Riffing, Ranting, and Houdini


Reading this Houdini book is enlightening. Like in everything, but more so with a magician, it’s important to read between the lines. They’re not playing it straight. A rant is sort of like that. It’s one of the cheapest tools in the writer/speakers toolbox. Be so passionate about the thing you are discussing that you are assumed an expert, and therefore one of them. In Houdini’s case it was handcuff and safe manufacturers, that he would charm and make accomplice in his illusions. Also the police. First thing Houdini would do in a new city is contact the police and jails. He would go there to make examinations of the place, and the people. Make imprints of unique locks with magicians puddy. Hand over the hooch and say “hey fellas, can you help me with my bit.” And they often were competent and eager cohorts.

Imagine the move, the hustle. Different times, and different places Houdni’s type is persona non-grata. Card tricks, sleight of hand, illusion, these are criminal behaviors. So magicians don the mask of Vaudeville, and get away with it. Hell they get paid for it. They are entertainers. And in that they become free to hop-Scotch the line of truth and falsity. But its not just an act, like professional wrestling, there’s no way to fake being thrown out of the ring; you’re going over the top rope. But still they are outright scoundrels liers, with plants, picks, keys, and bribed accomplices. But the threat is real. There’s no way to fake jump into an icey Michigan river, no way to fake standing in front of a hostile audience, no way to fake starving. 

What is this pass the Jester receives? We love our rules and rule breakers equally. Paradox abounds. Lesson from the magicians, the bigger, bolder the lie, the easier it is to believe. Simple lies that fool children will work best. 

The trip with significant magicians and artists is that they’re all true believers, and seekers. They know it’s bullshit, but want to find the part thats not. They know it must be there though, because they are it, themselves. Houdini did that as a bit, exposed the sloppy technique of a fellow magician, and then performed the trick better, stealing the audience, the hype. But I like to consider the form. The attack on the consciousness, the reality of having truth pulled and twisted like that. We love to be fooled and to fool. It shows we have greater hold of the truth then we let on. Fiction is a great vessel of this property and function. We turn over wholly to the Untruth, eagerly suspend disbelief. And we feel better for it! 

The birds have made a nest on my porch. They swirl in front of me now, just back from hunting worms. One goes flying passed my head securing the nest, as I write. Cool summer morning, saying 70ish on the day, but a morning rain might challenge that. Back to the Houdini…

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