It was a hot day in Baltimore in the early ’90s. Rob Zabrecky was on tour as the frontman for post-punk band Possum Dixon. He’d spent his off hours seeking out filming locations from John Waters’ movies. But the heat was getting to him. He opened the door to a magic shop, hoping to cool off.
Little did he know that he was embarking on a new path, that magic would steadily draw him in over the next years, that he’d leave his music career behind.
He bought a vanishing handkerchief trick. But he knew the old-fashioned illusion might not play well before an audience of Baltimore hipsters. On stage, he set aside his bass and unwrapped a condom instead. He made it disappear. The crowd went wild. “I fell in love with the culture of magic,” Zabrecky says.
For the last two years of Possum Dixon's successful, decade-long run, Zabrecky admits he was more interested in performing magic. “We were making a record with Ric Ocasek from The Cars, and all I was doing in the studio was tricks. It didn't make him very happy.” Slowly, Zabrecky found that he had given up on wanting to write songs. “I was just becoming more of a fan of music at that point.”
Despite his history in rock, he’s not a high-voltage bad boy of the magic world, Criss Angel-style. Zabrecky's work is eerie, slow-paced and beautiful.
Though he keeps his magic off YouTube for fear of idea theft, there is one telling clip. Against a black background, he wears a black suit, which emphasizes the white of his cuffs and collar. His long fingers fan out a deck of cards. As a kind of shuffling organ and oboe song plays, he gradually shrinks the deck of cards. He never speaks, but there’s something about his long, mortician’s face and dark eyes. The sleight of hand-based trick takes about two and a half minutes, and somehow, the simple routine is captivating throughout.
“I fell in love with the culture of magic”
The Alibi got to speak with Zabrecky—named the Stage Magician of the Year in 2012 by the Academy of Magical Arts—about the art of his stage show.
How does magic relate to acting or performing as a frontman in a band?
They have everything in common. All the arts do. With magic you can write, produce, direct and act your material. It’s just an art form. I don’t know that everybody sees it like that, because magic has a bad rap in the public eye unlike other art forms. Most people think of purple jumpsuits. There’s so much more to it that a lot of magic is overlooked.
Do you develop your own tricks?
Yes. A lot of tricks already exist, just like chords already exist in music, or words exist, and you take them and develop your own ways to present them. Then you have your own presentation based on classic methods and classic tricks. Several of the routines I present in the show are based on mentalism. They’re difficult to perform because a lot of it’s procedural. “OK, think of a number. Multiply by two. Put it in this envelope. Stand over here. Think of this. Think of that.” To make that interesting and captivating is hard to do.
Do you believe in clairvoyance and telepathy?
I do. I think there are certain levels of clairvoyance that every person has that they can choose to develop or not. Intuition has been a big part of my life and part of people’s lives that I know and respect.
Were you embraced by other magicians right away? Or did it take a while for them to understand what you're up to?
I slowly crept into the magic world, and I just took my time meeting people that I thought were interesting and watching a lot of performances. For the most part, people were warm. Not everybody, but the people that I eventually wound up being friends with were interested in what I was doing and welcomed me in.
You performed a show for Michael Jackson and his kids a couple of months before Jackson died. What was that like?
It was an incredible experience. He was somebody I was always interested in. To get to perform for him was a huge deal. He was very nice and so were his kids.
You’re also an auctioneer, right? How did that happen?
I regularly call bids at art auctions and events in L.A. I learned how to do it 10 years ago and kind of had a lucky streak with it. I performed it on “The Mentalist,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and other disposable TV shows. I fell into it when I got out of music. I needed something to do, so I started to work at an auction house. It’s a great skill set to have. It certainly keeps things interesting.
Have you had any mundane jobs?
[Laughs] From 15 to 20, I had a lot. Not since then, no.