by Elliott Hodges
We all have heroes in magic. I have heroes and you
have heroes as well. Quite often they are magicians that we enjoy watching and
quite often they are magicians that we secretly wish we were like.
Who your heroes are is a very personal thing. Quite often it's a generational thing - the magicians we grew up watching or the magicians that people of a similar age to us like. That doesn't work for everyone though, I know that because I am an exception. I'm 23 and I suppose my heroes should be Blaine, Angel and Dynamo. They're not though. Somehow I was "born" way before my time and most of my magic heroes have either left us or retired.
My heroes run along the lines of the great heritage that we have had in the UK. Paul Daniels, Geoffrey Durham, Ali Bongo, Patrick Page are all magical heroes of mine. But perhaps the one magician that is my hero beyond any other is Max Malini. When a friend of mine sold me the Lewis Ganson book about Malini, I read it solidly until about two the next morning when I'd finished it.
I don't feel that it would necessarily be right for me to detail why my heroes are my heroes because I think it's a decision that we all need to make for ourselves. I certainly don't want to preach to anyone about who their heroes should and shouldn't be.
But I think that if we just see legendary magicians as our heroes then I think something is wrong. We are falling into the trap of thinking we can learn all the important secrets of magic from magicians. If that is you then can I URGE you to have heroes outside of magic, that help you WITH magic.
I'm going to explain what I mean by giving you three of my non-magic heroes and explaining why they are important to me and my magic. I can honestly say that for myself, I've learnt some fundamental lessons about performance with them. It should go without saying that the most important lessons that we learn about magic are nothing to do with magic itself and more about performance and people.
Here then, are three of my heroes. Again, I was born in the wrong generation and two of these people I shouldn't even have heard of.
1: Mark Knopfler.
Mark Knopfler is the lead singer and guitar player of Dire Straits (don't panic yet - the third hero is even older than him.) While I can appreciate him on one level, being a guitar player myself, I feel that I can learn a lot about magic from him.
Firstly in the construction of a set list. I went to see Mark and his band at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008 (and then again in 2010 and in 2013 - yes, I'm a weirdo). Armed with a good knowledge of his material from both his Dire Straits days as well as his solo career I was fascinated to see what song went where. Every one song has a place and they built on each other.
Is that not the same as us magicians? Do we not have a "set list" of tricks? We talk a lot about good openers and good closers. I found watching Mark Knopfler and seeing what songs he included in what parts of the show that there were suitably rousing openers, high points, low points, electric moments, acoustic parts (signifying variety and change of texture - something we as magicians need to think about too), explosive moments and of course a good, powerful closer.
I can't help but think my evening spent watching this master guitar player at work was exactly the same as watching a magic show. Sure, the medium of communication is different but the framework and the structure is exactly the same.
Am I saying Mark Knopfler should be your hero? No, of course not. But I found the process of studying his set list choice for a concert very helpful. Why not have a look at the live work of one of your favourite artists and see if you can spot the parallels between their work and yours as a magician?
2: Dara O' Briain.
Dara O' Briain is more current. He's a well known comedian and host here in the UK.
For my money, Dara is the best comedian working in the UK today. Not necessarily the funniest but the best in my opinion. Let me explain. As magicians, we know full well that magic isn't about a trick but about the person. We know that there are far more things involved in a performance of magic than the trick. The trick, we so often remind each other, is only a small part of the performance.
Well it is, of course, exactly the same for other mediums of art. What I think is good about Dara O' Briain is that he sounds like he's never said any word before. In his stand up work, he uses the word routine to describe his stories and jokes. In my opinion, he is such a good speaker that the word routine does not seem right here. "Routine" suggest planning, rehearsal and structure. Dara is so good and sounds so fresh that you literally forget that you are listening to a well planned and carefully structured script. Of course there are ad-libs but they sound no different to the planned words. I say that because quite often when I'm watching a magician, comedian or indeed any speaker, I find I can make a good guess at when they've said something that was unplanned.
Likewise, I can often detect a change of pace or pitch in my voice when I say something unplanned. The energy is different. It's not necessarily a bad thing but Dara O' Briain is, to me, the supreme master as making rehearsed material sound unrehearsed.
3: Joe Brown.
I think Joe Brown is a complete legend, in every true sense of the word.
He is a singer and guitar player (yes another one - I'm sorry) who has simply been around forever. To give you an idea of how big he has been, The Beatles were his support act for a while before they made it big. There are some glorious posters around of his name in huge letters and "The Beatles" in tiny lettering.
Joe plays everything with strings and is a great ambassador for the ukulele, famously closing a tribute concert to the work of George Harrison with a performance of the song 'I'll see you in my dreams' on ukulele. Needless to say that he's also an incredibly good guitar player, am excellent banjo player and super mandolin player.
What do I like so much about Joe Brown? In every picture you see of him performing, he's smiling. It might seem like a trivial thing but you always see a man who is enjoying what he's doing immensely and knows that he is lucky to be doing what he's doing. It looks like he's just been struck that he gets to be a professional musician for a living and that he's never realised that before.
If you're a professional magician and you don't wake up every morning and think "YES! I get to do magic for a job" then I think something is SERIOUSLY wrong with you. It's clear watching Joe that he loves singing, loves playing and loves the fact that people come out to see him. If you don't love what you're doing then how can you expect other people to? I think we can all learn a lesson from Joe and apply similar enthusiasm to our work.
Next time you're tempted to spend your money on magic can I urge you to buy Joe's live CD and DVD instead? I'll make it easy for you, I'll give you the link, Click Here.
Order it, watch it and see for yourself why he's such an entertainer. I don't think there's a big secret to his success or longevity other than the fact that he just clearly loves it. He is not blasť about performing and playing and neither should we be. I think so often we take magic for granted because we are used to it. We aren't nearly as successful as Joe and yet he clearly never takes his audiences or his guitar playing skills for granted.
At the very least, PLEASE watch this clip. It shows Joe doing what he does best in front of an audience and it's incredible.
To conclude, I suppose our non-magic heroes come from our non-magical interests. If you read a lot of fiction then it makes for your heroes to be authors. Likewise, you may get inspiration from actors, comedians, TV Presenters and the like.
I can't tell you who your heroes should be but I do feel that to have non-magic heroes to help us with our magic are vitally important.
Thanks for reading. You're lucky I didn't tell you about my admiration for Lonnie Donegan...........
© Elliott Hodges, August 2014