Tabman Magic by Tabby Crabb
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2009)
In the interests of full disclosure, let it be known that Tabby Crabb, aka The Tabman, might be the best friend I have in magic that I've never met. We met online in the early 90s, in the young days of online magic, and while my first cover issue of Gen/7 (in 1987) had preceded our friendship, Tabby Crabb is in fact responsible for reconnecting me with Gen/7 in the aftermath of Bill Larsen Jr.'s death, which in turn led to my writing the year-long essay series Shattering Illusions for Genii, and ultimately to my becoming the magazine's book reviewer in 1994. (Whether this news serves to further polish or tarnish Mr. Crabb's reputation is beyond the scope of this review.)
Tabby Crabb, for those who may not know of him, has been around the magic scene for many years and in many roles, from handling stage production for national I.B.M. conventions, to that of custom prop builder both for top pros in the field and for customers fortunate enough to be able to get their hands on his distinctive "Tabman Tables" and other uniquely hand-crafted and highly acclaimed wooden magic products. And yet magic is a sideline of sorts for the multifaceted Mr. Crabb; he's also an accomplished musician and songwriter, who toured at length with (among others) Mickey Gilley and the Urban Cowboy Band.
And now Mr. Crabb has written a personal memoir of much of his life in magic, from approximately the time of the creation of the "Magic!" online bulletin board in the late 1980s (the very first of its kind and the brainchild of David Lichtman), right about up to the present.
This is a difficult book to describe because it's not exactly like any other book on your magic shelves. This is a sincere, honest-to-a-fault reminiscence by someone who has been in the center of several significant magic scenes, a man who loves magic and deeply appreciates the opportunities and people it has brought to his life over the years. It's anecdotal, first-person reportage, in which the writer's personal voice looms large. This means that he pays respectful and loving homage to many of the people who have done right by him, and it also means that he is willing to name the names on a short list of those who didn't. A few of those folks will be damnably unhappy with this book. This, in my estimation, is all for the better. Mr. Crabb is not averse to sacrificing his own dignity on occasion, as he confesses his own mistakes, and tells the story of some of his own failed projects. These are absorbing tales told with a deeply heartfelt voice.
And so, the Tabman, as he is mostly known, tells stories about his personal background, about how he came to build props for Paul Kozak, Amazing Johnathan, Harry Anderson, and more, of how he first marketed tables through Jeff Busby, and that's just a start. He recounts an excellent history of the Magic! online bulletin board, the astonishing tale of those bizarre cretins who eventually sabotaged it, and the start of other online bulletin boards who followed in its stead. (For historical purposes, Mr. Crabb archives the original Magic! today on a public website.)
He also describes a lot of the tricks, props, tables, and more than he has designed and marketed over the years, even providing instructions as to how some of these items can be constructed by a skilled craftsman. This seems primarily to serve the purpose of establishing his original designs and creations, as it's surely beyond me and most I know to attempt to duplicate such workmanship. He also provides instructions for his "Billzabub," a signed bill or card in a small light bulb; his No Slouch Pouch, a practical gibiciere; and a great idea for recreating antique postcards that some enterprising seance performer will no doubt put to use. Also provided are details of some of his commercially marketed items using genuine casino chips instead of coins, a currently popular trail which the Tabman was instrumental in blazing.
Tabby Crabb believes that "loyalty is the longest, strongest, suit in the deck." I enjoyed Tabman Magic—an honorable book of stories told by a modern man of honor.