Tangled Web by Eric Mead
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 2007)
Eric Mead's reputation among the cognoscenti is as a distinct magical stylist who is among the most spontaneously inventive entertainers on the current magic scene. He has the respect of "workers" and experts alike (two groups who are sometimes, but not always, the same people). A busy performer at both corporate and high-end private events, he boasts a rarified clientele that includes the rich and famous of Aspen and Hollywood, among other locales. And for those who have seen the film, The Aristocrats — the highly lauded if controversial documentary about the world's dirtiest joke, told by 100 comedians — you will know that among the ilk, of George Carlin, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Carey, the cool guy doing the card trick version is Eric Mead.
Tangled Web is a gem of a book, designed accordingly in a jewel-like little package by Stephen Minch's Hermetic Press, The book opens with an introduction by none other than Teller, who offers an appreciation of the value of Mr. Mead's having spent two decades acquiring some real world experience before electing to write a book. And Teller points out the salient points of Mr. Mead's appeal and success: "He's a gentleman of erudition, grace, and wit, with just the right seasoning of mischief, frankness, and vulgarity." Knowing the author as I do, I would say that, well, yes I think that covers it quite succinctly.
In my January 2004 column in Genii, I reviewed a set of three lecture notes collectively dubbed "the X books," thanks to their respective titles incorporating the letter X. Only a hundred sets of those notes were published, and since then the set has commanded eBay prices of as much as $200. Those three monographs have now been gathered, added to, and illustrated, in the form of this handsome and, I believe, important new volume from one of magic's cutting-edge thinkers and performers.
I encourage you to consult my review of those lecture notes to read a more detailed description of some of the contents, which it would not be fair to repeat here so soon. But those contents have been expanded upon (and in a couple of cases, also reduced), with two major new sections, and a new organizational framework that separates the remaining contents into four main components, dividing the material into walk-around magic, close-up and bar magic, standup platform and stage magic, and finally, mentalism. In case you missed it, Mr. Mead performs all of these forms and he does so not only with competence and flair, but with a degree of originality and freshness that at times borders on the radical.
With that in mind, I can virtually guarantee that anyone who performs in any of those styles of magic (and note that there are even two clever pieces of children's magic included as well) will stand not only to learn something from the tricks and essays presented, but will doubtless be faced with a new idea that will stop you cold, bring you up short, and make you think about what you just read, and how it might reflect positively or negatively on your work. You will find novel ideas here that are not seeking difference for its own sake, but rather originality built on quality and fueled by experience. This is a book built on a bedrock of real ideas reflected in seven essays and more than a dozen routines and a passionate and sincere desire to reach out and touch both magicians and audiences alike with those ideas.
Although there is of course plenty of sleight-of-hand material here, very little of it will test the mettle of an advanced or even intermediate student. However, the two new sections undoubtedly reflect state-of-the-art thinking about methods, effect, performance, and the experience of magic with little if any sleight-of-hand involved.
One of these added segments, titled "Disorderly Conduct," is an expert discussion of memorized deck magic, and it is nothing less than a sparkling vein of golden ore. This material first formed the basis of a remarkable lecture that Mr. Mead presented at my "Stack Clinic" intensive seminar in Las Vegas in October of 2004. There, a small coterie of my registrants (along with myself and my teaching colleague, Michael Close) leapt to a standing ovation at the conclusion of Mr. Mead's astonishing and elegant presentation, all about maintaining order while implying disorder. If you are serious about magic with a memorized deck, this is not merely price-of-the-book material it is worth far, far more than the price of the book. Some of the work described including a break-through idea on how to return, for example, four Aces to correct stack position while apparently shuffling the pack thoroughly is partly specific to the Aronson stack, but most of this segment will be eminently useful no matter what stack or system one uses.
The other new section, entitled "Jazz Charts and Favorite Licks," is an extended instructional essay on equivoque, focusing on variations of Dai Vernon's seminal "Trick That Cannot Be Explained." Although little if any sleight-of-hand is required, this material, much like the memorized deck content, is truly geared for experts for serious magicians who are willing to press the totality of their abilities in order to create genuine mystery experiences for their audiences. Mr. Mead's quarry here is miracles not in the magic dealer ad copy sense, but in the rock them in their boots, make them tremble, mind messing miracle sense. Very little has been written about equivoque in the magic literature, and if you are an expert, you already know that handful of sources. This fact, combined with the ethereal quality of the methodology itself, renders the subject ephemeral to many. Mr. Mead touches on these issues and offers concrete new ideas on how the mechanisms of equivoque work, and how with fearlessness and true mastery you can bring the experience of miracle to the world.
I believe this is nothing less than a terrific book a book about the kind of magic that the very, very best magicians spend their lives thinking about and trying to achieve. Although it is a small book, it is one of those rare works that is thoroughly transfused with the voice and mind and artistic sense of its creator a book presented with his unique mix of gentle tone, diabolical thinking, all mounted atop a steely resolve and uncompromising demand for excellence. This is not a book to be measured merely by the number of tricks, or number of pages, but rather by the number of stunned and breathless gasps that, given sufficient considered effort on your part, it may eventually produce in your audiences. What, I ask you, is that worth to you?