are early references dating back to Edward Victor in 1942 and Annemann in 1948, along with an early undated reference from Ed Marlo, the interest of most serious modern practitioners probably stems from Eddie Fechter's "Eight Selections" in Jerry Mentzer's 1974 volume, Magician Nicely. Then again, the trick's popular fate was probably sealed once Ricky Jay included a version as the closer of the first half of Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants. Word gets around.
Doc Eason has been a Magic Bartender at the Tower Restaurant in Snowmass Village, Colorado, for 23 years now, since Bob Sheets went East to establish the Brook Farm Inn of Magic in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He's done more shows in those 23 years than many pros will do in a lifetime, and he states unequivocally on the first page of his introduction that "The multiple selection of cards is, by far, the strongest piece in my repertoire." This is undoubtedly true, but it is important to remember (as Mr. Eason points out) that a significant part of the impact he achieves with this routine comes not merely from the revelations or even the trick itself, but from the fact that he memorizes and recalls the name of every spectator as he locates each one's card! That is a truly impressive, entertaining, and yes, memorable feat, and one that readers will not readily duplicate. That said, Mr. Eason does in fact teach his method, which you may be surprised to learn does not rely on mnemonics, but rather on, well, remembering! Basically, he tries really, really hard to remember the names—harder than most of us try in our day-to-day lives—and he has now become skilled at doing so. He does have some little tricks and tips that he imparts in these pages (along with some jokes that also help him but are probably better suited to the Magic Bar environment than corporate settings), but mostly he just tells you to keep doing it until you get good at it. Good luck!
Mr. Eason's routine readily works for 15 to 20 selections, although he does repeat some revelations when he finds it necessary, a practice I would prefer to avoid. His selection procedure is relatively simple to execute. (If you want to seek out an ingenious multiple selection procedure, you might want to consult Steve Bedwell's new manuscript, Thick Schtick, about the long card locator.) The revelations he uses are, in general, well known standards that are not terribly challenging to one's technical skills, and his written descriptions tend to be rather simplified and of the bare bones approach. However, the greatest value in his segment of the book will be found in several bits of insight and advice concerning performance, including how to keep the rest of the crowd interested during the selection process; how to head off the "color commentator" in advance (that is, the guy who wants to keep up a running set of theories on methodology as the trick progresses); how to involve the entire audience in the pacing and performance of the routine; and a stunning idea with a signed selection. Mr. Eason's segment comprises less than a third of the book, but these elements lend great value to the overall product.
Following this section, Paul Cummins describes his own approach to the routine. Mr. Cummins is a part-time pro who has used the multiple selection routine professionally for many years and in thousands of performances. (He is also, as of the next issue of Genii, my welcome opposite number here, who will be alternating book review columns with me.) He published a bit of his work on the subject of the multiple selection routine in his lecture manuscript, From a Shuffled Deck in Use (reviewed in the January 1998 Genii), which no doubt whetted appetites (including my own) for further details about his complete routine. Mr. Cummins' approach is, for starters, extremely well organized; he divides the routine into four segments, each described in significant detail: the Selection and Control Process; the Initial Discoveries; the Flexible Middle; and the Closers. His control process is more challenging than that of Mr. Eason's; although Mr. Cummins provides an alternative, his primary approach consists of genuine Dribble/Stop selections followed by repeated Side Steals. This is not easy, and neither is a great deal of Mr. Cummins excellent routine; this is not an approach for beginners. In fact, a fair degree of knowledge is assumed in these descriptions, and in some cases revelations are described with absolutely minimal verbiage, and lacking photographs where one or more would be desirable. You will have to work to master some of the material in the Cummins segment, as this is frankly an expert's approach, yet within its challenges are contained its own rewards.
You can probably guess the significance of "Initial Discoveries" followed by "Flexible Middle" and "Closers," and this structure makes a great deal of sense, albeit that it demands a significant degree of experience to pull off reliably and effectively. Mr. Cummins follows a game plan that always begins the same way (with the superb segment that he described previously in FASDIU), ends one of two ways depending on conditions, and in between relies upon a veritable catalog of selections that by and large, consist of sets of "doublets and triplets," that is, sequences of two or three revelations that logically fall together and can be plugged in or out at will. This means that between the three opening revelations and the two closing ones, Mr. Cummins describes, within the pages of his "Flexible Middle" section, no less than 21 additional revelations. This approach provides a kind of jazz take on the work that entails a fair amount of thinking on your feet coupled with absolute mastery of a substantial catalog of technique. You may, at this point, wish to sit down and breathe deeply for a time, or simply turn your life to less demanding pursuits.
The book concludes with a chapter entitled "Outs, Opportunities, and Challenges," a take on a famously titled book of cardicianship, and this chapter is worth real dollars to anyone who actually tries to put the content of this manuscript to use, including advice on what to do when someone forgets their card, refuses to name their card, or when the magician produces an incorrect card and other such pitfalls and, as the authors say, opportunities. Following this chapter will be found two excellent appendices, one consisting of "credits, references and remarks," and the other the aforementioned bibliography.
If it sounds like I can find no conceivable complaints about this book, that would be almost but not quite true. I do have one: the book is too good. And no, I am not kidding.
This book reflects an unusual characteristic that I do not recall having encountered before in print; this book is, although this may seem odd to say, video-like. Now, there is much that is wrong with video as a teaching tool (some of which was superbly articulated by Max Maven in the January issue of Genii), and there is much harm and little good that the explosion of video has brought to the art of magic. (The fact that it may have made your entry into the ranks of self-styled magicians any easier is not, I daresay, a compelling defense.) One of those great harms is that video has produced a kind of cherry-picking approach to magic: the rapid skimming across the surface of material, scooping up the easiest and most effective work without learning any of the thinking or creative process that lay behind and beneath it, all facilitated by marketers ever eager to save their customers the effort of actually reading books.
Thus we are faced with the problem of the silver platter issue, if you will, and that is exactly what this book represents. For a mere 20 bucks, you can now gain the experience and knowledge of thousands of performances and decades of experience and expertise, without struggling through any of the thought or effort that was required in the process. What is wrong with that? Well, many things, but to begin with, it is not likely that you will greatly appreciate what you have received, since the effort you expended was so minimal; in short, you have not earned it. This is why, by the way, those who do not make their living performing for the public are invariably so willing to sell you someone else's secrets for cheap—because since they do not utilize these secrets themselves to create the experience of magic for laymen, they therefore do not value them, and indeed, only discover value for themselves when they have managed to sell them so you. I confess that this does not explain the motives of these two particular authors, but one of them has recently become a publisher and the other is a dealer of sorts, and once your living depends on magic in any way other than performing it, you must face that fact that your livelihood now depends on the selling of secrets—even if they are your own.
Yes, yes, I realize that the preceding paragraph will win me few fans, but before you write your hate mail, rest assured—I can live with your scorn. Many of us spent decades studying the literature to learn card discoveries that the average duffer has overlooked and might never notice, were they not suddenly laid out, page after page for the taking, on the silver platter pages of this hook. I'm not sure that this is a great book, but there is greatness in some of the con-tent, to be sure—and had it sold for $100, rather than $20, I would probably offer no complaint at all. Then again, I'm sure that option occurred to the authors, mere seconds before it was rejected, faced with the knowledge that thieves and photocopiers would have promptly reduced sales to nil. Am I ambivalent about this book—perhaps somewhat conflicted? No more nor less than I am about the present state of magic.