Simon Says, The Close-up Magic of Simon Lovell, by Simon Lovell. Published by L & L Publishing. 242 pp. $45 postage free in U.S. From L& L Publishing, Box 100, Tahoma, CA 96142. 24-hour orders 1-800-626-6572.
Simon Lovell is a card hustling, dice stacking sleight-of-hand artist whose performance material
is out there on the fringe, a la Tom Mullica and David Williamson. (One assumes he is more
subdued in a poker game, but that's an issue for another day.) Raising Tom Mullica's name
here is doubly intentional, because Simon Says is one of the first books I can remember since
Show-Time at the Tomfoolery in which all the material consists of strong performance items.
(The new book grew, in part, from Simon's Blackpool 1995 lecture notes, for which the patter
was recorded at Mad Murphy's bar in Hartford.) Books like this are tough on a reviewer.
Which items do you single out?
As Simon notes early on, "You are probably starting to get the idea that I like very weird patter lines!" The wildly outrageous scripts that accompany the 50 or so items in this fat new book certainly confirm that observation. Although full scripts are provided, this doesn't mean that you can perform them verbatim, unless you are fortunate enough to be Guy Hollingworth or Hugh Grant. Simon comes from Manchester, England, and he therefore talks funny. He calls spectators chaps, and he uses such terms as all jiggery-pokery. I'd draw strange glances indeed were I to utter such words in a Little Egypt bar. But the engaging story lines hold up, and it shouldn't be too difficult for you to translate them into your local argot. (If one must use British terminology for spectators, I always preferred The Crimp's Jerry Sadowitz's term, spekky bastards. But that too would fail to play well in most of my venues.)
Simon Lovell's professional experience with close-up magic is rather specific: it is either table hopping or walk-around. These conditions impose rather strict requirements on an entertainer in terms of people skills and performance material. Simon addresses the people skills in Part One of the book, "The Thoughts of Chairman Lovell." Here he rigorously examines how to approach, entertain, and leave small groups; how to successfully invade comfort zones; and the subjects of routining and resetting, tipping (he's against), taking advantage of flukes, and how to diagram the entertainment value of a card trick. As to material, Simon's performance venues demand a certain practicality, and you will therefore find more to recommend this material than its considerable entertainment value. He is for direct effects, against borrowed items, for give-aways, against any significant resetting, and for vertical magic over tabletop items such as ace assemblies (what Paul Gertner calls "up" effects, or up in the air off the table). Simon's situations don't allow close-up cases and close-up mats. The magic takes place in his hands and in the hands of his spectators, and it comes from his pockets.
"Sleight of hand is only practice . . . ANYBODY can do it given time and dedication." -- Simon Lovell, Blackpool 1995 The Simon Lovell Lecture
Those of you who know Simon from his various card shark videos know him as a highly-skilled sleight-of-hand expert and may harbor fears as to the degree of difficulty of the effects in this book. Don't despair. There is a chapter titled "Sleight of Hand Goodies," and it does contain some upper echelon card work. I confess I spent a bit less time with this chapter than with some of the others. But if you want to put in the work, this chapter is there for you, and Simon takes elaborate pains to make the difficult possible. I am thinking here in particular of Simon's elaborate treatise on "The Push-off Second Deal" in this chapter. There are other moves, far easier, sprinkled throughout the book, including "SloMo Pass," "Super Quick Simey Fold" (a very nice Mercury-type card fold), "The Simey Sloppy Card Fold" (a fold done in your mouth!), "The World's Easiest Riffle Force" (it is), and "Squelmsley Count" (an Elmsley in which one of the cards is not seen twice). One of my quibbles with the layout is that some of these practical moves were not highlighted in the table of contents, as they were in The Classic Magic of Larry Jennings.
"We've run the whole gamut from self-working to difficult and from sensible to totally insane. I really believe that there has been something for just about everybody!" -- Simon Lovell, "Final Simey Words," Simon Says
For the rest of us, as Steve Jobs might say, there is an abundance of astonishing magic in the remaining chapters -- "Openers, Middlers, and Closers" "Sitting Specials and Other Bits," "Gaffed and Faked," and "Gags, Stunts, and Other Bits!" Some of the best material is in fact self working, and you will have a difficult time not adding some of this stuff to your repertoire. The first of these chapters meets Simon's criteria for walk-around and table hopping, the second contains material for seated situations, the third uses simple gaffs, and the last holds such weirdness as the pen through tongue and the rising cards from a glass of beer, sort of.
"Simon is one of the many guest performers that I've invited behind the bar including J.C. Wagner, Bob Sheets, Johnny Thompson, John Carney and even the late Fred Kaps. Yet I've never seen anyone get the reaction that Simon received that evening."
As mentioned above, all the material is strong, practical, real-world stuff. The following items therefore are only representative effects that I liked, the tip of a rich card trick iceberg.
Another Departed Point -- Probably the best version of this type, from the famous Elmsley plots "Between Your Palms" and "Point of Departure." Three cards are selected and found, but the killer is that a spectator's signed card turns out to be the card placed under another spectator's hand before the effect begins. Available in this issue if you know the secret word.
Predicted Bermuda -- Spectator mixes a red deck behind his back and removes three cards. Magician removes a blue deck and shows three cards to be reversed. These match the spectator's cards.
Hold the Mayo -- A very effective three-phase sandwich effect. The red kings repeatedly sandwich the spectator's signed card, in increasingly impossible ways.
Sleight of Mouth -- This has to be the wildest card from mouth routine on record. Simon starts with the entire deck in his mouth.
Who Killed Lilly Longlegs? -- A "Sam the Bellhop" effect with a great script and all Simon's thinking as to how to make this play. All you do is turn over the cards and say the words. But over the years, in the real bars of the world, guys like Frank Everhart and Eric Mead and Bill Malone have killed with this stuff, and so has Simon, who teaches you how. He uses it to close his small parlor shows.
The Lemming Ace Exchange -- Based on a Roy Walton plot, a spectator's card changes places with a jumbo ace. One of the craziest patter stories in the book, with the magician breaking down and weeping.
Impossible Location -- Just a deadly mental effect, or at least that's how I would present it. Magician turns his back, and spectator deals cards onto the table. She stops anywhere and looks at her card. She then regroups all the cards, any way she pleases, and shuffles the deck, repeatedly if she wishes. Magician now turns around for the first time and instantly knows her card. She can examine the ordinary deck until the next issue of The Braue Notebooks appears, and she will find nothing. No stooges, no hidden cameras, just you and her. She should now be putty in your hands.
Ambitious Everywhere and Nowhere -- One of my favorites in the book. Paul Gertner features an effect called "Paul's Opener," in which he repeatedly forces the same card on a spectator. This effect is like that, but with a much stronger and more physical interaction with the spectator. More of a bar trick than a corporate trick, but if bars are your milieu, this effect is ideal.
Challenge Reverse! -- Involve as many spectators as you wish. Let ten of the spekky bastards (excuse me, chaps) take a card. The cards are very cleanly returned to the deck and the deck is fairly squared. Magician slams the deck between his hands but fails to find any of the cards, much less all of them. He salvages the moment by causing all the chosen cards to reverse themselves in the deck. Oh so easy.
Elmsley Cut Elmsley -- The toughest routine in this list and possibly the book, and the one Simon uses to close his Magic Castle act. A spectator puts the 13 clubs, for example, in order. These are randomly distributed into a spread deck. Spectator chooses another card, such as the 7 of hearts, and this too is lost in the deck. Magician now begins dealing cards in a line, from the top of the deck. Surprisingly, the cards are the clubs back in numerical sequence. The seventh card is left face down as the dealing of the suit is completed. The face-down card is turned up and found to be the 7 of hearts. The 7 of clubs is removed from the magician's pocket.
Although Simon Lovell has numerous routines published in magazines and anthologized in books, along with other dealer items, books, manuscripts, lecture notes, and videos to his credit, this is his first major hardcover, and no doubt the reason he has been so generous with its contents. The cover photo is a typically striking Anne White photo, and the book is extensively illustrated with Hannah Ammar line drawings. I'd have preferred it to be extensively illustrated with photos of Hannah taken by Anne White, but one can't have everything. Simon apparently travels in the company of a photographer, as there are also numerous photos of him in the book in the company of such magicians as Randy Wakeman, Father Cyprian, Steve Beam, Terry Seabrooke, Mark and Nani Wilson, Howie Schwarzman, David Acer, Obie O'Brien, Jack Avis, Guy Hollingworth, Derek Dingle, Shelley Carroll, Johnny Thompson, Roy Walton, Larry Becker, Tom Mullica, Billy McComb, Penn and Teller, Bob Read, Tommy Wonder, Todd Robbins, Scotty York, Jim Sisti, Milt Kort, Milt Larsen, Frances Willard and Glen Falkenstein, and Jay Marshall. (Simon is no fool: that's at least 28 guys who are going to buy the book!) In addition to Simon's Introduction, there is additional frontal matter by Randy Wakeman, Father Cyprian, Walt Lees, and a very funny page by Scotty York, plus a page of bottom matter by Terry Seabrooke. Regarding the trick matter, the book is quite easy to navigate. Each item begins with a brief History/Comments paragraph, followed by a succint description of the Effect, and then on to the Method and Routine. Along the lines of Harry Lorayne "Afterthoughts," Simon also liberally includes such asides, as DURINGTHINKS, AFTERTHINKS, OPTIONALEXTRALINETHINKS, PUSHTHROUGHSHUFFLETHINKS, and so on. Overall, the book is a lot of fun to read. There is an air of infectious good humor in it, not only in the scripts, but in the numerous helpful asides.
I have few close friends here in Indiana. When asked why, I always reply that, unlike my stints in Illinois, California, and Washington (where I have numerous friends), I just haven't met many folks here who are as depraved as I am. I had the pleasure of meeting Simon Lovell at last April's Desert Magic Seminar, and I did not encounter that obstacle. He's a smoker (boo), an imbiber (yea), and possesser of a roguish heart (double yea). My kind of guy. Regrettably, I did not have the opportunity to see him perform, and so I have yet to see him present such distinctive fare as his "Card in Mouth," "Who Killed Lilly Longlegs?," and "The Infamous Submarine Card." Simon has since promised by e-mail to show me "all of the stuff next time we meet." I look forward to that day. Meanwhile, I have his book before me, and it's pleasant to envision how some of this stuff in my own hands might play for my audiences. Now, if I can only jam this deck of cards into my mouth. "Mmmph! Ifh vivth or chard?"
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