As we look at Magic tonight, we are confused.
We are not sure which issues will be with us forever and which will leave us as soon as the next fad comes into town.
Will we care about “knock-offs” in five years?
Will it matter that David Blaine was in a glass box for 44 days?
Will we assume, perhaps ten years from now, that there will never be a better magic show than (fill in your favorite nominee) and that Magic had reached its zenith?
Right now there is much to be concerned about. The most successful magic show in the history of the United States, Siegfried and Roy, may have performed their last show.
The problem with live magic is that it is live.
If you did not see Doug Henning at the Court Theater in New York during his run in The Magic Show, you never will again.
If you never saw Dai Vernon perform his card magic, your chance is over.
If you failed to see Harry Blackstone, Jr. perform the Floating Light Bulb, you will never have another opportunity.
Many of our special events are saved on film or, now, in digital format. Unfortunately, they have not yet invented the recording device to capture the excitement when the lights dim, the music builds and the curtains part.
If you did not see the young David Copperfield starring in the play The Magic Man, you will never see him like that again.
That is the problem with living in a linear and time-based world.
Even as we write this, there are magicians we know and love who are growing older. They are pulled towards their individual twilight, moving closer to the point where they can only look back fondly or with regret on their current need to perform six nights a week, 48 weeks a year.
Each time we are anywhere near Las Vegas, we see Lance Burton precisely because we believe he is mortal and there may come a time when he no longer performs. As it is now, I can only see his FISM act as part of his Monte Carlo presentation. We were not present when the young Lance won at FISM.
Even though he strives for consistency between shows, they are each performed live and, therefore, each is performed differently.
So what are we to do in this seemingly unfair world of linear time?
We can go to every convention available, watch with our eyes wide-open, tape and even do an artist rendering of every nuanced move by every magician. We can breathe in the special air that fills the theaters in Vegas, Los Angeles, New York or where we happen to be.
We recall walking across the parking lot of the Rollins College Campus in Winter Park, Florida in 1974 and seeing Harry Blackstone, Jr. moving from his truck to the stage door. He looked normal, perhaps a little strange with his goatee.
Minutes later when he took the stage during the Florida State Magic Convention, we were lost in his magic.
We became convinced that he could really do magic even though we knew he could not.
We were convinced for that night that he was a magician in the truest sense.
We know that even if his performance had been recorded using the highest quality devices available, nothing could capture the magic of his voice and commanding presence on stage.
When he announced that he would show the audience “something that for so long as you live, you will never forget”, we believed him and have found his prediction to be correct. We will recall the image of the floating light bulb always.
Years later, Harry Blackstone, Jr. invited us onto his stage as a volunteer from the audience. We were not in a theater but at a downtown Chicago bookstore where he promoted his newest book. We were in awe and did as he instructed in a stage whisper and the trick was a success.
He signed a copy of his book to me and thanked me for being a great assistant.
Unfortunately, we did not have any money and had to leave the book at the checkout stand as we walked away from him.
(Someone has a Blackstone book with our name in it).
We had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Gay Blackstone years later at the Magic Castle after her husband had passed. We slurred my compliments and excitement to her.
She was gracious – we are sure that she has heard this so many times – and said she was happy that they could have had that effect.
Our point is not that I have had wonderful experiences, but that all of our collective experiences are just moments in time. We cannot get them back. We cannot make them anymore rich than they are.
How can we stop time from moving forward and causing things to change?
How can we learn to appreciate that which we see more intensely?
We are not here forever. In the time that I have taken to write this essay of strangeness, the University of Florida basketball team has lost in overtime to Maryland and Notre Dame just lost to Indiana. Because we care deeply about the teams involved, we are different now. We will be different tomorrow.
So how can we possibly expect to view Magic in the same way as we do now? Or even as we did just three hours ago?
We do not know. We know that no matter how much we want to hold on to each experience, we cannot. Time is moving on and we are all along for the ride. All we can do is enjoy each moment as fully as possible. Jesus was clear in his admonition to let tomorrow take care of itself. Good advice but tough to implement.
We cannot help worrying that we will fail to appreciate here and now. Ironically, the time spent worrying will not make for fond memories.
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