Articles about Ben Robinson
Connected to History
by Brennen Reece
I’ve nearly fallen from scaffolding seven stories high. I’ve survived a car accident that almost sent me into a 50-foot-deep ravine. I’ve been held at gunpoint by a small-town rookie cop who thought he had stumbled onto something big (he hadn’t). And I once accidentally sat down in the “Trucker’s Only” section of a truck stop restaurant. It’s all adrenalin-pushing and so was what I saw recently at a resort on Long Island.
A few weeks ago a man approached me at a party,”Have you seen the magician?” the name tag wearing man asked. Before I had a chance to respond, he told me the magician could do amazing things such as make his ring fly from hand to hand, which he then proceeded to do. I was caught in this mystifier’s web faster than Spiderman can spin one. Five minutes later, a crowd had gathered and we all witnessed something that was so old it was new: magic in the hands of a true master.
His name is Ben Robinson. Kind of an unassuming guy, with lightening hands that seem to be faster than the eye, until you realize what sleight of hand really means…so slight the mind is fooled before the hand even does anything. Robinson explained, “I’ve trained 34 years to do this, kind of like a violinist.” Make no mistake, it’s not chutzpa; lame publicity stunting doesn’t drive this man whose been to Mount Everest (talk about standing on real heights David Blaine!) and whose caught bullets at Niagara Falls and Houdini’s grave. Oh, he caught the bullets in his teeth before they went through his throat, and he’s got the scars to prove it. Scars? Yes, once it seems, a miscalculation during his headline performance at a California Card Casino had some glass that flew across the stage, in his left hand and out the other side. Luckily, the injury did not impair his deft reflexes. He says “I don’t like to see the sight of blood, I prefer to keep mine in my body.”
It was Robinson’s story that was as amazing — if not more amazing — than what he did. He’s relatively low key unlike the hype masters currently on the tube promising daredevilry and providing stupid reality TV yawns. Robinson is inseparable from what he does.
He’s walking history.
He’s the student of the first man to have his own network TV magic special, Milbourne Christopher. Christopher’s show was live unlike the chop shop video network today. Film it, then gizanx it up with f/x! It was from Christopher that Robinson learned the secrets of the secret art. Christopher (famous for being the first bullet catching magician on live TV, and making elephants disappear) accepted Robinson as, Christopher’s wife says, “the way John talked to Chris.” John Mulholland, the scholar-magician,the first to put magic among the high arts as a university lecturer and at one time appeared at Radio City Music Hall. Both Christopher and Mulholland traveled to many countries, wrote many books and established firsts in their field.
So what about Robinson?
“I don’t really have any perspective of how I am viewed by my peers or the press. I sort of don’t care. Mine is egoless work in a field fraught with petty concerns, and I just try to avoid it all. Magic is about power, so unfortunately, you get these wacko egos tooting their 9 year-old selves in their grown up bodies, justifying their video editing miracles as shamanism and it makes me sick.” Sick indeed. One reporter in England wrote of the man who took the name of Charles Dickens famous novel David Copperfield, and wished he would make himself permanently disappear. Robinson once worked with Copperfield and declines comment. So what about the state of magic and where it is going? “Well, I just do what I do, and am happy I get paid for it. That’s a blessing” the humble trickster tiredly admits. Today’s great magicians, Lance Burton, the comedy magician Mac King (“I love Mac and his work,”Robinson says) Ricky Jay, all hail from different areas. Blaine isn’t worth watching. Siegfried and Roy are more of a circus cult religion and Penn & Teller, well, they aren’t really magicians, but guys who spit apple on their paying customers. Now that’s entertainment!
“There’s no art in tearing down a building if you ask me,” Robinson comments about the sleaze that perverts the craft of wonder working mainly on TV. How about that guy wearing a mask on FOX who gives it away…ugh. You don’t film the clowns backstage putting on their make-up. Come on, give us a break. Don’t break the wand of the healers who provide post 9/11 sanity through illusion. Robinson says, “What I do on stage, or in your hands around a pool is take you to another place. A place where you forget your car payments just for a moment. Magic is a panacea, and it takes a lot of work to understand how an audience perceives this energy, so maybe that’s why magicians protect their secrets…the work is hard won.”
And then the boyish looking conjuror showed me something I will never forget. He made ink behave like a snake…it was the damdest thing I’ve ever seen, and though I know it was a trick — I feel like I would kill to know how it was done. And then I realize, I was in that world…the one Ben Robinson took me to. You can go into his world too. He appears June 15 & 16 at the famous Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival Festival and then for several late nights at his New York City hangout, Circa Tabac (32 Watts Street) in So Ho July 3,5,6 beginning at midnight of course…the witching hour.
Brennen Reece is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and musician who lives in the village of Narberth, outside of Philadelphia. He is currently recording an album of original compositions which have been described as “Tom Waits, Serge Gainsbourg and Johnny Cash had a lovechild, with Wes Montgomery on guitar.
Mulholland in his three guises, early 1930’s
Christopher with his novelty rope act, 1936
Robinson presenting his version of the ancient Indian tongue skewer, 1986.
Photo montage by Jane Phillips.