John Cage Was a Writer

Submitted by Sparrow

John Cage was a writer. We speak of all composers as “writing music,” though we never say that a choreographer “writes a dance.” But if you look at the sheet music for 4′33″, it is precisely written. It consists entirely of words.

I mostly knew John Cage as a writer. In 1975, I began working at a natural foods store in Gainesville, Florida called Mother Earth. On my lunch break, I would sometimes read the books from the small book section of the store. One of the books was Silence by John Cage. It was a square book with a beige cover. Inside was dense writing.

Only a great writer could have written the title 4′33″. If the piece were entitled Silence, it would be worthless. 4′33″ is perfectly specific, and a beautiful number, yet it has no meaning. The title contains three mutually dependent jokes:

1) That silence should have a name;

2) That the name should be a number;

3) That the number doesn’t describe anything at all.

I remember the personality of John Cage, as he read at St. Mark’s Church in New York: light and gentle, with an immutable private joke within. I am like a citizen who saw Abraham Lincoln three times in Washington, DC, and later wrote obsessively about him.

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John Cage Teaching

Submitted by Kay Larson

Painter and printmaker Pat Steir told me she adored John Cage so much that she arranged her printmaking sessions at Crown Point Press in California to be there at the same time as Cage, who had discovered his own gift for art-making some years earlier. One day Steir was making self-portraits, scrutinizing the results, and tossing the rejects in the trash. When Cage walked in, he reached into the trash bin and spread all the rejects out on the table. “Self portraits are so touching,” he said. Steir asked herself: What am I rejecting? Why?

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Prepared Piano Today

Submitted by Eliza McCarthy
Rockin’ pianist Eliza McCarthy, who hails from Normandy and London, has adored Cage since early in her brilliant musical life, and now celebrates the prepared piano and its voice in the new-young-European music avant-garde. She just sent me Cageian meditations that perfectly express the quiet of the mind of this moment, going nowhere.—KL

I’ve just finished rehearsing a couple of beautiful early violin and piano pieces that John Cage wrote in the 40s. I’m planning to perform them with a friend of mine at a new music evening I’m hoping will take off in London and change the world : )

Listen to Eliza McCarthy Prepared Piano performances online.
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John Cage Fan Speaks Out

Submitted by Kay Larson

I’m in a cab headed from O’Hare airport to downtown Chicago. I get in a conversation with the scruffy-looking cab driver (jeans and dirty tee-shirt; droopy hair and a beard shadow). “Why are you in Chicago?” he asked. I told him I was researching a book on John Cage. I expected to hear “Who’s that?” Not at all.

“Oh! John Cage!” said the cabbie. “He’s wonderful! He’s such a model for me! His courage, his willingness to go all the way for his art, his absolute dedication to his work. I think about him all the time!”

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Be Where You Are

Submitted by Anonymous

John Cage was sitting at a long dinner table with other guests at a white-tablecloth event. A waiter came up with bottles of red wine in his hands and began pouring into empty wineglasses. Cage put his hand over his glass and the waiter passed him by. A friend sitting next to him said, “John, you love red wine. Why did you refuse it?” Cage said, “My doctor told me not to drink.” The friend said, “But don’t you miss wine? You must be very unhappy.” Cage said, “Not at all. I look at this table and I see double rows of beautiful red roses.”

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