Ever since I was a young boy I was serious about magic, but it wasn’t until my teenage years that I started to take it seriously. You see, while I was always serious about my passion for performing magic, it wasn’t until I began watching documentaries on magic that I began to earn a deeper respect for what magic is and what performance magic is capable of. And it turns out it’s capable of so much more than a few tricks and some cheap laughs.
One magician that I especially looked up to during this time, and for whom I was in awe of, was Eugene Burger. With his deep soothing voice and long flowing beard, he not only looked like a magician but he sounded like one too. And that was before he even did any magic! When he did do magic it was amazing. I could never quite figure out how he got that card to turn inside out and outside in, or how he got that burnt string back together. But what was perhaps most intriguing was that I didn’t care to learn how he did those things, because I was too interested in the stories that he would tell while doing them. He planted the seed for me that magic could do more than baffle; it could also tell a story, and if it was told well and performed with just the right piece of magic, it had the potential to transform lives. That, to me, was real magic, and thinking about these things kept me occupied throughout high school and my transition into adulthood.
I remember the first time I saw Eugene in real life outside of the television screen. I was at the 2008 World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas attending one of the opening evening galas and was standing in line at the cash bar. There in front of me, leaning on the bar, was Eugene! I was star struck! But of course I had to play it cool so I quietly said hello, trying not to act too excited, and didn’t bother introducing myself. I’m just Jonas, after all. Throughout the seminar I’d see more of my magic hero, but I kept my distance. He was always surrounded by other magicians, and certainly they were more important than little old me. Yet he was always performing some piece of magic, sharing some little piece of insight. I enjoyed watching him from a distance. I don’t think it occurred me until then that he performed more than those two routines that I’ve seen him perform hundreds of times on those documentaries.
Eugene served as Dean of the McBride Magic and Mystery School, and it was just a few months or so after the seminar that I signed up for my first class at the Mystery School. I was excited to take part in the course and learn from the faculty, but I was perhaps most excited for the opportunity to finally work closely with my hero. It was not to be, however, because the week that I attended classes Eugene was “on sabbatical.” Well, he was actually most likely performing somewhere. Though I had missed another chance to learn from the Master, I still gained a lot of new knowledge and skills at Mystery School. It would be another six years before I had my next opportunity.
In early 2014 I was at Diamonds Magic in Peabody, Massachusetts, and was told that Eugene Burger would be coming in to teach a workshop. I was so excited that I quite literally took the bill from out of the thumb tip to attend. It was by far the best several hours I had ever spent thinking and talking and learning magic. I still have the notebook filled with the copious notes that I took that evening.
When I got home that night, inspiration struck. I would soon be visiting Chicago, Eugene's hometown, on business. I thought, “Why not? What do I have to lose?” So I emailed his “magicalbeard” email to reintroduce myself and remind him of how we met recently, and to let him know that I’d soon be in his neighborhood. Then I asked if we could get together while I was in the area. It was by far one of the biggest thrills of my life when I found myself sitting in his Chicago apartment, with Eugene performing a card trick for ME! It turns out destiny does have a name...and it’s JONAS! I still have that card framed in my studio as one of my most prized possessions. It serves as a reminder of the night I spent in Chicago with my hero, hanging out with HIS magic friends! But it also serves as a reminder that there’s no reason to ever hesitate to seize an opportunity to learn from a mentor. Now is truly the best time to seize the opportunity, because you never know when you’ll get your last chance. And perhaps the greatest reminder of all: it never hurts to ask for what you want., because when you do, the results can be Magical.
In 2016 I attended the Magic and Meaning Conference in Las Vegas for the first time, an event hosted by the Magic and Mystery School. This is a special gathering of magicians in an intimate setting and was truly truly a powerful experience for me and my evolution as a magician. So much so that before the conference was over I already paid for the following year’s registration! One of my favorite activities at this event was a “book swap.” Everyone was encouraged to bring a book that held a special significance for them, with the intent of gifting the book to someone else at the conference. At the appointed time we’d all take turns pairing up and looking at each others books, and then after doing that a few times we’d be told finally that whoever we were with would be the one we’d swap books with. Think of it as musical chairs for books. I brought The Art of Living by Epictetus, and during the book swap I was honored to see that Eugene was “lingering” closely to me because, as he put it, he wanted my book! Unfortunately for him we weren’t paired up at the end. However, as a special thank you for his inspiration over the years, when I returned home after the seminar I sent Eugene a copy of Epictetus’ book.
I recently learned that Eugene had released an audio program entitled Growing in the Art of Magic. I liked that idea; it’s kind of like having the Master available 24/7! Once again, cost was no option, as this was clearly a “must-have.” While I was at it, I decided to purchase instruction to his Destiny Has A Name even if only as an exercise in creating a tribute to my hero. Somehow I must have known, perhaps on a spiritual level, the news that was to come just a week later: the sudden death of the Living Legend who on August 8 joined the ranks of those Masters who have passed before us. The shock of his passing is profound, like “a vast cosmic sleep.” I know for sure, though, that his light will continue to shine “brighter than ten thousand suns.”
Thank you, Eugene. You have been a most worthy guide. May you rest in Peace…
1939 — 2017