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Not your boy next door.
Return to our June 2019 issue to consider two new documentaries on Amazing Johnathan, a free SAM lecture by Rob Zabrecky, and a belated farewell to John Cornelius.
This month we turn back the clock, to look at the early events that shaped magician Rob Zabrecky, at the classic magic of comedy magician and Magicopolis major domo Steve Spill, and at the 67 years of the magazine that shaped our senses of humor, both in and out of magic.
I regret that I shall not be attending MAGIC Live; a couple of family trips are in the works. Nevertheless congratulations to Stan Allen for selling out yet again. I know I will miss unique experiences, and just a look at last year's review (August 2018) makes me weep. (At least in spirit.) To everyone who attends, enjoy!
I HAVE MANY THINGS IN STORE FOR YOU TONIGHT -- Although it did, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that Rob Zabrecky is a terrific writer. The evidence has always been there.
First there is his pitch perfect Odd Man magic act, every word a killer:
"I've been told that I'm different."
"He is so weird."
And then his written up A,B, Z's of Magic lecture, part of the Vanishing, inc. Astonishing Essays series. Twenty-six tightly written tutorials to make your act better.
And now Zabrecky's surprising autobiography, 348 pages so candid, so shocking, so heartfelt that you cannot help but turn each one until you have finished. This is a wild ride, with a first-rate author at the wheel.
As a fan, I was of course aware that Rob Zabrecky was a founding member of the rock band Possum Dixon. I was aware of his first magic trick, purchased from Yogi Magic Mart, and the rush it provided when he first performed it. But none of that prepared me for the intense life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll that preceded his turn to magic. And I couldn't h elp but think, his mom is going to read this.
Addams vs. Zabrecky.
There was an early life rife with terrifying experiences, some unavoidable, some self-inflicted. Count a mad uncle who shot him with a rifle (the bullet stayed in until 2013!), a couple of thwarted sexual assaults, a beating from a rival music fan, a flight through the cosmos on the outside of a Disney Space Mountain rocket, a crazed armed heckler, and that first full magic show, with wife Tommi. (They were billed as Griffith and Clementine.) Drug use of course provided its own dangers, some from its associated characters, some from its chemistry. Zabrecky faced both.
There were plenty of ups with the downs. Rob transitioned from a shy kid with warts on his hands (his first and somewhat stinky cure) to a PacMan champion, popular with male buddies and definitely with the girls, an ironic homecoming king in school and leader of a nationally recognized band.
There were also experiences, of course, that translated to the Odd Man act that Zabrecky eventually created. His musical background taught him both stagecraft and collaboration. He is at home with an audience. But my favorite bit, considering that Zabrecky's character would eventually be compared to Norman Bates, is that he and his high school pals would sneak into Universal Studios at night and drink beers in the original Psycho house. I sneaked into "haunted houses" myself in high school, but who can top this?
A nice place to drink with your friends.
Zabrecky addresses the transition from music to magic directly, and he asserts that it isn't easy.
Reinventing myself from musician to magician is the most punk rock thing I've ever done.
The writing is inspired throughout. Giving up the band prompted the most inventive passage, framed as an imagined argument between himself and Holden Caulfield.
Either he's got me cornered or I've had it with this conversation. I can't tell, so I snap.
"If you're so great, start your own band. Go to hell, Caulfield."
"I wouldn't be in a band if you paid me. Your band is your problem. You go to hell, Zabrecky."
To Zabrecky's first-rate talents as a musician, magician, and actor, add first-rate writer. Strange Cures is a delightful and often disturbing book, a glorious rock biography, and I hope it finds an audience well beyond the borders of magic. $35 directly from robzabrecky.com.
MAGICOPOLIS MAN -- Speaking of terrific magic autobiographies, one of the most entertaining is Steve spill's I Lie for Money, still available from Amazon and reviewed here in August 2015. Check out the article "Liar, liar, pants on fire."
"The blood was creepy, and I never laughed so hard."
Steve continues to entertain audiences every week at his Magicopolis venue in Santa Monica. Surfing the internet recently, I stumbled upon a lovely YouTube stream of Steve Spill classics. You can probably find it here yourself. Click the arrow and enjoy such routines as Milk Production, Blood from Stone, Coin in Water, Eye Popper, (Toilet) Paper Balls Over Head, Coloring Book, Bullet Catch, Pipe Production, Baby Gag, Jack Nicholson Silhouette, T/R Straw Wrapper, Blindfold Plate Spin, Linking Finger Rings, Bill in Lemon, Rubber Chicken Card Trick, Record Player Seance, Snake from Mouth, Shuffle Routine, Boomerang Beer Coaster, Voodoo Doll and Drawing Pad, Color Change Giant Deck, Russian Roulette with Knives, Mind Reading Goose, Broken Mirror Curse, Pet in Pocket, and Magicopolis Trailer.
Mind reading goose.
Come see the show!
HUMOR IN A JUGULAR VEIN -- Somewhere around the age of twelve, when I was getting seriously into magic, I discovered and embraced the dark, irreverent humor represented by Charles Addams cartoons, a book called Sick Jokes, Grim Cartoons & Bloody Marys, and of course Mad comic turned magazine. Mad's biting, satirical humor was a refreshingly more grown up source of laughter, a far cry from the lame jokes on the last page of Boy's Life. Bad ass.
By mid-high school, I abandoned Mad as a monthly habit, though still found the occasional issue hilarious. (In college, I would reacquaint myself, for a couple of obvious reasons, with the work of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder when they start running "Little Annie Fanny" in Playboy.) I assumed, and had ever since, that new generations of kids would discover Mad and enjoy the same guilty pleasures that I had. Alas, that assumption has finally failed to be accurate. After 67 years, Mad is ceasing to produce new content. Pundits find Mad to be the author of its own demise. Mad begat "Saturday Night Live," The Onion, and so on, and modern satire replaced the need for its progressive roots. One of my favorite pieces to appear was that of Jacob Lambert, who became an artist/editor for the magazine. (See "Saying Goodbye to Mad magazine," The Week, by Jacob Lambert.) Jacob discovered Mad when he was eight. He was home sick from school, and his father brought him an issue home. All I could think was, what a great dad!
Mad of course influenced my love of certain magicians, including the dark sides of Amazing Johnathan, Rob Zabrecky, Penn and Teller, Mac King, Harry Anderson, Steve Spill, Piff the Magic Dragon, and Flydini, among others, plus the lighter humor of many more.
Mad about Mad.
You can read the entire story of Mad in the "biography" Completely Mad: A History of the Comic Book and Magazine, by Maria Reidelbach. As As I write, it will be restocked on Amazon July 21, 2019. I look forward to digging back into my copy.
It's crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.
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