The Complete Workers Ebook by Michael Close
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii May, 2005)
When Michael Close used the term "workers" as the title of the first of what would eventually turn into a five-volume series, the word was known to magicians but not widely used in the context in which he intended. In his introduction to that debut edition, Mr. Close explained that a worker "is a routine in which every last performance detail has been thought out." He went on to point out that "[t]he wonderful thing about routines which are workers is that if another per-former wants to adopt the routine, the majority of the hard work has already been done." And in his opinion, he added, "about 1% of the routines in print are actually workers." That estimate was probably generous.
Hence the original asking price for Workers Volume 1, a mere $20, qualified as the proverbial "steal" in that it described, in superbly useful instructional detail, four "workers" by any measure. I had witnessed firsthand Mike Close putting all four of these items to use many times during the period in which we were both performing at the upscale magic-themed restaurant, Illusions, in the suburbs of Indianapolis, circa 1988 and 1989, during which period I appeared seven times, and where Mr. Close went on to manage the magic staff for a period of about five years.
I had briefly met Mr. Close prior to our working together at Illusions, when I had arranged to visit his mentor, Harry Riser, who had taken me by Max & Irma's, where Mr. Close was then a resident performer. I think it fair to say that, from the next time Mr. Close and I met again at Illusions, I have been an enthusiastic fan of his work. Michael Close is one of my favorite magical thinkers, writers, lecturers, and above all, performers. (In the interests of full disclosure: We are also, today, good friends, as he so kindly states publicly in the ebook at hand, proof positive that a critic can actually have a friend even if that friend is another critic.)
So when Workers Volume 1 was released, in 1990, I had already had the chance to see Mr. Close obtain consistent laughs with "The Unbelievably Useful Comedy Prop," de-light audiences with "The Origami Bunny," entertain and amaze them with "Dr. Strangetrick" an extremely clean and deceptive version of "Card Warp" with a card and a dollar bill and completely astound them with "The Pothole Trick," one of the two best versions of the "moving punched hole" effect extant, and one of the most widely adopted routines in all of the Workers books. It was, there-fore, no surprise when the book met with critical and commercial success. As Mr. Close commented in his introduction, "What separates a worker from a run of the mill routine is an attention to detail," and his exquisite attention was reflected in his extremely accessible and well organized prose. The same superb sense of rhythm and pacing that Mr. Close brings to his performances was also at work in his descriptive style, presenting the material in a systematic but engaging manner that kept you glued to the page and drove you to the finish line in an entertaining and invariably satisfying manner. By the time you were through reading one of these trick descriptions, you had a sense of what the performance really felt like, while you also knew you had learned some important lessons that went beyond the limits of mere moves and drew you out into misdirection and motivation. Reading Workers was at once a complete educational and even an artistic experience.
Of course, it wasn't long-1991 to be exact before we saw the release of Workers Volume 2, containing seven new items. This volume introduced the "MC Spread Double Lift," a true utility move that is not simply another Double Lift, but rather a unique problem-solving tool that is worthy of any cardician's kit. The closing entry in this volume is "The Frog Prince," an extremely deceptive and magical routine built around a charming origami fold. As it turns out, every volume in the Workers series would include at least one origami-themed trick.
Workers Volume 3 came along in 1993, and this was a remarkable work that garnered even wider attention than the previous releases. Whereas Volume 1 had been a slender 44 pages and Volume 2 a lean if meaty 66 pages, Volume 3 had effectively doubled to mach 138 pages, including 22 items. But it wasn't just quantity that took a leap in Volume 3, it was also the range of content. Eight out of these 22 items were essays about subjects including Presentation, Patter, Technique, Naturalness, and Motivation, The Too Perfect Theory, Analysis and Conviction, Audience Management, and a self-described "sermon" on Ethics. Herein, Mr. Close established himself as one of magic's premier performance-based theoreticians. Along with the handful of important theoretical texts in the literature, Mr. Close's essays are required reading for those looking for thoughtful and wise guidance on the path to becoming one who entertains professionally with conjuring.
But there was still more to the scope of Volume 3. In a marvelous 13-page segment entitled "On Palming," Mr. Close took the student by the hand (as it were) through an expert's tour of Bottom (left-hand) Palming, with in-depth discussion of how to master such techniques as the Erdnase Bottom Palm, LePaul's Left Hand Diagonal Palm, and the Left Hand Peek Steal. He discussed grip, naturalness. misdirection, transfers, and more, and addressed the issue of "framing," that is, the danger of "tells" arising when setting up for sleights. This segment also discussed the idea of reverse engineering the necessary pivot points in order to master palming techniques.
In his current annotations in the ebook, Mr. Close points out that Erdnase actually mentions in passing the idea of the pivot point for the Bottom Palm, and I also believe that it's likely that many magicians who have explored the Bottom Palm have invariably happened on the pivot point principle, and the notion of reverse engineering the sleight, because this is almost a necessity in order to gain expert mastery. Nevertheless, the concept had barely if ever seen print, and one of the important roles of theoreticians, writers, and teachers, is to help explore knowledge that, while it may be known, is not well understood. After all, much of what we regard as theory is not always original with the theoretician explicating it, but rather we are often led to better insight through the efforts of those who have done the work of investigating and understanding. Mr. Close's segment "On Palming" is a perfect example and an important addition to the literature. Just as I invariably direct students of the Strike Second Deal to Bill Simon's expert pedagogical approach in his Effective Card Magic, I would direct any-one who wishes to study the craft of Bottom-Palming to Mr. Close's masterful guidance in Workers 3.
But there were also 13 trick entries in Volume 3, and some of these workers are wonders. "The Big Surprise" is just that, an entertaining and magical romp that's full of surprises, built on an impenetrable methodological construction. There is a very tiny element of this routine that was inspired by an item of mine that Mr. Close saw me per-form at Illusions; that he then took this in such a wildly divergent direction serves only as further testimony to his uniquely creative imagination.
There are plenty more fine tricks in this volume, including the requisite origami effect, and "You Axed For It," a marvelous and widely overlooked conception that the author refers to as "a fairly miraculous trick wrapped up in a 12-minute hunk of lunacy." But I'm going to jump right to the climactic entry, "The Card, the Forehead, and the Salt Shaker." Building on two neo-classics of card magic the "Card on Forehead" and "Card Under Glass" Mr. Close went where no mage has gone before and brought new and fresh thinking to these sometimes hoary and overworked themes. Both these plots are identified with the distinctly American tradition of Magic Bar; "Card Under Glass" is the creation of the original magic bar-tender, "Heba Haba" Al Andrucci, and while the inventor of "Card on Forehead" may be lost to antiquity, the effect is a staple of that milieu, and was for example a signature trick of the great Chicago magic bar worker, Frank Everhart. Typically, the "Card Under Glass" is a two-phase routine the repeat is what really drives home this kind of "misdirection effect," as I call it, in which the audience feels as if they understand the method you put it them when they're not looking but still, in front of a skilled per-former, they cannot see it happen. In a related concept, the late Al Goshman used his repeat coins under salt-and-pepper shakers as a leitmotif throughout his own close-up act, but the challenge aspect was a bit less explicit in Goshman's use than it tends to be at the bar. (My own six-revelation routine, developed circa 1985/86 but as yet unpublished, was inspired by elements of Goshman's approach, along with Heba Haba's seminal version.)
Mr. Close's take was and remains distinctive, consisting of seven phases, which he usefully refers to as modules, since the routine can be performed (and perhaps more importantly, learned) in segments, and need not be per-formed in its entirety. What's more, Mr. Close had to rework some of the standard approaches to Card Under Object in order to adapt the material to the restaurant table, rather than the bar; anyone experienced with the plot will recognize immediately that substantial changes are required. There are some absolutely killer moments in this routine, including a beat in which the performer, with a card on his forehead, faces the spectator directly but who, thanks to an incredibly clever bit of sight line management, simply cannot see the card. This is astounding and hilarious to audiences, and the routine, a master class in misdirection and spectator management, remains nothing less than a masterpiece.
Workers Volume 4 followed in 1994, a somewhat less ambitious issue more in keeping with the first two releases, consisting of nine routines and lacking any freestanding essays. The two standout entries in this volume are "Flying Home" and "Butte On? Two Butte Ox!" (one of Mr. Close's award-winning title entries well, if there were awards for trick titles, this one would certainly warrant a prize). "Flying Home" is a multi-phase card-to-pocket routine; Mr. Close seems to have been an early entrant among those who saw Williamson's "51 Card to Pocket" as a logical climax to Francis Carlyle's "Homing Card" from Stars of Magic (other notable combinations along these lines include Roberto Giobbi's version in Card College 5), but Mr. Close, in typical fashion, has included these ingredients in an extended multi-phase routine with some extremely smart sleight-of-hand and mis-directive elements.
The "Butte-Ox" routine is Mr. Close's approach to the Jim Ryan/Tom Mullica version of "Three Cards Across" plot, and here again Mr. Close shows how to make such a routine distinctly your own; among other changes, he chooses to pass only two cards rather than the traditional three. What is most important about these last two entries is Mr. Close's demonstrable talent for routining, which, as he comments more than once in the series, appears to be a dying art.
The current economics of magic publishing, the falling book sales and incessant video output, the need for creators to pitch their wares at low-fee lectures and the difficulty of transport-ing books in such conditions all these forces and more have understandably led the author to gather these five marvelous books into a newly designed ebook.
Routining is essential to creating the most substantive kind of conjuring material. Many young magicians today appear to be under the impression that the 30-second splashes of "magic" that we see currently see on television, followed by an equal or greater time of looking at the screaming faces of street-side spectators, are a model of magic worthy of imitation, a goal to strive for. They fail to realize that this too shall pass; the television pendulum will swing, no matter whether it is sooner or later, and the best of the art of magic will continue to be seen in the hands of the few true conjurors. Of course, if your only goal with magic is to get young girls to scream (and if magic is your primary tool for doing so), then by all means you should hone to the path of the narrow and rather easily achieved skills required. But if you ever aspire to the kind of performances that conjuring artists in the mold of Juan Tamariz or Tommy Wonder or John Carney can achieve, then you will have to do something more then 30-second special effects. You will have to perform. You will have to construct. You will have to routine.
In discussing, for example, Juan Tamariz's "Theory of False Solutions," and its use in order to create magic that is absolutely mystifying, Mr. Close writes that "to instill a sense of conviction does not come without a price, and the price is this: our routines take longer to perform. ... I am not sure a routine that takes thirty seconds to perform actually convinces the spectators. It may be surprising and pretty to watch, but there is always the possibility that the spectators may not have the time to appreciate what actually happened, or that they might use the quickness of the trick to explain away the method." He goes on to offer these important cautions: "A longer, slower paced routine places demands on both the performer and the spectators. The performer must possess a sufficient amount of showmanship and a forceful enough personality to engage and hold the attention of the audience, even though there may be nothing 'amazing' happening at the moment. Not all performers are capable of doing this. Demands are also placed on the spectators as well, for they must allow the performer to engage their intellects, and they must also have the attention spans that are long enough to follow the routine as it unfolds. Not all spectators are capable of this." But of course, these cautionary road signs are not merely warnings: they are opportunities. And they may well mark the path to beautiful magic.
If you care to meet such challenges, you could not ask for a better teacher than Michael Close. Volume 4 was the first of the Workers series I had the chance to review on my watch (Genii, September 1994), where I wrote: "As is typical of all of the Workers series, there is much valuable advice throughout on timing, misdirection, technique, and presentation, because Mr. Close is kind enough to provide full disclosure of all of these details of his work." The details are there if you have the eyes and mind and nature required to take them in.
And then, in 1996, came Workers Volume 5. One hundred sixty-seven pages, five essays, an analytical segment on five sleights, an affectionate and personal reminiscence about Jay Marshall, and 42 pages about magic with a memorized deck that had a marked impact on what some cardicians have been doing in the past decade (and that changed my life). Volume 5 is brimming with substantive ideas. The opening essay, "Assumptions," is an important contribution to the theoretical literature of conjuring will lead most any reader, no matter his depth of experience, to considering new ideas about what really constitutes the methods of magic. "Reverse Logic" is a practical and damned fine multi-phase card routine another example of what can be accomplished when a knowledgeable, tasteful, thoughtful magician starts with a few decent, well selected tricks, and then transforms them into a killer performance piece of magic.
In his piece, "On Sleights," Mr. Close offers advice and insights concerning false transfers (that I invariably quote in my lectures); the Bottom Deal; Culling; the Faro Shuffle (about which the author has also produced a superb instructional CD-ROM); the Last Card Push (the kind of finesse that is near and dear to my heart), and further advice on the MC Spread Double Lift, which includes a brief description of a trick that will fry most any magician if you play it right yet another talent at which Mr. Close excels. "Stupid Travelers" made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. This routine is a lesson that will not be easily gleaned by a superficial reading. But I have always been impressed by this routine, in that Mr. Close, possessing as he does such a thorough appreciation for some of the great plots and methods of 20th century card magic such as Vernon's "Travelers," one of the indisputably greatest was willing to reexamine his own comfortable assumptions, think about Larry Jennings' radical and distinctly non-purist redesign, known as the "Ambidextrous Travelers," and then devise the most off-the-wall presentation of which a human being could possibly conceive. Few will ever deign to attempt this routine as written, but I consider it a tribute to Mr. Close's imagination and sense of the original.
And then, finally, we come to six entries concerning the memorized deck. Michael Close was consistently demolishing magicians throughout the 1990s with the Aronson Stack when few knew what stealthy weapons he was wielding. Now, of course, the jig is up, thanks significantly to the work of Juan Tamariz, above all, along with Simon Aronson, and of course, Mr. Close himself, and Workers Volume 5. Although I had read a great deal about memorized deck work in the course of my many years in magic, and had seen wonderful performances by magicians from the late Tommy Edwards to Tamariz himself, it wasn't until I read Mr. Close's four-page essay, "Jazzin," that the light bulb clicked in my head as to what it was really all about for improvisers like himself. Although it would take another few years until I finally got down to work, it was Workers 5 that pointed me in a new direction in my magic. (Eight years after the book's release, and 16 years after we were first at Illusions together, Mr. Close and I collaborated in my three-day seminar, Stack Clinic, in Las Vegas, and it was a deeply satisfying experience to share in the full circle of this rewarding collaboration with a true master of the subject.)
Workers Volume 5 was released nine years ago. In my review (Genii, October 1996) I wrote, "I have long and impatiently awaited a single volume Workers collection, and I have said many times that had these works first been released as a single book they would have been instantly hailed as one of the two or three most important texts of the decade, right alongside Tommy Wonder's The Books of Wonder. I love the Workers series, and I can't wait to read them again." Now Mr. Close has answered that call sort of. He has eschewed the hardbound book approach in lieu of the ebook option. I confess I am disappointed that it's unlikely I will ever own a beautifully crafted two-volume hardbound version of the Workers collection something for which I would have gladly paid a higher asking price than the bargain figure Mr. Close is asking for the ebook collection. But the current economics of magic publishing, the falling book sales and incessant video output, the need for creators to pitch their wares at low-fee lectures and the difficulty of transporting books in such conditions all these forces and more have understandably led the author to gather these five marvelous books into a newly designed ebook. But Mr. Close has not skimped in his efforts to present the best possible version of this new production.
As he explains in the ebook introduction, everything has been redesigned by Lisa Close and the material is elegantly laid out and conveniently formatted. The pdf file opens in Adobe Acrobat, and even the most inexperienced computer user will have no problem with this commonplace software. The document is readily searchable, an admitted advantage over hard copy. And for those who crave hard copy like your intrepid reviewer the book prints easily and with attractive results. You can print it yourself or simply take the disk to the local copy shop and have them do it, and then spiral bind the 655 pages into anywhere from one to five volumes, depending on your own preference (I chose to split mine into three parts).
The original five volumes sold for $140 total, or $120 if you purchased all five as a set. The new design has spread the material over an additional 140 pages, which includes extensive new updates and commentary. That commentary appears in blue ink so it can be readily distinguished from the original material, hence preserving the historical record. There are also two added bonus tricks, both humorous; one is a slightly risqué quickie, and the other is a fun version of the parity principle matrix, in which a tape-recorded voice directs the spectator to make a number of moves on a grid, eventually predicting where he (or his token simulacrum) eventually arrive. Popular marketed versions over the years have included "Room for Doubt" and "Animal Safari," and Mr. Close's version is an entertaining addition, ideally suited to a sociable home performance. And yet this new package is available for an incredibly light price: You get all of this for the asking price of $80. I can-not think of a better current value in the annals of conjuring literature.
As I write this review, Michael Close's tenure as book and product reviewer at MAGIC magazine is coming to an end. He began reviewing in May of 1995; I assumed my role at Genii as book reviewer in June of 1994. The very best thing that a visible critic like myself can hope for is that the competition offers a meaningful challenge to the quality and substance of one's own work. I want to be able to sincerely encourage my readers and colleagues to read voices other than my own; voices that I approach with high regard, that I diligently read myself. Had I rubbed a magic lantern and been granted a wish, I could not have been granted a better opposite number than Michael Close. I have always turned to the pages of his column first. We never discussed material before our respective reviews were complete, but we often discussed it after-ward as colleagues and friends, and the dialogue, both private and public, has always been rewarding and enjoy-able. And we've even publicly shared a few private jokes that most of the time, no one noticed but ourselves, and that was good enough."
When he came to the task a decade ago, Mr. Close brought with him the same characteristics that define his performances: intelligence, experience, knowledge, wit, professionalism, sincerity, and importantly taste. He began with these elements already in place. What he then added over these many years was an increasingly skilled and distinctive critical voice. He always had that original voice in his writings in Workers, but criticism requires a different approach, and it takes a while, for all of us, to figure that part out. In the last few years, Michael Close became the complete critic not only because he reviewed virtually everything that came across his desk, a truly thankless and, for me, unimaginable task but because he had completed the task of discovering not only his point of view, but a unique way of expressing it. Having achieved that extremely rare accomplishment, I would have gladly gone on enjoying the results for years to come. I am sure his literary voice will not be silenced, however, and I hope we get to hear from his critical voice again. One thing is for certain: While his reviews will be greatly missed by his countless fans around the world, none will miss his monthly installments more than this reader.
And so, to The Complete Workers Ebook: The Workers books are filled with wonderful tricks, superior technical instruction, invaluable theoretical discussion, and engaging prose. But above all, for me, I find much of Mr. Close's writings to be moving and powerful because they are invariably personal, and deeply sincere. His approach to his writing is the same as that to his performance, in that he invests himself completely in his work. This is an element that is lacking from, conservatively speaking, ninety percent of magic performance and publishing and yet it is among the most important elements of art. As the author says in the ebook introduction, "If there is a theme that runs through the Workers series, it is that your magic and the way you perform it should be an expression of your life. Much of my life is expressed in these books." This is a motif to which he often returns. Elsewhere he suggests, "Express your life and your point of view through the words you choose." And again, in eminently quotable form: "Your tricks, and the manner in which you perform them, should be an expression of your life, not a substitute for it." So much of magic is craft at best, and often bad craft at that. Michael Close is an artist who gives himself completely to his performance audiences and to his readership. It is a precious offering that we recipients must meet with the respect and care it deserves, a gift we should accept in kind. Thank-you, Michael.