First off, before I go any further, I’m going to say that when I do book reviews on my site, I’m not necessarily going to review new books, but rather, books I’ve read and that I find a bit of value in. I don’t know if I’ll bother reviewing books like Bobo’s “Modern Coin Magic” or “Royal Road to Card Magic,” though. Even though I have them and use them regularly as reference material, they discuss techniques and tricks, but all things considered, I look at them as reference guides. Just like I probably wouldn’t review a dictionary or set of encyclopedias (a form of book now pretty much on its way to extinction). The books that I intend to review are more along the lines of performance and histories. You know, the types of books you’re more likely to sit down and read cover to cover.
Even a brief glance at the videos I link to on this site will show a bit of fandom for Whit “Pop” Haydn, but this is where fandom can work for me. I probably wouldn’t have known about this autobiography, which is nicely written in a conversational style. Other than the opening chapter, it feels much like sitting down with Whit for a few beers.
The opening chapter is a brief history of street performing magicians and what separates this form of performance from performing in other venues. Now, please understand, this isn’t the same as someone like David Blaine or one of his imitators stopping a random person on the street and saying “Do you want to see a trick?” before doing some packet card miracle and letting them move on. This is more of finding your spot, your pitch, in busking parlance, and drawing people in to watch a small show, hatting them at the end. It’s the equivalent of giving someone a candy bar and asking them to pay you for it if they thought it was any good. After that, you reset and do the act again trying to pull in a new crowd. If you’re good, you can make a living from it (not a personal claim I can make).
After that chapter, it’s Storytime with Whit, and this is the heart and soul of the story. Whit starts us pretty much from where he lost his job, assigned to him because of his conscientious objector status towards the Vietnam War, due to failing his draft physical due to poor eyesight and starts performing in in streets of New York at a time when it was pretty much unheard of.
Here, Whit takes us through working the streets, in some cases avoiding law enforcement, working the streets in Europe and back to the States, and shares stories that he experienced along the way. From the streets, he starts working also as a bar magician and this seamlessly flows into stories about both how he developed some tricks and how the tricks developed by interacting with the crowds. My personal favorite in this section is the story of how he developed the “Routine for the Blind,” which is worth the price of the book by itself.
The final section is “The Lessons of the Street,” and here Whit discusses some of what a street performed needs to know in order to be successful out there. Now, admittedly, you will find an awful lot of the same advice from the writings of people like Jim Cellini, Eric Evans, Gazzo, or even in Jimmy Talksalot’s book and blog. The feel you get from this section, though, is on how even though Whit doesn’t perform on the streets anymore, a lot of what he learned out there is applied in his style and approach today. I’ve not seen any footage anywhere of Whit doing a silent act, and even though if he did one, I’m sure it would be done to a brilliant end, but the man and performer is outstanding when he is interacting with the crowd, which in general seems to be the best part of any of his routines. It’s what makes him a great performer in addition to a great magician.
If you’re looking for a Jim Steinmeyer-like study of Whit’s personal history, you’re not going to find it here. As I said earlier, it’s like sitting and having a few pints while Whit tells you about his early days. I just hope as I develop down my path, I can collect stories as good.
The book, “Stories of a Street Performer” by Whit “Pop” Haydn, can be purchased in print and ebook at http://www.mikazukipublishinghouse.com/stories_of_a_street_performer.html or at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1937981339/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_29b1sb1KMZDYRNM3.