When I was a little kid I always mixed up the words “musician” and “magician”. In my mind they were just two different ways of saying the same thing, like “porch” and “verandah”, or “lunch” and “peanut butter sandwiches”. As I grew up and became serious as a musician myself it occurred to me that my childhood naiveté wasn’t so far off. The two vocations share meticulous dedication and dexterity in order to surprise audiences by making the impossible look effortless. Music is magic.
(I also regularly confused “Chuck Berry” and “Chuck Barris”, which caused no end of consternation for years to come, but that’s another story.)
To continue the analogy, there is no bigger rock star in the world of magic than David Copperfield and when I walked through the doors of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on June 16th, 1991 for his first of two performances that evening I was buzzing with the same excitement that I do when I’m about to see a mind-numbing concert.
My seat was about mid-floor, a bit closer to the stage than to the back of the house. I had a good view of Copperfield and watched his every move like a hawk as he pulled off miracle after miracle. Of course this was about as pointless as watching Eddie Van Halen’s fingers as he tears through one of his signature solos – I can look all I want but the only tricks I’ll see are hidden behind a lifetime of dedication and mastery.
After thrilling us all with several Jesus-like miracles that utterly rewrote the laws of physics the magician walked into the crowd asking if anyone had a tissue in their purse. He asked a lady to stand up and toss the tissue to him. She did, and Copperfield held up his hand, halting the tissue in midair. The tissue then floated into his beckoning hand. The man then origami’d it into a rose and letting it go he floated the rose through the air back to the amazed woman. As she plucked the paper rose out of the air it burst into flames and became a real rose in her hand.
I swear, if the guy said he was the Messiah I’d almost have to believe him.
After a thousand tricks both big and small, each one more outrageously impossible than the last, David Copperfield drove a motorcycle onto the NAC stage to close the show. Donning a helmet he drove the bike into a wooden frame (not a box mind you, but a frame such that you never lost sight of the man or the machine). The platform rose toward the ceiling on ropes and, suspended twenty feet above the floor and in full view of the packed audience Copperfield revved and revved his engine until with a puff of smoke he and his hefty bike disappeared BEFORE OUR VERY EYES and instantly reappeared at the back of the theatre.
Gasps preceded thunderous applause and a hearty standing ovation as our impossible host doffed his helmet and smiled down at us from atop his gleaming Harley Davidson. I assume there were many conversions. I think I heard someone speaking in tongues.
After the show I joined about a thousand people in line for a meet-and-greet with the magician. As we waited and waited it became increasingly clear to me that there was no way Copperfield would have time to come out and shake hands with all these people before his second show of the evening, much less sign all the programs and dvd’s we were all promised he would be signing.
As improbable as it was, I honestly thought he was going to come out, greet the crowd and with a wave of his hand tell us all to look down at our programs, where we would find them all magically signed and personalized. After the show I just witnessed I knew anything was within the realm of possibility with this man, and I seriously thought this final miracle would and could happen.
In reality the magician rockstar took a page from his musician rockstar compatriots and magically convinced his fans that a quick, incomprehensible scribble that took less than a millisecond of effort was considered an autograph and could easily appease an enamoured and completely awed fanbase.
And he was right; I still have my very weathered, scribbled-on program in a box somewhere.