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Socrates

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Reply with quote  #1 
Recently there have been a number of posts referencing the closure of magic shops.  For those whose livelihood revolves around these businesses I am certain it a sad day, but is it really a sad day for magicians?

Imagine if you will that all magic shops close, and there are no longer any online retailers catering to the magic community; would this result in the end of magic?

In my entire life I have visited a magic shop on two occasions; one was Davenports, the other Alakazam. Whilst there I purchased a magic book, and a couple of decks of cards - the cards soon wore out, and the books were gifted to a young magician.

Over the years I've worked in many venues using little more than the principles from Harry's Magic-Book and a few odds and ends I picked up here and there.  My early mentors advised me to read books on the psychology of magic, and avoid magic clubs.  Along the way I also developed an interest in the real mind-skills, reconnected with my imagination and practiced and developed memory techniques.

New books and tricks are not required.  A solid skill-set based on the basic principles of magic will give you a lifetimes supply of magic.  The industry of magic and the business side of things may suffer, but magic would continue to thrive.

How many of us would lose the ability to perform with a deck of cards, or a few coins if every single magic shop closed? 

My answer is none.

A second question refers to creativity in magic.  It occurred to me that perhaps the existence of magic shops, books, tricks and DVDs stalls creativity in magic - generally speaking, the most creative magicians came from a poor background and could not afford to indulge in purchasing the latest and greatest effects... as a result they had to rely on their own ingenuity and imagination instead.

Many times I have come across musicians who have the best guitars, amplifiers and other equipment but they can hardly play anything at all - but they look good [biggrin]  My guess is the magic community also has its fair share of posers with the latest and greatest equipment and books, but lacking the real skills of magic. It's a lot easier to purchase magic, chat about it, and practice in front of a mirror than it is to actually get out there and perform.

Therefore I think creativity in magic, and perhaps the overall quality of magic performances would improve if the industry closed down.  Those who lacked creativity, and those who got a buzz out of owning, and chatting about the newest tricks would fade away like one of Eugene Burger's coins, leaving the cream of the crop to move the craft of magic forward.

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

Soc
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Mbreggar

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Reply with quote  #2 
Hi Soc,
You raise some very interesting points in your little essay. I am of an age where if you wanted to learn magic you NEEDED the shops. There was no video, DVDs, VHS or any media of that sort available. Plus you needed the shops to buy the better books as local libraries had some generic, basic books.
I spent many a Saturday at Kanter's in Philly. Even if I bought nothing, watching the demos, listening to the old timers and locals pros discuss magic was a joy to me. Lee Gray, who ran the shop at the time, carefully helped people select tricks he though would be best for them given their experience level and stated desire. Through Kanter's, I learned of Genii Magazine and through Genii I learned of Tannens in New York and other shops around the world. Just a few dollars then brought me catalogs of several of these great shops. As with online shopping, there is no personal touch with the catalogs, but Kanter's was always there to steer me towards "the good stuff."
And when an old pro helps you better palm a coin or shows you a misdirection subtlety for an effect ... you feel your whole magic world shift.

Even today, I visit Tannens when I am in New York on business. While it is a shadow of what it once was. Adam Blumenthal (the current owner) and his team really do a fabulous job in maintaining and encouraging the tradition of the old brick and mortars. These days, the fabulous Magic Balay stands behind the counter as their main demo guy. And he is talented, fun and very honest. Plus, he really knows his stuff.

This forum, MUCH better than others, imbues that same sense of collegiality. While it can only be a simulacrum of what I experienced in days past, it does do a damn good job at providing a safe spot to engage in magical banter, idea sharing and opinions. 

Without the cigar smoke and pizza stains.

--mike
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Anthony Vinson

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Reply with quote  #3 

Well, now. This ought to whip some folks into a proper frenzy!

Those are some interesting thoughts. Thoughts that I, myself, have found winding through my cranial cavity.

When I look at my collection of books, magazines, and trinkets, it amazes me that I am not a much better a magician than current skills indicate. At the same time, I enjoy reading magic books, spending time thinking about what I have read, and gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the art that hooked me as a young boy. At any given time, there are four to six magic books resting on tabletops around the house within easy reach. Volumes that I have pulled for one reason or another and kept on reading long after locating what I was seeking originally. So those books have been a solid investment. At least for me.  

At least half of my books were purchased at magic shops. More recent volumes were ordered from online vendors or private sellers.

One of the things I enjoyed about brick and mortar magic shops was the opportunity to meet and interact with other magicians, particularly the amateurs and hobbyists. I cannot recall the number of Saturdays I hung out at Eddie’s Trick Shop in Atlanta, or Al Cohen’s shop in Washington, D.C., met a couple of other magicians, and adjourned to a local café or restaurant to talk, swap, and learn. I miss those impromptu meet-ups. I always came away from them with lots of energy, creativity, and enthusiasm.

If online retailers went away tomorrow, I doubt that it would affect me in the least. Honestly, as you point out, I have enough to keep me occupied for the remainder of my expected lifespan.

Great topic, Al. I hope lots of others hop aboard and help us explore your thesis.      

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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #4 
Wow, that post covers a bunch of issues.  Magic shops is the subject, but there's a lot more in there to digest.  

I'll start by looking at it in comparison to another hobby of mine, leather work.  Many of you have heard of Tandy.  Tandy has an online presence and brick-and-mortar stores all over the U.S. and abroad.  Recently they closed down a number of stores and it was subject for lots of discussion on the leather forum that I'm active on.  The general consensus was that most professional leather workers wouldn't miss them but that beginners and intermediate workers would.

I think that is probably the same when compared to magic shops.  Many people's first exposure to magic (at least to purchase) is through a magic shop.  Maybe they go in out of mere curiosity and see a demonstration and end up buying the trick.
I remember when Disney had magic shops at their parks and so did Six Flags.  It was fun to go in and see the tricks, along with the novelty items.

Anything you can buy at a shop you can easily buy online, so I agree with you that magic shops aren't "necessary".  But there are other functions that magic shops perform, at least many of them.  They are often staffed by very knowledgeable people that can help to educate and elevate the craft.  They can sell a trick to a new magician and then work with them a bit, offering tips and advice.  Can't do that very well through the internet.  It is also nice to be able to actually touch and see what you are buying sometimes.  I ordered a set of cups and balls from a popular dealer many years ago and what I got was junk.  Totally unuseable.  They replaced them but one of the cups still had a very small dent and I ended up just keeping them.  

Another thing many shops do is serve as a place for magicians to meet.  Sometimes it is an IBM or SAM meeting or possibly a lecture.  Some magic shops are destinations, or used to be.  If in Chigago you definitely should take the time to drop in Magic, Inc. or Midwest Magic for example.  You get to see some of the latest and greatest and converse with people that know what's up.

Now, regarding creativity.  I understand what you are saying but I think it is a little too much of a generalization to say that some of the most creative magicians came from a poor background.  Some certainly have, but many did not.  Harry Lorayne has described his hardscrabble early life and I think we can all agree that he is one of the most creative magicians of his era.  But Chris Kenner, who grew up in South St. Louis County and went to an expensive high school, was definitely not poor but is considered one of the best thinkers in magic and extremely creative.  

Necessity may be the mother of invention but to me, creative people create.  Money doesn't necessarily have anything to do with it.

I have to assume that there are more people that can do some magic or are more than casual fans than ever before.  I've never seen a poll but I wonder if the number of professionals is any larger or "serious amateurs".  Maybe there are simply a ton of people that are casually interested and will fade away at some point.

If all of the shops closed, no, magic wouldn't die.  But many of us would miss them.


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rready

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Reply with quote  #5 
I owned a shop in the 1990's but before that it was just the thrill I used to get when I was going to the magic shop to visit. I couldn't wait to see what was new and looking around the store at the magic books, and what the person behind the counter was going to show me. You can still get that thrill when you download something or get something in the mail but for me it isn't quite the same.

Ray said it perfectly in his last sentence.
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chris w

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Reply with quote  #6 
As an otherwise fairly unacquisitive person hopelessly drawn to the idea of having a big library, I think of this especially in terms of the habit of buying and coveting books. It's easy to daydream about having limitless funds to surround myself with cases and cases of magic books when the reality is that a whole lifetime's worth of entertainment could be derived from studying, working through, field-testing material from, and really taking time with one or two well-chosen volumes from among those already in my possession.

I imagine one of the hazards of having a really big library is that it can become even easier to focus on getting through everything at the expense of really taking time with anything and allowing one's own thoughts, questions, and ideas to emerge.

I think the magic community in general, and certain other magic forums in particular, would be much better if the conversation were less about what people are (or should be) buying and more about what everyone's doing.
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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #7 
Quote:
Originally Posted by chris w
As an otherwise fairly unacquisitive person hopelessly drawn to the idea of having a big library, I think of this especially in terms of the habit of buying and coveting books. It's easy to daydream about having limitless funds to surround myself with cases and cases of magic books when the reality is that a whole lifetime's worth of entertainment could be derived from studying, working through, field-testing material from, and really taking time with one or two well-chosen volumes from among those already in my possession.

I imagine one of the hazards of having a really big library is that it can become even easier to focus on getting through everything at the expense of really taking time with anything and allowing one's own thoughts, questions, and ideas to emerge.

I think the magic community in general, and certain other magic forums in particular, would be much better if the conversation were less about what people are (or should be) buying and more about what everyone's doing.


Interesting take. Many of us have come to the same conclusion. I have a modest library with very few duds. I have enough good effects to last multiple lifetimes.

In some cases though I think many of us will read some effects and pass them by almost immediately. Perhaps they don't fit our style. Maybe they involve a sleight we haven't learned. Or sometimes a trick doesn't read so good then you see someone actually DO it and it is excellent. Rudy's recent series of old is new exemplifies this.
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Tom G

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Reply with quote  #8 
MA used to be rich in magic shops.  rready had a shop I  frequented and he's living large because of me. He also had a ton of great lectures also.   But when I was younger having Max Maven or Steve Dacri recommend books or effects.............
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Robin Dawes

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Reply with quote  #9 
I have heard that Ricky Jay wished there were no books that teach magic (and presumably he included videos, DVDs, etc).   Apparently he believed that magic should only be passed on by personal instruction.
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Socrates

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Reply with quote  #10 
Thanks for your thoughts so far guys, it's always great to hear what you have to say.  Many good points have been made, and I can see why some lament the passing of the magic shop.  Many years back I read an article by Eugene Burger on the death of the magic shops and this paragraph in particular seems to resonate with your replies:

"But with the closings, I think something more than a store is being lost. Magic stores were places of social congregation where, as my friend Jack and I discovered, lifelong friendships were formed. They were places where knowledge could be exchanged – not the armchair knowledge of many “authorities” on the Internet who have little real experience performing magic, but rather the knowledge that comes from thousands and thousands of actual performances. And finally the magic shops of my youth were places of guidance and places of inspiration – and, I must add, guidance from people who knew me as a real person and not as lineless words over the Internet. Guidance and inspiration are qualities seldom found where the sole exchange is monetary" - Eugene Burger

These words definitely resonate with me, but for slightly different reasons. 

My beginnings in magic had nothing to do with magic shops, I did not own a magic set/books, or any gimmicks.  It was my grandfather that introduced me to the art, but funnily enough he only knew two card tricks... one based on math, the other used a key card, however he really knew how to extract the most out of each of them... he taught me the power of presenting and selling the tricks for all they were worth - Harry Lorayne is a great example of this style [wink]

It was many years before I came across a professional magic book, and the first one was 'Card Control' by Arthur Buckley [biggrin] The introduction by Harlan Tarbell was enough to inspire me to start booking gigs, using the simple tricks I already knew.  Soon after that I wrote to a whole host of professional magicians and asked their advice - Eugene was one of those guys, along with Mike Rogers who told me to avoid magic clubs, and don't buy/watch any videos.  Most of the pros advised I read books by folk like Henning Nelms, Dariel Fitzkee and Al Leech amongst others in order to learn the psychology of misdirection and showmanship skills etc.  Many years after that Doc Eason recommended 'The Magic Book' by Harry Lorayne [thumb]

"So far as I'm concerned, impromptu (anytime, anywhere), close-up (under their noses) magic is the only real magic" - Harry Lorayne

Well that sentence alone sums it up for me, but he also follows up with: 

"The best magic to learn is magic that you can do anytime, with anyone's cards, coins, or other ordinary objects, not the kind that forces you to beg off because you forgot your trick deck or what have you.  You can't "forget" your hands, your mind or your skill" - Harry Lorayne 'The Magic Book' page 18

With this advice I had little need for the magic shop, no gimmicks required and saved me a ton of money, many thanks Harry [cool]

Yet I can still understand the loss you guys speak of.  The internet is taking down a lot of small businesses and breaking up many local communities.  The bigger chains dominate, and there is a more generic feel to life these days.  Many places sell the same products, including the magic stores, and you can see this reflected in our culture.  Of course there are also many benefits to modern technology, this forum for one.

Perhaps the face-to-face contact with other magicians is the biggest loss for those who love the magic shops.  As you say it is an opportunity to make friends, see tricks demonstrated and test out props etc. It is difficult for me to know as I have always been a lone-wolf of sorts, plus I operate more on the mentalism side of the fence so have little requirement for magic shops.

ChrisW made a great point:

"I think the magic community in general, and certain other magic forums in particular, would be much better if the conversation were less about what people are (or should be) buying and more about what everyone's doing"

This is key for me. The Magician's Forum is a great opportunity for us to share our knowledge.  We can discuss books/tricks/DVDs etc. but how about also discussing creativity, and how to take the principles of the tricks we already know and utilize them in different ways?  With one book alone - The Magic Book by Harry Lorayne - we have enough material/concepts to create endless tricks, or we could just copy exactly what the books/DVDs say and miss an opportunity to put a personal spin on our tricks.  Bizzaro has gifted his notes on creativity to the forum - you can find them here:

http://smappdooda.com/bullet         

The world around us is constantly changing.  Many shops are vanishing, the way people work is changing, machines are taking the place of people in many companies, but humans are resilient and adaptable.  We can utilize the internet and modern technology to our benefit.  There are tutorials on Youtube, TMF has its sessions, The Learned Pig archives are over at lybrary.com, we have so many resources available to us for free now that anyone can access the craft of magic - money is no barrier, but beginners require guidance.

We can do that here at the forum.  There is no loss in sharing our knowledge.  Doing so can only improve the craft of magic.  Rudy has done magic a great service already by creating this forum.  Let us use it to forward the craft of magic. 

Yes we can lament the death of the magic shop, or we can see it as an opportunity for change.  Incidentally I wonder how magic survived for so many years before the invention of the magic shop [rofl]      
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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #11 
I had not read that quote from Burger on magic shops.  Thanks for sharing that!

I remember clearly the books that Harry Monti recommended that I read and the Fitzkee trilogy was at the top of the list.  I recommend them to anyone.  The thinking, for the most part, applies today as well as when it was written.  People have changed a lot in some ways and in others not at all.

I also agree with Harry about learning tricks that you can do anytime, anywhere with borrowed or appropriated items.  

But, (and there's always a but) I know a lot of magicians that enjoy the collecting side of things.  They will buy new tricks with little to no intention of actually performing them but want to own one and just play around with it.  Many of the newfangled designer cards end up in drawers, unopened, hoping that they increase in value and many do.  So there is always another reason for buying stuff.
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Bmat

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Reply with quote  #12 
Having spent a good deal of my career behind the counter in a magic shop. My perspective may be different.  What I hear/heard from most magicians is that most got started in magic because somebody gave them a magic set. Then they start talking about the first time they entered a magic shop.  Then about how they loved to go to them first just because of the love of magic and then who you can possibly meet in any magic shop at any given day.  

Having spent ten years in Vancouver you would be amazed at who came into my shop, sometimes because Vancouver is Hollywood North, and it is also a major port for cruise ships.  

Would magic suffer if there were no outlets for magicians such as magic shops?  Probably not.  Would the experience of being a magician change? Yes.  For the better or worse?  I'm not sure. 

I know at one point the way to becoming a magician was by working with an established magician.  Those Vaudeville days, the days of Houdini and Blackstone are gone and we survived...thrived.  And as I have said before.  We will continue to thrive.  Magic and magicians runs in cycles.  Just as you think the popularity is dying down Doug Henning makes a breakthrough.  That torch was passed to Copperfield.  And while we haven't seen TV magic specials like we used to see, we now see magic on a regular basis on tv  Pen And Teller being the most famous.  

I predict we will see a lull again soon.  And then another Paul Daniels will hit the airwaves and we will watch the pendulum swing once again.

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Senor Fabuloso

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Reply with quote  #13 
Probably the greatest affront to humanity, is the internet. Online social interaction, has become a substitute for personal involvement, with one another. This has led not only to the death of magic shops, but has completely changed how man interacts with other human beings. On a personal note, I met my Wife online 1500 miles from where I lived and out of a city with 10,000,000 people. How did that happen?

Boards such as these are another testament, to how life has changed. We communicate with each other here without tonal resonance, infection or even the other non verbal communication clues, so important to real understanding. Sure we get to invite and mingel in a cyber environment with people of the same interests but what have we lost, in the process? In some ways, I think it's our humanity. The feel of one hand into an others, is beyond that of anything contemplated mentally. We in our minds can and do create, a sense of reality but what is perceived mentally, isn't what is real. Only reality is real. Perceptions are an illusion.

So I'm saddened by the death of magic shops because the physical reality of interactions with my fellow magicians in many ways, has also died. There is hope however and something we might consider, in wanting the reality of human connection with our brothers. Magic clubs. The IBM and SAM are still going strong for a reason. The bond we share with each other still exists not only online in cyber space but in realtime in these clubs. There are also the many conventions and lectures, that bring us together. I did meet my Wife online but very quickly moved to meeting in person.

So the answer imo, is to connect in realtime with eachother. To seek environments where we can connect physically. And to want through LOVE to interact in more intimate ways. Not only will this help us to be more socially experienced but will help us in our performances because after all we perform for real people, in the real world, in real time, don't we?

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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #14 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Dawes
I have heard that Ricky Jay wished there were no books that teach magic (and presumably he included videos, DVDs, etc).   Apparently he believed that magic should only be passed on by personal instruction.


The age-old practice of mentorship is certainly effective.  But in order for it to be effective it occurs to me that you would need several mentors over the course of your education.

Ideally you would want to study with a variety of performers and take some from each and blend it together to create your own identity.

Some mentors might be strong on technique while not so much about presentation.  Some might be strong creatively while others might excel at humor.  

Becoming an amalgam of all of the above would make for a formidable performer.
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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #15 
This is from the Eugene Burger article..

"Honestly, I have never understood the economics of magic shops today or during the 1950s. The number of magicians was smaller then than today and still many of the shops (in Chicago and other major cities) were not located at street level with attractive displays to lure customers."

The late Gene DeVoe ran The Magic Den for decades.  He was in downtown St. Louis on a fairly busy street.  He sold a lot of novelties in addition to the magic.  In fact, pretty much one-half of the store was novelty items, garlic gum, fake vomit, etc.
He never was big on costumes.  Some magic shops offer costumes and make enough off of those sales and/or rentals to cover their overhead.  

Gene did private parties and I'm sure that helped prop up the store.  I remember there being some really slow days where I would show up and was his first customer well into the afternoon.

One time was really funny.  I walked in and Gene waved "hi" at me but he was on the phone.  I went over to the small bookshelf and was perusing the titles and pulled one from the shelf.  Gene stopped his conversation for a second and then said "Hey Al, this kid is looking at your book".  Turns out he was on the phone with Alton Sharpe, author of Expert Card Conjuring/Chicanery.  They were good friends.  Timing is everything.
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Dave Campbell

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Reply with quote  #16 
wow... this is a deep thread.

Early-on I was a musician - and the parallel was the music shop. Eventually I became a teacher, and sometimes the teachers would sit in the waiting area and just jam together most of the day. A student would show up on-time, you get up, take care of that, then come back and sit back in. This energized the students, got the parents excited about what their kids might learn, and all of us learned from each other. Sometimes artists from St. Louis would make the 20-mile trip over to the shop and jam a bit.

After reading all the above, I think that's kind of what I felt walking into Sun Magic the day I mentioned on another post. I wasn't far enough into magic to realize it though, and inadvertently missed out on a lot I bet... just like the one time I went into the music shop and was told that Wes Montgomery had visited the week before when I wasn't there, and had jammed with the guys.

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Quote:
Probably the greatest affront to humanity, is the internet. Online social interaction, has become a substitute for personal involvement, with one another.
is correct, but the internet provides me a way to interact with magicians with skills far greater than mine, and for that, I'm happy!


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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #17 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Campbell
wow... this is a deep thread.

Early-on I was a musician - and the parallel was the music shop. Eventually I became a teacher, and sometimes the teachers would sit in the waiting area and just jam together most of the day. A student would show up on-time, you get up, take care of that, then come back and sit back in. This energized the students, got the parents excited about what their kids might learn, and all of us learned from each other. Sometimes artists from St. Louis would make the 20-mile trip over to the shop and jam a bit.

After reading all the above, I think that's kind of what I felt walking into Sun Magic the day I mentioned on another post. I wasn't far enough into magic to realize it though, and inadvertently missed out on a lot I bet... just like the one time I went into the music shop and was told that Wes Montgomery had visited the week before when I wasn't there, and had jammed with the guys.

Senor's comment is correct, but the internet provides me a way to interact with magicians with skills far greater than mine, and for that, I'm happy!



Were you once close to St. Louis?
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Robin Dawes

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Reply with quote  #18 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Senor Fabuloso

...
So the answer imo, is to connect in realtime with eachother. To seek environments where we can connect physically. And to want through LOVE to interact in more intimate ways. ...


This is a perfect opportunity to remind those who are new to TMF that the Saturday Sessions are fantastic opportunities to get together online with friends from this forum and basically just jam for an hour or two.  It's not physical, but it sure is rewarding.
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Dave Campbell

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Reply with quote  #19 
Quote:
Originally Posted by RayJ


Were you once close to St. Louis?


Up until I went in the Army in 1970 and then 73-75, I lived in or around Belleville, O'Fallon, Fairview Heights, Illinois. I took jazz lessons in St. Louis, and played gigs over there. Grew up not on a farm but definitely in a farming community.

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RayJ

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Reply with quote  #20 
Very cool.  I know the area very well.  If you haven't been back in a while you wouldn't recognize it.  Tons of construction over that way.  Still some good jazz in the Lou!
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Dave Campbell

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Reply with quote  #21 
yeah... for that being my 'stomping grounds' … I could barely make out landmarks when I was there a few times a few years ago. St. Louis has all changed -- at least near the waterfront... and that whole area around O'Fallon looked like a different place. I got my B.S. at SIU Edwardsville and I imagine that is totally different as well. then 75/76 we were in Champaign/Urbana while I was in graduate school at U of I. After that, the visits to that area lessened.
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