Son of Simon Says: More Close-Up Magic of Simon Lovell by Simon Lovell
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii December, 2000)
Over the past decade, former British subject Simon Lovell has justly earned himself a place at the table of notables in the artistic banquet that comprises the contemporary American conjuring scene. A superb and bizarrely original performer, a thoughtful and invariably surprising lecturer, a talented technician and an insightful conversationalist about his passions for all things conjuring, gambling, and comedy related, he is also a remarkably prolific writer and content producer, having produced abundant quantities of lecture notes, videos, a best-selling book, and a steady stream of magazine columns and online contributions.
That immensely popular magic book, Simon Says (reviewed in the August 1997 Genii) contained some first-rate commercial material, substantially drawn from Mr. Lovell's working repertoire. But a question that comes to mind when one considers this speedy baud rate of output is this: How does one maintain a consistently high quality in the face of such a constant flow of material?
And the answer comes at least partially with this volume: Well, one occasionally has a bit of difficulty.
Make no mistake, there's some material in this latest volume that is just fine and dandy. Make no mistake: Jimi Hendrix's second album couldn't live up to the first, but the second didn't quite suck, either. But I would be remiss if I failed to suggest that "second album" syndrome is at work here to at least some degree, meaning the long-recognized observation that when a band has been struggling for some years together, writing material, playing live gigs and the like, and finally has the opportunity to do that long-awaited first album, the result is often far better than the rush-to-pressing second album produced in far less time and with far less polish. And in fairness to all parties concerned, the author seems quietly aware of this, as he gently cautions the reader at the outset that "Within the pages of (the previous) book you'll find most of my openers and closers and the material here is stuff that makes up ... the bulk of my middle material. That's not to say that the effects are bad, they aren't." Well, right. But are your middles as strong as your openers and closers? Whose would be?
You can tell that we're off to a shaky start when the first trick is a four-page description of a single-phase sandwich trick with an acknowledged-as-standard handling that already appeared in the previous book, but is here repeated for sake of a new (albeit quite effective) presentation. The author admits that the method was "old then and even older now." By way of introducing his second trick, he offers that it's "not a showstopper," but rather a "nice quickie." He sounds nervous.
Fortunately, the material improves significantly as one follows along, with commercial plots like a take on the old "your signature" gag that turns into a surprising climax; a clever idea for turning the staging of the Scarne two-card transposition into a walk-around trick; and a couple of clever bar betchas that you probably have not seen before (along with some lightweight bar stunts that you probably have). The author's trademark one-of-a-kind presentations are found throughout, including the best "sell" for a simple four-coin Roll Down or a one-time dice-stacking demo you will ever come across. Following in this vein, there is a lengthy description of the paper napkin rose, previously known from the Kevin James Floating Rose video and elsewhere, which nonetheless is accompanied by the author's design improvements and, more importantly, his presentation and performance that are clearly the result of much genuine experience. A concluding section includes several prop-heavy ("major prop-a-ramas" to use the author's appropriate terminology) comedy pieces with outrageous premises that I daresay few will find of much use, in part or whole, but then again, there is no way to tell for certain; some readers may find this kind of thing, or this veteran's professional advice, worth the price of admission. Two of the book's standout entries are an excellent method for a rapid card cull (in order) that is well worth your investigating, and a simple—and I do mean, simple method for the Add-A-Number contributed by Boston mage David Oliver.
Then there is the issue of questionably substantive content. More than 50 non-instructional photographs are included, of which while I find the early Lovell publicity photos relevant and thoroughly entertaining—the final photo of the book elicited a genuine laugh from this reader—I am mystified in an attempt to recognize any value in countless muddy and badly reproduced snapshots of the author accompanied by some magician or other. There are also eight pages of "Moments and Musings," personal anecdotes contributed by the author, at least some of which are of questionable value. After all, the strength of an anecdote may well lie in the reader's (or listener's) inclination to remember or even retell it, because of its insightful or otherwise entertaining caliber. Think of the anecdotes in The Magic and Methods of Ross Bertram, for example—I recently retold one of them mere weeks ago—and then compare them to the personal anecdotes in these pages. I do not dispute that they mean some-thing to the author, but it is also such a writer's job to try to assure that they will also mean something to the reader.
It's possible, I supposed, that I might have thought a bit more highly of this book if I hadn't elected to read it the same day I reread the reprint of Vernon's Tribute to Nate Leipzig. I suppose the reading of many contemporary books side-by-side with such a neo-classic might well be fatal to the more recent release. But then again, perhaps every book should be judged by such measure—no matter how many may come up short.
All of this said, Simon Lovell has his fans—and I am definitely one of them!—and many of those who are fond of his folksy and whimsical writing style—by the way, what are "lobster encouragement sounds," anyway?—as well as of his dynamic performance approach and insightful thinking, have already rushed out and spent some satisfied and enjoy-able evenings studying these pages. As always, Mr. Lovell's commentaries about how to perform for real people in real-world conditions are invaluable, borne as they are of experience, and perhaps worth the asking price to anyone inclined to put them into practice. His suggestion about how to utilize a child too young to write for a signed card trick is just one of many such priceless tips, and for this alone, many will be grateful that Mr. Lovell's previous volume has now begat this offspring.