The Redundancy of Impossibility

Conover Over

I was shocked and very saddened to learn last week of the tragic suicide of Tim Conover, certainly one of the best mentalists in modern history. Unfortunately, too few magicians got the chance to reap the benefits of his knowledge and experience because he didn’t publish much and kept himself so busy with corporate work that he rarely attended conventions.

Almost twenty years ago, I had the privilege to have dinner with him and my friend Craig Stone, in my hometown of San Diego, after a day working a trade show. (Craig swears that Brian Gillis was also present but I don’t remember that – sorry, Brian.)

During the meal I was amazed at Tim’s generosity with information – how he entered the market, priced himself, developed an act, got bookings, etc.  At one point he asked me to grab a napkin and jot down every effect I’d ever seen or performed that was a favorite.  It made no difference if I was fooled or not, if I knew the secret or not.  If I loved it, it went on the paper.

After about ten minutes of writing, I had about fifty-five effects.  Tim then instructed me to circle my top ten.  I groaned.  This would be difficult.

After another ten minutes, and many darlings killed, I had my circles.

Tim looked over the list, commenting here and there.  (“Thats a great one…  Not bad….  Good.”)

He then looked at me, and pointed to my top ten.

These are the effects you should be doing.”

I was speechless. It seemed so simple.  Really?

“These are the effects that moved you.  That you remember.  They mean something to you.  Why would you ever consider doing anything else?”

I smiled.  He was right.  It was a wonderful lesson.

Then, he upped the ante.

“And every year, take one of these effects, and replace it with a better one.”

I kept that napkin.

I still have it.

It means a lot more to me, now.

Rest in Peace, Tim.

JC Wagner – The One That Got Away

I’ve been a magician since I was 13-years old, living in San Diego, and a fixture at Magicians’ World Magic Shop, first as a weekly customer, then as its magic classes instructor, and, ultimately, as the owner/manager.

It was a fabulous time.  I was a teenager doing what I most loved, surrounded by guys who called San Diego their home – among them Brad Burt, Richard Turner, Jerry Camaro, Dan McClean, Terry Godfrey, Craig Stone,

and , occasionally, JC Wagner.

These were formative years for me (in many ways), and I was trying to find my way and develop a personae, a confidence, a style; I was trying to become me.

There were plenty of bad examples.  Guys who got into magic because they were insecure and wanted to be the center of attention. People who measured accomplishments by the number of times they fooled you.  Getting the gig was all that mattered to some, and one method was as good as another if it “got the money”.  They were often the loudest guys in the shop – bragging, critiquing, explaining, teasing.

I tried to stay away from these guys.

And every once in a while JC would pop in.  And I became very shy around him.  Here was someone who didn’t demonstrate a loud bravado.  He was gentle, cordial, with a tight-lipped smile and a quiet confidence.

Other magicians were glad to see him.  Their respect was obvious.  He’d shake their hands and nod politely, never one to cause a scene.

And he’d glance at me with his kind eyes, and I felt uneasy.  This guy’s a real magician, I remember thinking.  He knows stuff I’ll never know – could never know.  I have no business talking with him.

And, stupidly,  I stayed away from this guy, too.

It’s not something I characteristically do.  When I admire somebody, I usually tell them.  I’ll ask for an autograph or shake their hand.  I let them know they mean something to me, that I enjoy their work, that I’m a fan.

But back then, and even as I grew older, I didn’t feel qualified to enter his life.  Not yet, anyway.  Maybe later, when I deserved it.

As an adult, I’d see him occasionally.  I’d say hello, mention my name, and he’d always smile and pretend to remember, but in reality we never shared any memes between us.  I never game him a reason to remember me.

And so I missed out.  And for no other reason than because I didn’t try.  During the past couple of years, as people began making public their accumulated affection for JC, I realized that many magicians loved him precisely because he was accessible and willing to share, advise, and befriend.  In other words, he was exactly what I needed – then and now.

Some people were much smarter than me.  Syd Segal, for one.  When he first got into magic, he used to regularly have lunch with Craig Stone and me.  He was also quiet and shy, with a burning desire to learn more, to excel in our craft, and make a name for himself.

And years later, when JC returned to magic and San Diego, Syd was the smart one.  He instantly saw what I recognized almost three decades earlier, and knew that here was a precious natural resource, free for the asking.

And Syd accomplished what I failed to try. He said, “I want to learn everything you have to teach me, and we’ll be friends forever.” And they were.  And JC taught, and Syd learned, and together they created, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

And today, as the magic community (and particularly Syd) is grieving for this great loss, my perspective is a bit different.

Because the magicians who knew him, hung out with him, talked to him, and paid attention to the personal memories he gave them, have all gained something invaluable that I could have had, but didn’t. And now, will never have.

The personal influence of JC Wagner in their lives.

And only because I didn’t try.

I had the opportunity (many times) and I blew it.  And now, like so many who never got the chance to forge a personal relationship with him, I’ll have to watch his videos and crack open his books and hope to glean some real magic this way. But as those who knew him can attest, it’s not the same.

I’ll never really be able to accurately measure my loss.  But deep down, I know it’s great.

JC Wagner is “the one that got away”.