Take Two #67: Rocco
There is no other magician quite like Rocco. The instant he takes the stage, the magic that unfolds is unlike anything you have seen before. Feats of Protean texture unfold, portraying powers that seem to command the primeval forces of nature itself. A subtle mixture of unrestrained power, tempered by an authentic humility, emanate from the man behind the magic. Calling the audience to bear witness, he raises his arms in a gesture asking, “Did you see that?” Then he nods his head, as if to say, “Yes, I can do that. And that’s okay.”
In The Magic Rainbow (reviewed in the Lyons Den), Juan Tamariz explores theories of inherent mythology and symbology of magical effects. And he also discusses magic as a representation and fulfillment of impossible human wishes longed for, whether by individual nature or by external circumstance. For me, few magicians reflect these ideas more powerfully than Rocco Silano, who, rather than trying to explicitly put ancient signs and symbols into his work, simply brings these ideas to life in the moment, and very often, in present day contexts. You won’t find new-age pendants, crystals, or Tarot symbols in Rocco’s act, but rather ice cream pops, Snickers bars and pretzels—demonstrating that the best magic is about making the ordinary, extraordinary—a far more impressive feat than the other way ‘round, which all too often occurs with illusions that require oddly contrived magic apparatus.
These elements are doubtlessly part of the reason I never tire of watching Rocco perform, and why video of his work, despite my having witnessed his magic many times in person, continues to sweep me up with a sense of joyous engagement.
Rocco Silano was born in 1962 in Paterson, New Jersey. He came to magic at the age of 19—rather late in life when compared to other contemporaries of the era—when a coworker showed him a coin trick. Subsequently, Rocco was mentored by the professional magician Bill Wisch, a student of the legendary magician, Slydini. Wisch would eventually introduce Rocco to Slydini, who would also study for a time with the master himself. Rocco became a passionate acolyte, learning Slydini’s legendary routines and principles of misdirection. While Slydini was an accomplished stage performer, his reputation, and the core of his work, was focused on close-up magic. But Rocco became interested in applying Slydini’s principles to his own brand of standup magic and, combined with a different approach to technical methodology, set out to develop his own path.
In the Eighties, Rocco burst onto the magic scene winning a series of major contest awards. After a technical error disqualified him from the 1982 Desert Magic Seminar contest, Rocco came back with a vengeance in 1986. The Seminar contest was the most prestigious and competitive American competition at the time, and in ’86 they added a new prize, “The Complete Conjuror Challenge,” for finalists who competed in both close-up and stage magic. Rocco was the first to take this prize, along with winning the Siegfried & Roy Golden Lion award, and the Jimmy Grippo award for “Best Close-up Magician.” Rocco had arrived.
As the years unfolded, Rocco would collect other accolades and more recognition, including ten nominations in four different categories of the Academy of Magical Arts (Magic Castle) awards. And at the prestigious FISM competition in 1994, he took third prize in Close-up Magic, only to return in 2006 and win the “Most Original Act” prize in Close-up Magic.
When Rocco first came on the scene in the Eighties, I confess I was one of the ones who didn’t quite get it. Bleeding roses seemed pretentious to me, as did the almost solemn and somewhat distant character he portrayed. But a few years later, when I saw Rocco at Mostly Magic (the Greenwich Village magic club owned by the magician, Imam), where Rocco (and I) both performed frequently as the headlining act, I became a fan. With time and maturity, Rocco had developed an appealing sense of humor within his work. By no means a comedy magician, Rocco would nevertheless get healthy laughs in his opening lines: “I know I don’t make that good a first impression, but after awhile, I start to grow on people.” And what really charmed me was a running bit of business, to wit: after accomplishing a particular feat, he would turn and, with a little puff of air, blow a bit of glitter off his shoulder. This was the seasoning that, once it came, won me over, and made me a Rocco convert.
I also have to add that I consistently admire and enjoy Rocco’s use of music—his choices are among the best of any stage magician I have ever known. Using popular music is, more often than not, a mistake and a distraction; and using music with vocals is almost invariably wrong. But Rocco does both, and to this day, I have trouble hearing Dean Martin’s signature version of “Sway” without thinking of Rocco.
When Mostly Magic closed in 1993, I produced a series of shows in another club in the West Village, for which I tapped several former Mostly Magic headliners, including Rocco and Peter Samelson. Eventually, when Samelson, Todd Robbins, and I joined Michael Chaut and Frank Brents to create Monday Night Magic in 1997, Rocco immediately became one of our favorite headliners to book for the show.
To this day, I occasionally encounter magicians who don’t “get” the Rocco experience. (I had such a conversation with a respected friend and veteran professional performer just a few months ago.) I invariably recount the reactions Rocco consistently garners from the public at Monday Night Magic. Audiences don’t just applaud for Rocco—they stand up and cheer. The consistent passion that he elicits never fails to impress me.
When I am on stage as emcee for Monday Night Magic and introducing Rocco, I often comment that, “If art is a way of seeing, then Rocco is truly an artist—because he envisions things that you have never even imagined, and then turns those visions into reality.”
The magic that Rocco performs is so vibrantly original that I can assure you that what you are about to watch, you have never seen before. These illusions do not exist in magic catalogs, on dealers’ shelves, or in magic books. They are, rather, the product of Rocco’s personal vision and imagination. They are simultaneously sensual and raw. I have never seen another performer routinely eat and drink on stage the way Rocco does; yet these actions are inherent elements of his work, and they raise visceral responses from his audiences. I think that if a god—in the Greco-Roman sense, or in a deeply imagined Christian sense that embraced both the mortal and divine elements of the Jesus myth (as Martin Scorcese did in The Last Temptation of Christ)—walked among us in contemporary times, some of these feats, both great and small, are what he might choose to accomplish—some with potent grandeur, but some with seemingly spontaneous and casual off-the-cuff grace.
So, expand the browser to the max. Turn up the sound. Put down the smart phone. And as I say in the on-stage introduction: Get ready for the magic of Rocco!
Let’s begin with this first one, to give you a taste—both literally and figuratively—of Rocco’s distinctly personalized brand of magic.
Now that you’re on board, settle in for an extended set. This is a perfect example of a Rocco performance.
A simplified version of this was a feature of Rocco’s work for many years, including at “Monday Night Magic.” Talk about invoking god-like symbolism …
Well, there you have it; a healthy sampling of Rocco’s magic. If, however, you’d like something more, here’s an older, younger Rocco (with a bit more eye make-up), that I thoroughly enjoyed finding here in The Screening Room. This is from an episode of Juan Tamariz’s Spanish television series Chan-tatachán, which aired on Telemadrid in 1992 and 1993. If you want to see more, the complete series can be found here.
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