Friday, October 26, 2012

John Cage


Ideas are one thing and what happens is another.
--John Cage


During my first and only year as a theater major at U of I, for some reason I was chosen to squire four members of the John Cage company around campus.

It was a thankless job as, first of all I had never heard of John Cage, and the four people spoke no English. They were from Albania or Guatemala or someplace I had no interest in visiting.

But I took them around for the day, and really don't recall many particulars. When we finally landed at the auditorium for their evening performance, only 10 people or so showed up and likely they were lost, looking for the cafeteria or something.

There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.
― John Cage


The concert consisted of the four standing at various points on the stage and two would open their mouths and make a sound, and two would open their mouths and not make a sound. And then they'd change positions. This went on for the better part of an hour. There could have been more to it, but I doubt it. Besides, I was on the payphone talking to my boyfriend.

It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.
― John Cage


So I heard an old interview between Terry Gross and Cage tonight. And once I got beyond the fact that Cage sounded a lot like Vincent Price, he made sense, wonky sense to my sense of sense, but sense, nonetheless.

And I remembered the John Cage Company, and how I couldn't wait to ditch them. How on that night I tapped my foot and wrung my hands, because this was agony, when pleasure waited just a hopscotch across the quad away.

"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." -- John Cage


Finally, finally when I dumped these four at their dormitory, I raced to an apartment and jumped into bed with my beautiful boyfriend. Whoever he was.

Everything we do is music.
― John Cage


I hiked the Sam Merrill trail this week. Half way to Echo Mountain, I ran into a woman with a scarlet macaw on her shoulder. And I asked if I could take her picture. "Not me," she said, all flustered. "But you can take a picture of my bird."

"But I want a picture of you both."

"Oh no," she said, flinging out her arm so the bird perched as far from her as possible.

Further up the trail I came upon another hiker. “Hey,” I said, “That bird gave me a turn.”

“Oh thank god you saw it, too,” she sighed. “I thought the altitude was getting to me.”

We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life.
-- John Cage



28 comments:

  1. I remember thinking during our 20th century music studies that I should scratch my chin knowingly and declare all of it to be thought provoking and profound. But with more years under my belt, I figure if I've spent 32 minutes doing something and it's still boring, I've just wasted 32 minutes. {Nice bird.}

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  2. I also have my own picture of a parrot.
    Took it today, btw.

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  3. Beautiful, fierce company she keeps.

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  4. I will never forget last summer when a military macaw was in my tree!. he was lost (apparently).. he caused the neighbors to follow him... i loved hearing his wings flap! I was able to take a few photos- gorgeous green, reds and blues!.

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  5. I thought at first that John Cage was the macaw's name, but maybe it should have been John Notinacage. I so envy that woman. A parrot to carry on hikes would complete my life.

    I like the quote from Cage about boredom - you obviously didn't pay attention to the music long enough to overcome yours. And who can blame you, with a dishy boyfriend waiting?

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  6. I had to look up John Cage. I love all those quotes.

    "It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else."


    I think there’s a good chance that pleasure should come before intellect and possibly even brushes with fame.

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  7. I have memories of being a terrible hostess when I was younger and oh, so important. They embarrass me now. I love the Cage quotes - you know how I love a good quote. How sweet & lovely that the woman took her macaw for a walk in the forest.

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  8. I want to sleep with John Cage.

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  9. Shell, I expect you're right, but I need to reach that 32 minutes before I can say for sure.

    Jean and Kalei, they're other-worldly, aren't they? One time in some little town in Mexico, someone's pet macaw perched on my shoulder, and at first I was honored. But then he wouldn't leave my shoulder, dug in his claws and bit the owner when she tried to take him back. I guess we were bonding.

    Cafe, your page won't load. I'll try later.

    Bellis, in the future I'll defer to you when it comes to titles. As you can tell, the macaw wasn't tethered or restrained. I can see you with a parrot.

    Janet, I've tucked that in my mind to bring out during my next bout of irritation.

    Carolynn, yeah, the things that happen when we're not ready. What's the opposite of confluence?

    Anon, well, I think that might be a problem. He died 10 years ago.

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  10. On Macau they take their caged birds out for walkies but they aren't Macaws, that would be way too wonky.

    I think John Cage knew you would need him one day, the smart ones always do.

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  11. My daughter would like a macaw. But she only has time for parakeets.

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  12. Saw John Cage play for 2 hours straight one night, alone.

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  13. Great post! Stunning bird!

    Did John Cage ever do a composition that included the sounds of wings flapping?

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  14. Look at the red on that macaw! Gorgeous. I thought he (or she?) was named John Cage at first too. I love how you wove both stories. Brilliant. Love the quotes, too.

    I've heard that interview. I got bored and didn't listen to the whole thing. But I heard enough to think that John Cage would've considered your foot tapping and phone conversation and agonized wringing of the hands all part of the performance. Well done.

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  15. I learned about Cage in a music appreciation class in college and just didn't get him. I still don't get it, but I'll have to listen to the Fresh Air interview and maybe that will help. But I do like his quote that everything we do is music. Beautiful bird!

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  16. I prefer JC's lectures to his music. Cage got off a lot of zingers, "we need is to fumble around in the darkness, because that's where our lives (not necessarily all of the time, but at least some of the time, and particularly when life gets problematical for us) takes place.”

    I'd like to hear more from the Birdman.

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  17. I wonder if we sometimes revere people for their obscurity.

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  18. Many years ago I hear his composition which is performed in the absence of deliberate sound.

    So beautiful bird and so tame.

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  19. Thanks for the intro to John Cage. LOVE the parrot photo!

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  20. I was going to write something full of gravitas and symbolism, but my macaw demanded that we take a walk.

    (I like the interweaving of your narrative with Cage's words, and I like his thoughts on boredom, even if I don't always live up to them. I do try to look around a lot, so I've never missed Paris.)

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  21. Paula, what a nice thing to say. And Birdman, your public demands more details (although I suspect you're funnin me).

    So we may be kind of iffy on Cage, but we all agree the parrot has universal appeal. Going on a long hike today, and if I see the woman I'll ask the parrot's name.

    (Petrea, in certain quarters, perhaps. But on the whole, if you look at popular movies and music and books, the opposite seems to be true.)

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  22. oh my.....a bird in the hand....and all that!!

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  23. I've been missing these moments.

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  24. As usual, smart and thoughtful. I especially like the end.

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  25. Ghosts of artists past. I studied dance with a close associate of Merce Cunningham, and thus John Cage. Sometime the randomness seemed to be more interesting in dance than in audio performance. Cage started experimenting with musicality but over time his interest drifted more and more into just noise, random noise. Perhaps that is best appreciated standing still and listening on a street corner in NYC or by a stream tumbling out of the mountains. Conpletely understand why you preferred the warm bed of what's-his-name to the high aesthetic of nada.

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  26. He came to our campus too, in upstate NY. I listened to his records, thinking I would understand better if I heard them again. Oh my goodness.

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  27. Moved to tears or bored to tears; and how do you make one become the other? He tried.

    Big fan of the Black Mountain crowd. Pre Cal Arts. Cut my art historical teeth on these guys. Also had the good fortune to find myself sharing a Thanksgiving holiday with Lou Harrison out in Joshua Tree shortly before his death.

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  28. And now I'm off to google Merce Cunningham and Lou Harrison.

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