REGARDING A FEW OF
THE QUOTATIONS PUBLISHED IN
THE GREATER ARTFUL DODGES OF EDDIE FIELDS
Most quotable pundits belittle the practice of quoting other pundits. That being said, consider these two sentences by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“I hate quotation. Tell me what you know.”
Well, I know lots of little things.
I know, for example, that I started to conscientiously collect quotations in 1955. Whenever I ran across a phrase or quotation that seemed supple, thoughtful, incisive, poetic, or witty, it was savored and saved.
The quotations chosen for the Artful Dodges book were not capriciously picked. Each was germane regarding how Eddie Fields approached and presented his magic. Their allusiveness was meant to supplement my youthful, slap-dash prose. I needed to intermittently pump some gravitas into my wobbly exposition. Looking back, the quotations are not as suggestive and opaque as early critics claimed. I repeat: none of them were arbitrarily chosen. On the contrary, they are proven, pertinent points that Fields wanted to emphasize.
I hope the following annotations will sharpen your understanding of any possible allusiveness or intent?
“Imitation is criticism.”
Fields repeatedly stressed the importance of working from the inside and then outward. “Start within and work your way out. Learn the mechanics of the trick and then figure out the psychological parts.”
He recommended internalizing these aspects. “Figure out how you would express any trick. If you do this, your presentations will be inimitable. Nobody can copy these things in an ongoing, spontaneous basis. If somebody can imitate you (not your tricks), then you’re probably doing something wrong. Think about it. If you are easy to copy, doesn’t this say something about your lack of uniqueness?” In other words, imitation is a form of inferential criticism. Blake was right.
“Our senses don’t deceive us: our judgment does.”
Fields wanted to short-circuit a spectator’s thought-process. Spectators see, hear, taste, and feel things from the get-go. Their senses are instantaneously reflexive. Fields, however, was more interested in their interpretation of these things, along with the inferences they draw. More important, he wanted these interpretations to be wrong-headed or dead wrong. He was focused on their judgment of matters.
“The saying ‘seeing is believing’ may fittingly be reversed in this context into ‘believing is seeing.’ “Seeing seems to be a rather calculating business, and all this makes one wonder whether one can ever see something of which one has no previous knowledge.”
– Otto Lowenstein
Interviewing Eddie Fields at a Midwest Magic Jubilee Convention
Fields once said, “Show me what a spectator expects to see or anticipates to occur and I will make him see anything I want them to see. I will convince him that certain things have happened, are happening, or will happen.”
One day he showed me a shiny apple and asked, “What’s in my hand?”
“An apple!” I said.
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
“Because I can see it!”
He turned the apple to reveal that it was half of an apple. He had eaten the other half.
“You expected the apple to be whole. You saw what you believed to be there.”
Ergo: Believing is seeing.
“A good spectator also creates.”
Fields always emphasized the importance of paying close attention to everything a spectator does or says. “You should know your tricks backwards, forwards, and sideways. That’s a given. How a trick works is predictable. Spectators, on the other hand, are unpredictable. They are a constant variable…if you know what I mean.”
He also said that good spectators are demonstrative. They are uninhibited about expressing themselves; hence, they divulge priceless information about human nature. This then becomes an experiential record that can be analyzed on the fly. Afterwards, the essential information gained from this analysis can be creatively used by sensitive, thinking performers. Spectators create evidence. Magicians adjudicate and sentence.
“We dance around in a ring and suppose,
But the secret sits in the middle and knows.”
Fields’ creative impulses were centripetal. They always moved inward. “It’s okay to circumscribe a subject and go round and round. But think of your investigation as a noose around what you are studying. As you study more and more, the noose tightens around the core…tighter and tighter until you are at the very core…in the ‘middle.’ This is when you truly know it. Running around in circles is different from being in the middle, looking outward in all directions.”
The Inner Circle is not a circumference.
“He who does not know the mechanical
side of his craft cannot judge it.”
Fields knew and understood the mechanics of tricks, but was not a mechanic in the technical sense of the term. He taught students to learn methods, but he realized that methods are merely x-rays of a trick’s full embodiment. He thought that too many magicians were hastily judgmental about the relative merits of various tricks. “Some magicians don’t know the differences that really make a difference when it comes to actually performing in the real world. They know lots of ‘hows’ but few ‘whys.’ If you don’t know these aspects, how can you judge anything?”
“As soon as the technical side of a trick is mastered to perfection, the student must turn to the dramatic, which is the most important as far as the effect is concerned.”
-H. J. Burlingame, Chicago, 1847
Fields: “The explanation of a trick consists of steps, one following the other in a timeless sequence. Personal talk is the missing element. Pauses are also missing. Human energy is likewise missing. The ‘how-it-works’ part is like the wiring of an electrical device. The plug is the dramatic scheme. You are the electricity.”
“ . . . This is because mystery has energy. It pours energy into whoever seeks the answer to it. If you disclose the solution to the mystery you are simply depriving the other seekers of an important source of energy.”
-The Magus by John Fowles
Fields loved to tease other magicians by withholding secrets. He could bewilder someone with a trick and would not explain it. “Revealed secrets are often disappointing,” he’d say. “Tricks become legendary because nobody knows how they’re done. Vernon, Miller, and myself have chased after phantom magicians and legendary tricks. We were always seeking the so-called ‘real work.’ If a trick fools me, I’m buzzing with ideas, speculations, and questions. I want to know how such-and-such was accomplished…but I’m also happy about not knowing. Over the years I’ve grown to appreciate the ‘search’ and the process of discovery. Besides, if you explain a method, the problem solving part of your brain shuts down. You are satisfied and cease thinking about the trick anymore. Hence, other possible methods will not be discovered. And if the method divulged is not the method, where does that leave you?”
“The man who is too old to learn
was probably always too old to learn.”
-Henry S. Haskins
When I met Fields and Marlo, they were older than 50. Yet they were always eager to learn new things. They also hung out with younger magicians and preferred the openness of their minds. Zen practitioners call this having a Beginner’s Mind—minds empty and ready for anything.
“A clever man commits no minor blunders.”
Cleverness consists of knowing many ingenious things and being spontaneously resourceful. A clever magician knows every sly tactic, every subtle aspect, and every powerful finesse. Consequently, if he makes a mistake it will be a major blunder. Fields: “If you say the wrong word or do a move at the wrong time—especially if these are critically important to the success of the scam—the whole thing is messed up!”
(1)“Of course it is generally known that much deception is practiced at cards, but it is one thing to have that knowledge and quite another to obtain perfect understanding of the methods employed, and the exact nature and manner in which they are executed.”
(2) “Excessive vanity proves the undoing of many experts.”
(3)“The finished card expert considers nothing too trivial that in any way contributes to his success, whether in avoiding or allaying suspicion, or in the particular manner of carrying out each detail; or in leading up to, or executing, each artifice.”
– S. W. Erdnase
(1) “When I first saw Joe Berg’s Ultra Mental deck in 1942 (Fields was 27 at the time), I was in the shop with Joe and Mickey MacDougal. I thought that the trick deck was much better than Brain-wave because the deck was spread face up; the audience saw the faces of different cards. I bought the deck but didn’t immediately have a presentation.” Fields was a dyed-in-the-wool empiricist. His presentations were always derived from his own personal experiences. “Everything I do comes from life, then I come up with effects or ways of doing things. I also love to take a thought and pursue it along different paths.”
I asked Fields how the “Invisible Deck” presentation evolved. He told me about two things that happened at different times in his life. The first one was seeing a virtuoso performance by the great French mime, Marcel Marceau. It was impressive to witness the intrinsic power and universality of gestures. The second thing came from a meeting that took place in a mental ward.
When Fields was in the Army Air Corps and stationed at McDill Field in Tampa, Florida, he had a friend named Roger—a character similar to Joseph Heller’s supposedly crazy Yossarian from the celebrated novel, Catch-22. Roger faked being crazy to get out of the Army. He did nutty things. He sat in a lotus-position in the middle of a runway. He climbed to the roof of the barracks and had to be forced down by military policemen. His antics eventually put him into a locked mental ward where he was held for observation.
Fields visited him there shortly after he was locked up. He found Roger in the recreation room, smiling and looking as serene as a monk in a flower garden.
“Wanna see my room?” he asked, showing Fields a bedroom that had the Spartan-look of a cell.
“Nice, huh?” said Roger, grinning like a man with a delicious secret. “This is the best part!” He opened the window and showed Fields his potted plant, well- cultivated marijuana greenery! Ah, yes! Roger was ahead of his time.
They returned to the recreation room.
“Wanna play checkers?”
Fields agreed. He had learned the finer points of the game from Freddie Teschner, a world-class player cum hustler. Fields played passively, wanting Roger to win; however, no matter how mediocre he played, Roger played more badly. After the second game, Fields sensed the madness to Roger’s method. During the third game, Roger threw up his hands and scattered the board and pieces across the room.
“You beat me again!” he shouted. “You never let me win a fucking game!”
Needless to say, this outburst occurred in the presence of several doctors. Roger stood up and started moving his hands together in an jerky, weird manner. Fields asked, “What are you doing, Roger?”
“I’m shuffling the deck! Let’s play cards. I’ll beat your ass in poker!”
Fields grinned and went along with his charade. Together they played a game of poker with an imaginary deck. It was exhilarating. The doctors and patients were fascinated and raptly watched them shuffle, cut, deal, and play out imaginary hands. This, Fields thought, is commercial pay-dirt. The theatrical aspects of using an “invisible deck” were obvious. Soon thereafter Fields developed his famous Invisible Deck presentation, combining things he learned from Marcel Marceau and Roger, using Joe Berg’s Ultra-Mental deck. As Paul Harvey says, “Now you know the rest of the story.”
(2) Fields: “If you knew what everybody said behind your back, you’d never be conceited. You never know who you’re performing for. You never know how much they know or how smart they are. If you think you are smarter than everybody, somebody will eventually take you down. You’re ripe to be picked. I like to act ordinary—no dumber or smarter than the average guy. Marks always think they’re smarter than most people. If I do something miraculous or confound a crowd, people pass that wonderfulness onto me. I get the credit. Let others make these assumptions. Let them decide you are a nice guy who happens to be brilliant.”
(3) Fields: “Remember the old saying, ‘What a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive.’? Well, deceptions are tangled or are at least complicated. They consist of many strands and details. I never liked the term, misdirection. Everything I do is directive. Every detailed action, speech, or stratagem serves to direct the spectator to make incorrect assumptions and conclusions. I want to regulate their behavior and this is very calculated. I don’t want to distract them. I want to manage them in gentle, subtle way. The number of details in this process is enormous.”
“Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty.”
Fields: “Lots of young magicians can get on base, but not many know how to hit a home run every time. Old cons consider young cons to be marks.”
“One of the great differences between the amateur and the professional is that the latter has the capacity to progress.”
-W. Somerset Maugham
Fields was never an elitist. He was an outlier. He spent a lot of time talking to amateur magicians over the years, repeatedly stressing, “That most magicians become complacent after five or six years.” One should remain unsatisfied with anything one has created. Tricks should always be works-in-progress. They must evolve at about the same rate one personally evolves. Not only did the professional pool players he knew continually practice, they were never satisfied that they knew all of the finer points of the game. “When you’re through changing,” said Fields, “you’re through!”
“The man who is too old to learn was probably always too old to learn.”
-Henry S. Haskins
Fields once said, “Dai Vernon will never be old. He not only does what he loves, he spends most of his time with other people who are still curious and happily creative.”
“Unable to perceive
That the sky is an illusion
The child thinks that he cannot reach it
When he holds it in his hand.”
“It’s not out there,” Fields said, “it’s all around you. Like an aura.”
“The girl who can’t dance says the band can’t play.”
Fields was impatient with people who blamed others and other things. Card specialists often complain that the decks they are using are too new, slick, old, thick, or worn. Like Marlo, Fields practiced and performed with all kinds of decks and types of cards. I once saw Marlo practicing tabled faro shuffles with Playtime cards, when I asked, “Why are you doing that?” he said, “You never know when knowing this might come handy.”
“Tepid incredulity acts as an emetic on secrets.”
Fields wheedled lots of secrets from other magicians by pretending to already know the secret. He behaved as though he had additional “work” on the same thing.
One time a card hustler performed a trick for Eddie that used a deck switch. The nature of the presentation suggested that there could not be a secret move; however, Eddie did not know exactly how or when the switch occurred. Nevertheless, he remained cool and appreciative. His tepid incredulity eventually bothered the hustler, who wanted Eddie to act completely bewildered. Eddie eventually said, “Frank Thompson had a nice way of doing that particular switch. Your execution, however, was terrific.”
By complimenting the hustler and implying that he knew how the switch was done, he seduced the hustler into tipping the details. Hustlers cannot resist trading secrets. He was curious about Thompson’s method and wanted Eddie to tip the “work.” After explaining everything, the hustler asked Eddie to explain Thompson’s method. Eddie’s response was perfect.
“Frank’s handling was not as good as yours. Stick with what you’re doing.”
“Nothing is really so poor and melancholy as art that is interested in itself and not in its subject.”
When I read this quotation and translated it in terms of “magic-as-an-art”, I began thinking about the dangers of magician’s sessions. How many of us, over the many years of attending meetings, joining bull sessions with friends and foes of our specialty, have been guilty of misguided interest? Why do we perform magic? (Note that I didn’t say, “study” magic—which is a different thing) Hopefully your answer is, “…to entertain an audience.”This, then, is your real subject and one that should engage your highest respect and interest. Interest in principles and techniques of magic are requisite and important, but they should be ancillary to your real interest and goal to entertain and bring pleasure to your audience. When performing for women do not invoke their intellects. They prefer to approach mystery intuitively. Appeal to their sense of form, design, and color. Surprise them. Perform effects that are happenings with them, instead of tricks that happen to them. And by all means, create an ally, not an enemy or a victim.
Some magicians are actors playing the part of bad magicians. Some magicians are bad actors playing the parts of good magicians.
Let me close with familiar advice from Cervantes:
“Patience, and shuffle the cards.”
Then read again.