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Simon Says: The Close-Up Magic Of Simon Lovell by Simon Lovell

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii August, 1997)

The first time I met Simon Lovell, we were in a close-up contest together (the only one I have ever entered, and then only because I was paid to do so). I had heard Mr. Lovell's name bandied about in the previous year, and slipped into a performance room to see what I was up against. In the midst of his performance, he suddenly paused, turned to someone seated in the first row who was holding a pencil, and said, "Just write down crap. That's C-R-A-P. Crap!" This struck me as hilarious. Instantly I knew two things with unerring surety: First, Mr. Lovell was clearly an experienced real-world performer, a breed rarely seen in contests. And second (like me), he was going to lose. This latter conclusion may have had something to do with the fact that, much to my fellow contestant's surprise, he had in fact addressed his humorously intended remark to a real-life humor-impaired judge. A fact of which I delightedly informed Mr. Lovell upon introducing myself to him.

I've since had the chance to see Simon Lovell lecture and perform a great deal of the material in this book, in both the Close-Up and Parlor rooms of the Magic Castle, and even for live, breathing laymen, who tend to have very little in common with many brain dead, barely breathing judges, be they amateur, academic, or, goodness help us, both.

Mr. Lovell is an exceedingly deceptive performer, and I'm not talking about his highly deceptive magic tricks. In performance, Mr. Lovell appears to be in desperate need of counseling, if not temporary incarceration for his own protection. Yet in discussing magic with him offstage, you will often find that he is in fact a remarkably thoughtful and deliberate thinker about his beloved and avowed passion. This apparent dichotomy may seem odd to some, and doubtless surprising to others. Yet much to my pleasure, I found that same dichotomy to be fully realized in the pages of this book. There are far too few magic books on my shelves that capture a performer's complete style and personal vision. This book does so, and whether that particular vision is compatible with the reader's own is almost beside the point.

My favorite material in this book is probably the initial three tricks: Fingered Number Three, Fingered Number Four, and the Packed Wallet. The first is Simon's favorite opener, and the next two follow logically from there. Fingered Number Three is in essence little more than a detailed handling and a presentation for the use of a Double Lift to transform a card in a spectator's hand. Whether or not you appreciate this entry may say a lot about your take on the entire volume that follows. Few magicians have failed to Double Lift to an indifferent card, then stick the selection in or on the spectator's hand and reveal the change. But far fewer still have really put the time and effort and performance experience into taking what is far too often a mere throwaway moment and turn it into a planned and managed experience with a complete impact on the audience. One such approach is described here, followed by a logical follow-up in which the card quite unexpectedly arrives in the magician's wallet. And the kicker, the Packed Wallet, is a novel blow-off in which the entire deck vanishes from the performer's hand, leaving the selection behind; this time the deck is then found inside the performer's wallet!

"What happens if, after your smooth opening chat, just one person in the group says that they hate magic? Some close-up workers advocate leaving the entire group to satisfy the one. Not only is this showing a base line insecurity within themselves, it also shows a huge yellow streak down their back. So what if one person doesn't like magic?"—Simon Lovell, Simon Says

None of this material is terribly difficult, and with a few extremely notable exceptions, this is true of most of Mr. Lovell's material, where competent, intermediate-level technology is generally applied to maximum effect. These three routines crystallize what to me is the essence of Mr. Lovell's work, and hence the core of this book's great value. What Mr. Lovell has done is provide every detail of his thorough analysis and intentions, his goals and plans and road maps to success. These are all critically important elements to the performance of effective magic, but the wonderful thing about this book is that these goals and plans are distinctively his, and to such an extreme degree that while the generalities of his thinking should be eminently useful to the thoughtful student, a great deal of the specifics will be utterly useless to most readers. Once again, let me be clear: I consider the extremely personalized nature of this material to be one of the book's strengths, and not by any means a flaw.

Nowhere is this more obvious or exaggerated than in Mr. Lovell's scripts. In the Packed Wallet, consider this moment from the mind of Lovell: "Yes, your card is hopelessly lost in amongst the others. I'd better find it quickly before the torment of its isolation from you tears its very soul apart like a starving Parisian artist eating his own paintings to survive in his tiny garret. Whoops! Sorry! I just drifted off into my own secret world for a moment there."

Now, if this is your first introduction to Simon Lovell, you would be perfectly within your rights to think, "What, are you kidding? I can't use that. I can't even make sense of it." And you'd be right. But that's exactly the greatest element of this book—the author presents an array of solutions to problems that we all need to consider. You get the chance to think about it, you get to ask yourself what you would be saying to cover this dead spot of procedure, how you would handle this particularly challenging moment, how you would turn this particular trick into an effective piece of entertainment—but you probably won't be able to use many of Mr. Lovell's specific answers, and certainly not many of his words. I can attest that I have seen Mr. Lovell say these things in public before paying audiences—but I wouldn't necessarily recommend you try it any time soon.

Some of the most interesting material will be found in the section requiring more demanding sleight-of-hand skills. (With the exception of the Double Lift, virtually every other sleight required is described in at least basic form in the course of the text.) The opening entry, Three Card Pop, is a good application of Randy Wakeman's handling of the Jennings Revelation applied to the appearance of three selected cards, a routine that's bound to get a reaction from laymen and magicians alike. Within this section of the book will be found the standout technical entry: a detailed description of Mr. Lovell's handling of the Push-Off Second Deal. This is a superb deal in his capable hands, with a markedly casual appearance. This is not something anyone will master quickly, but the description here is first rate and puts it in reach of those who aren't afraid to practice.

I have little doubt that reactions to Mr. Lovell's book—even to it's over-the-top cover design—will be not unlike reactions to his performance: Some will like it, some will hate it, and few will be indifferent. I have clearly stated what I like about this book and why. Now let me tell you what I don't like.

I have three main complaints. The first: There's too much hype in this book for my tastes. I don't mind an author or lecturer pausing for a moment here or there to tell me that this was the trick that Dai Vernon liked, or the pass that fooled Blind Lemon Jefferson. But while I realize that authors are in love with their work, as they should be, and want to convince the reader to try out and use the material that has been struggled over and honed over countless performances, through thick and thin—please, please, please try and restrain yourself, lest you appear too desperate. Do us a favor and demonstrate a smidgen of faith in the reader, and thereby permit us to reach some of our own reasoned conclusions. Failing this, hire an editor with a modicum of taste and restraint (and who preferably knows the meaning of the word "disseminate" and can therefore save you as author the embarrassment of misusing the word twice within the first 13 pages of your book).

The second: Mr. Lovell has long been a public advocate of responsible crediting in the record of magic invention. (He should; his signature straitjacket escape has been ripped off more than once by thieving scum.) I believe that Mr. Lovell is sincere in his belief in the importance of maintaining high credit standards. Mr. Lovell is frank in his claim to being a student of the published record, but not an academic authority of same. Fair enough; nobody ever said one needed to be an expert historian in order to be a sufficiently responsible and effective professional entertainer. But once you commit yourself to print, you assume the mantle of authoritative research, lest your readers and future students be misled or misinformed, be it by explication or implication.

Mr. Lovell's approach to credits seems better than careless but not quite good enough to be called careful; let us call it carefree. The Marlo Miracle Spread (and by inclusion its precedents) is credited to Alan Ackerman. The Krenzel Invisible Reverse is referred to as the Krenzel Mechanical Reverse. A multiple shift that identifies Jerry Andrus's seminal Panoramic Shift as a source of inspiration actually bears far greater resemblance to the Frank Thompson Multiple Shift described in the Complete Works of Derek Dingle; both the Thompson and Lovell handlings use the straddle grip on the packet which I believe fairly defines this move, however whereas Thompson bowed the cards to improve angles, Lovell adds a useful riffling cover action. The deck vanish Lovell uses can be found in various forms in the literature, but Don England's TKO's by John Mendoza may well be one of the first. The production of a coin from several playing cards is barely modified from the opening sequence of a wonderful routine of Jerry Andrus's, the Miser's Miracle. And perhaps the most egregious credit faux pas of the book is a routine not of the author's devise but rather contributed by one Morley Budden. Entitled Pyramid Power, this is in fact an only slightly altered presentational approach to Phil Goldstein's well-known routine, Desire, from the Blue Book of Mentalism. (Well-known because it has remained a staple of Max Maven's performance repertoire for many years.) Here is a case where an author must make special effort in the credit department, whenever he or she ventures outside of their own specialty (much like Pons and Fleischman, two chemists, venturing into the wonderland of physics to "discover" the chimera of Cold Fusion). These oversights demonstrate that even those possessed of a reasonable degree of knowledge must, when committing themselves to print, make special efforts to seek out editorial expertise with regard to the public record.

The third complaint is that there are 39 photographs littered throughout this book, of which I could have easily done without at least 30 or more. For the life of me I can't understand why these kinds of snapshots are included in magic books (and Mr. Lovell is far from the first to engage in this bizarre practice), which seem to me to demonstrate only that Mr. Lovell owns a camera, know how to use it and gets around to a lot of magic conventions. Really, if most of the magicians in these photos had been dead for a few decades it would have been far more interesting, but if that's not the case, please spare us your personal scrapbooks for another 40 years or so. (Okay, I loved the last photo in the book.)

The author clearly has a passionate love for this art of ours, and this enthusiasm is clearly communicated throughout these pages. We can all take some pleasure that it hasn't been an unrequited love affair: Simon Lovell and magic have apparently been good for each other for a long time, and now you have a chance to drop in on their still torrid affair.

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardcover with multicolor laminated dustjacket; 264 pages; 378 line drawings; 1997; Publisher: L&L Publishing