Eugene’s Legacy

Eugene’s Legacy

Lawrence Hass, Ph.D., Associate Dean

As I write this, the sunny heat of August has become the cool air and vibrant colors of late September. It is a refreshing time—the threshold of my favorite season.

And this year early autumn brings something extra to my spirit: profound appreciation for our recently departed friend, Eugene Burger. For me, the shock of his death (in early August) has passed. The deep pain of personal loss is lessening. What is in my heart, above all, are the gifts and memories, the joy of having known him.

What I would like to do in this Museletter is put some of this joy into words by expressing my sense of Eugene’s legacy. Or to be precise, his legacies, because I believe there are (at least) five truly special, distinctive gifts Eugene left for us and for magicians of the future. You might have others to add, but at this time here are the ones on my mind. Eugene gave us:

A Legacy of Excellent Magic

From the very beginning, Eugene’s vision was to perform magic that had great impact upon his audiences, and he achieved this quality over and over again. He was a world-class performer, especially in the area of close-up magic. He achieved this through a highly disciplined approach to preparation and delivery: impeccable taste in material, rigorous practice and rehearsal, no empty patter-blather, and not inflicting his magic on people until it was really ready. As Eugene taught, “When you finally think you are ready to perform something for people . . . wait another month.

A Legacy of Friendship

Part of Eugene’s distinctive magic is that he made everyone feel special and connected to him. He sincerely liked nearly everyone he met, and one of his super-powers was his ability to put people in contact who needed to meet or know one another. Further, Eugene created countless opportunities for many magicians, young and old alike. In his later years, he passionately talked and taught about this aspect of his great success in terms of David Devant’s saying (and poster), “All Done by Kindness.”

A Legacy of Simplicity

Eugene lived with Zen simplicity and clarity. His apartment was lean and clean. Material things came into his life and passed out of them, usually as gifts to others. His clothing was simple and elegant. All his performing material fit in his carry-on luggage. (When I once asked how he managed this, he said, “Larry, remember: everything weighs something.”) Eugene avoided gossip, conflict, and ego struggle. He was keenly centered “in the moment,” present and aware. When difficulties emerged, he communicated quickly and directly, going for the win-win. Yet those encounters were rare because Eugene had genuine compassion for other people’s perspectives and foibles.

A Legacy of Words

Eugene left us with an incredible literature: books, essays, columns, and video blogs—in great quantity and of exceptional quality. He was one of the bestselling magic authors of the past thirty years, and his writings were, and continue to be, utterly transformational for magicians. Now that Eugene has died, most of us find ourselves going back to his words. To guide you to some of my favorite writings, allow me to recommend my P-E-P Talk from the 2016 Magic and Meaning Conference titled “Eugene Burger: Hidden Treasures.” Since the time of that presentation I have discovered an additional one for that list: “Notes on the Metaphysics of Magic,” the penultimate chapter of Strange Ceremonies.

Eugene Teaching

A Legacy of Teaching

Eugene was a beloved teacher—a master teacher of magic. He has students all over the world, including some of the most famous names in magic. But also, starting in 1991 he worked closely and continually with Jeff McBride to found, develop, and build the Magic & Mystery School, now in its twenty-sixth year. Eugene was absolutely devoted to the School’s mission: to advance the art of magic by working with students through kindness (not cruelty) and by encouraging their personal self-expression. Indeed, Eugene’s perpetual question for all of his students was: “What do you want your magic to be?” The good news is that he left us one final book on this very topic, Teaching Magic: A Book for Students and Teachers of the Art, which will be released on October 23rd by my Theory and Art of Magic Press.

Teaching Magic

Eugene Burger: what a remarkable person he was! How lucky we are to have known him! And rest assured: the McBride Magic & Mystery School is plunging forward in the direction Eugene helped define—making changes to adapt to his loss and making many plans for new growth.

Eugene wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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