article on John Cage (placed right next to one on another great composer, Pauline Oliveros!) prompted me to look back on my long-term relationship with him. During college and the years after, Cage's work and thought had a tremendous influence on me, but as the years have gone by, our relationship has turned into more of an argument.
Like Andy Warhol, Cage is the perfect artist to discover in college, when you're experimenting with and bucking against received notions about aesthetics and art. As with Warhol, his ideas of welcoming chance occurrences into his work and paying deep attention to the world around him, had the effect, for me, of breaking open new territory for artistic experimentation, and new ways sensing my environment.
I remember, for instance, a performance of his famous silent 4'33" piece by Margaret Leng Tan. She sat at the piano framed by a window at dusk, so the focus became the changing light outside and the rhythmic, silent descent of distant airplanes into a nearby airport. And I remember a surprising, yet perfect, connection in an exhibition about him I saw many years ago that included excerpts from Marx Brothers films as illustrations of his embrace of silence and absurdity.
So I occasionally go back to his writings as a refresher, a reminder that you can see the world in different ways. But I remember picking up one of his books during the dark days of the Bush II administration, not long after 9/11, and actually getting angry with him. The times seemed to be testing his philosophy of acceptance of the world as it is. It didn't seem to apply anymore. I was annoyed at his naive praise of Chairman Mao, and I was wondering what he would have thought of life now, when his beloved New York City had been attacked. Or maybe it was me who had changed. Maybe I was too angry and embroiled in the horrors of the world.
As we approach his hundredth birthday in September, I look forward to engaging with him again, to test my own mind and assumptions against his, more than two decades since I first discovered him. Despite my recent reservations about him, the Times article is a reminder of the huge, if subterranean, influence he continues to exert on art and culture, unlike so many attempted visionaries of his generation. Turning your mind to him during a subway ride can turn it into a work of art meant only for you.
After all this time, he's still worth arguing with.