Big Friday sale

Workers Number Five by Michael Close

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii October, 1996)


By now, most readers should be familiar with the name of Michael Close, the innovative magician from Indianapolis. In addition to his extensive appearances at magic conventions as both lecturer and performer (he recently emceed a stage show at the SAM convention), along with the production of an instructional videotape, Mr. Close has written some of the most distinctive and distinguished writings on contemporary conjuring in the past six years, since he released the first volume of his Workers books. He now concludes that eminent series with this, Number Five, and what a worthy climax it is!

As in all four preceding volumes, there is a variety of material—all drawn from the author's professional repertoire—which reflects his thoughtful and sometimes idiosyncratic tastes, including both close-up and stand-up material, general magic and card conjuring—and, of course, at least one Origami trick. As in his previous volumes, the author offers thoughts on theory and presentation and all manner of conjuring concepts in his ever-so-readable writing style, a highly entertaining blend of wit and wisdom. And finally, as given particular precedent in his Number Three volume, Mr. Close provides a catalog of purely theoretical essays that will expand the thinking of any conjuror, regardless of specialty.

Beginning with the trick material: The Lie Detector combines the Lie Speller plot, joining ideas from Bruce Cervon and Simon Aronson, along with elements from Bert Allerton and Hofzinser, to produce a charming and mystifying effect which also presents the spectator with a memorable sample of the magician's business card. The author's closing credits for this trick carefully record not only the aforementioned contributions, but also the influences of the late Dave Lederman, Fred Kaps, and Harry Riser. This paragraph is a model of not only a responsible approach to crediting, but indeed of why good crediting is a meaningful tool to the thoughtful reader, providing insight to the evolutionary nature of the creative process.

You Hue (yikes!) is a Wild Card effect, based on a version by Shigeo Takagi, in which the spectator chooses one of ten colored markers with which the performer writes the spectator's name on a blank business card, which now magically duplicates onto a group of other blank cards. Now, how's that for magic that means something to the audience? In similar vein, A Trick For O'Brien concludes with the magician producing the spectator's name written on the back of the only red card in a deck of blue backed Jokers (he gets to keep the card). And in Fortune Sugar, the spectator discovers a fortune cookie-style fortune inside a sealed sugar packet that contains her (just previously but fairly determined) lucky number, lucky color, and lucky "talisman," along with a detailed description of herself. I tell you, this Close guy is one thinking mofo.

Mr. Close demonstrates his affinity for the dying art of routining with, among other items, Reverse Logic, a four-phase reverse card routine that leads elegantly to a Twisting the Aces segment; and a multi-phase coin routine entitled Too Ahead, only the third coin routine Mr. Close has presented to his readers. Renaldo the Great is a very clever approach for the plastic Chinese Prayer Vase produced by Royal; this is a fun routine that will fool those who think they are in the know, and worthy of the handful of other great routines for "slum" magic tricks, such as Mike Skinner's and Mike Gallo's versions of the Ball and Vase, and Scotty York's Fabulous Red Snapper.

"If you are not particularly interesting to be around when you are not performing then you won't be particularly interesting to watch when you do perform."—Michael Close, Workers Five

The author provides a routine for the Tamariz Rabbits, a packet trick suitable for children whom restaurant workers may occasionally encounter (and a good solution for those who refuse to take the easy route—to be kind—and are unwilling to simply throw balloon animals at the beasties). Mr. Close's routine for Ton Onosaka's Lucky Lady, entitled Rocco Returns, is a stand-up item that routines nicely with his A Visit From Rocco from Workers Three. Ring Fright is a smart a stand-up handling for Gaetan Bloom's version of Ring Flight. And the Unreality Routine is the aforementioned Origami trick, which may appeal to magi who lack a particular interest in paper folding. Here a match is torn from a matchbook, ignited and used to heat a tiny paper "snowball" in a small metal cylinder (okay, it's a pea can), which then "melts" back into water. A sweet plot; but then, in a truly other-worldly moment, the original matchbook visibly "morphs" as it is unfolded into a large piece of paper. (Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but it seems like a great idea to me. You read it and try to come up with a better description.)

There is a section on the memorized deck—thank you, Billy Pinchbeck—that includes a piece entitled Jazzin that, if it doesn't tempt you to explore this line of work, nothing will. Work is also provided on the use of the memorized deck in the service of classic effects like the Card Stab, Haunted Deck, Invisible Deck and the Diary Trick (aka the Birthday Book), and more. Hand in hand with Simon Aronson's stack, and providing versions of several Aronson effects, Mr. Close has provided a veritable companion volume to Simply Simon (reviewed in Genii , February 1996). This is required reading for those with interest in the subject, and will keep you busy while you anxiously await the rumored Tamariz tome.

There is also a version of Vernon's Travelers, entitled Stupid Travelers, that begins with a cogent comparison of the original versus the now popular "ambidextrous" Larry Jennings version, and concludes with a deeply insane version of the latter that the author confidently describes as "a routine that nobody else in the world is ever going to do." This routine, I believe, personifies Michael Close's approach to magic.

Well, perhaps I should clarify that remark. I believe that Vernon's original Travelers is one of the greatest single examples of misdirective and constructional thinking in the history of close-up card conjuring. Over many years of studying countless and legitimately interesting variations, I have returned to the original not only for its elegant and brilliant construction, but for its purity of effect. Mr. Close clearly understands the appeal of the original—his tastes are by no means reflective of the "novelty for novelty's sake" school—but despite his clear appreciation for a purist's approach to magic, he is not bound by tradition or taste. Thus he manages to provide a routine that, once you get past the insanity of its conception, you may realize actually serves not only to make the trick entertaining, but in fact enhances the effect as well. And, simultaneously, he is willing to throw caution to the wind and risk thoroughly embarrassing himself—both theoretically and, well, graphically, too. This is a remarkable achievement; and the description caused me to laugh out loud at least twice.

There is still much more magic here—the book contains more than 25 routines—but let's move on to the theoretical and other non-trick material. To begin with I should mention a section on technique entitled On Sleights that provides in-depth discussion of false transfers, the Bottom Deal, Culling, the Faro Shuffle (utilized in a number of items in this volume), a false count finesse, and the previously published MC Spread Double Lift. Mr. Close demonstrated his facility for cogently addressing such technical issues in his examination of palming in Workers Three, and he continues in similarly able fashion in this useful chapter. An opening theoretical piece on the use of spectators' assumptions as a tool of deception provides some new ways of thinking about some old and new concepts, and as is often the case in Mr. Close's work, having established these issues he returns to them thoughtfully in the course of the ensuing material. In an essay entitled Personality, the author addresses the use of original versus published patter, deconstructing and clarifying some extremely poor use by other writers of analogies commonly drawn between magic and music; this a task Mr. Close, an accomplished musician, is eminently qualified to attempt, and indeed he succeeds admirably. An essay considering the use of flourishes addresses the age-old debate and its two traditional positions of skill versus magic; and along the way demolishes some ideas that have been put forward by others on the subject, a habit the author seems to take a certain amount of quiet delight in, given his repeated success at the task. (I would add, however, that these two standard pro and con extremes are in not necessarily the only available positions.)

I must address a singular feature of this book that is rare in the literature of conjuring. This volume struck me as being an extremely personal work, in which the author demonstrates a willingness to reveal himself in ways that I found genuinely moving. His reminiscence of the beloved Jay Marshall includes commentary about his feelings of "time travel" that I suspect many of us who are now thoroughly entrenched in the expanse of middle age can relate to, and may frequently share. His essay entitled Venue reads my mind and no doubt echoes the thoughts of some others whose age and experience leads them down this particular path of frustration and exploration. Years ago Eugene Burger told me that "close-up magic is a form without a venue," and Mr. Close's essay crystallizes that thought. Apropos of Mr. Burger, an essay here entitled Magic and Meaning-echoing the title of the book co-authored by Mr. Burger and Robert

Neale—offers a slightly different perspective on the subject, addressing the need for emotional "meaningfulness and memorability" in our magic, by any of a number of means, of which the historical roots of magic is merely one of many available presentational strategies. (Notably, this essay begins with an epigram from the seminal conjuring theoretician and technician, Robert D. Michaels.) And the book opens with a dedication, follows with an introduction, and closes with an afterword of sorts, echoing universal themes concerning the passage of time and other losses that comprise distinct reflections of the uniqueness of the human condition. Oh, and that same dedication page contains yet another copyright notice, as have all the preceding volumes, that made me laugh. We are advised by the author that this is the last of the Workers series, and you are advised to obtain them all, and the author is advised that he should plan to release the entire collection in an appropriately substantial format when the opportunity presents itself, and he is further advised that we will miss those copyright pages, and all the stuff that usually followed them. Thanks, Mike.

8 - 1/2" X 11" Plastic comb bound; 167 pages', approximately 132 line drawings; 1996; Publisher. Michael Close