Video Killed the Radio Star. This lyric (and song title from the album The Age of Plastic, 1979) by The Buggles serves as an introduction to "Sleights, Lies, and Videotape," one of Jamy Ian Swiss's essays in his new book Shattering Illusions (Hermetic Press, 2002 and, of course, it originally appeared in Genii in 1994). I just finished that particular essay, which puts me about halfway through this tremendous work, so this is in no way a review of a book that I already consider an important work in the literature of magic. But this one essay really touched a nerve.
There is not a word in that essay with which I disagree. In fact, while reading it, I could hear my own words - or perhaps I should say the echoes of Swiss's words, though I was not reading Genii in 1994 - that I have used on other Internet posts over the last several years. I am a book-guy through and through. However, Swiss's essay got me to thinking about how close I may have come to being a "video-guy." I say "may" because I really have no way of knowing what may have transpired had the outcome of my little story been different; none whatsoever (except a guess based on knowing myself). So, like it or not (and that's the beauty of choice - you can stop reading right now if you don't like it), I'm going to tell my little story:
It was 1980 or so and my best friend Gary and I were Martin A. Nash wannabees. We had the books, the lecture notes (all autographed, of course), the close-up pads and the cards. We found out that a series of videos of Martin would soon be released: Woo-hoo! Now, for those of you who don't know, back in the early days of magic videos they were expensive. Damned expensive. So Gary and I worked out a deal where I would buy the VCR (also pricey during that period) and he would get the videos. Well, I held up my end of the bargain and bought a top of the line Mitsubishi VCR. I don't think it would have fit in my suitcase, it was so big. But it had a slow motion feature! That, I knew, would be a big deal. Gary? He joined the Airforce: So much for the videos. There was no way my new wife was going to let me tack on several hundred dollars worth of magic videos on top of the cost of the VCR, especially after I had told her that we couldn't have a kid right away because of finances. (Sometimes, particularly early on in the marriage, wives just don't get it and there's no way to explain it to them.)
So, I was "stuck" with books. When I paid off my car a year or so later, I vowed to spend that $162.50 a month on magic books. I was able to do that for a couple months, but soon there was a baby on the way and it was good-bye paid for Jensen Healey, hello financed Sentra wagon. You family men know the rest.
Looking back, I am so glad Gary went into the Airforce and I didn't become part owner of the Videonics Nash videos (and probably the Vernon videos as well). Even though I was already enamored with books, my roots may not have been set deep enough: vulnerable to being uprooted by the stiff winds of an alluring technological change. It's very possible - I think likely - that I would have become a video-guy. Buying my (to quote Mr. Swiss) "parade of secrets," zombie-like on my couch absorbing trick after trick after trick; but never learning anything really worthwhile. Lucky for me I was "stuck" reading books. These last 20-plus years of study have been a most wondrous time, and I pray that I may continue on the academic course I have set: I never want to stop studying and learning. And there is absolutely no comparison to the amount of knowledge one can glean from a good book versus the trifles available in most videos. Thanks Gary, I owe you. And thanks for the affirmation Mr. Swiss.