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AFTERWORD Good John Cage BY GEOFF RIPS John Cage, the prolific and influential composer whose Minimalist works have long been a driving force in the world of music, dance and art, died yesterday at St. Vincent’s hospital in Manhattan. He was 79 years old. The New York Times, August 13. Unfocus your attention. FOLLOWING THE KENT STATE murders, students and faculty at the small liberal arts college I attended went on strike. We set up an alternative university devoted to relevance and action. We plotted. We harangued. We charted the international niovement of capital and the international movement of students north to Canada. The Japanese literature professor stood on the steps of the chapel, his fist in the air, exhorting . the crowd, “When we invaded Cambodia, did anybody ask us?” A French literature teacher seized a coffee shop and attempted to forge connections between the Old Left and the New. Another French teacher, wearing a beret, repeated endlessly the lessons he had learned at the barricades in Paris in ’68. In a small grove beside the Music Building, artist-in-residence John Cage drew the biggest following. He talked about time. +++ THE LATE 1970S. The Film Archives, downtown New York City. An exhibition of recent video work by Nam June Paik with Charlotte Moorman later to perform Paik’s famed topless cello sonata wearing two video screens on her breasts. A panel discussion prior to the performance. Writer Richard Kostelanetz, choreographer Merce Cunningham, Cage, Paik and Moorman sitting at a table. After Cage spoke, Paik explained how the listener accustomed to traditional music should judge a work by Cage: “Good John Cage is bad John Cage,” he said. “And bad John Cage is good John Cage.” +++ THE EARLY 1980S. The Kitchen a loft per formance space in downtown New York City. John Cage,, collaborator and pianist David Tudor, violinist Paul Olofsky, and a young, blond body builder sit on stools holding large conch shells, to which microphones, are attached. They are surrounded by the audience. Cage, Tudor and Olofsky pour water from jars into the conch shells and slosh it around. The 4 Geoff Rips is a former Observer editor. microphones broadcast the sloshing. Sometimes they all slosh. Sometimes only one or two. Sometimes they all sit still. All with great good humor. After maybe 25 minutes, the body builder stands and blows the conch for several minutes. He does it again after another long interval. What devolved from the curious to the boring has, over time, become a community held together by this ritual sloshing. Then painter Jasper Johns over in the corner leans against a light switch and the room goes dark. Accidental or intended? It doesn’t matter. The piece is over. Good John Cage. +++ JOHN CAGE BECAME a major celebrity in Italy after his appearance on an Italian quiz show. His category was mushrooms. He was a world expert on mushrooms. He sometimes helped support himself by hunting mushrooms in the forests north of New York City to sell to gourmet restaurants. A friend of Cage remarked in a Cage obituary that we were lucky to have him as long as we did, given the fact that he’d almost died several times from mushroom poisoning. +++ DURING PERFORMANCES by Merce Cunningham’s dance company at New York’s City Centre and later at San Antonio’s Carver Cultural Center John Cage’s ubiquitous blue work shirt traveled back and forth across the orchestra pit. Following an intricate score, he conducted musicians, turned radio dials and activated record players, setting random sound against order, walking the edge of anarchy maintaining his balance by virtue of his grace. Rescuing the idea of “play” in the act of “playing” music. After the performances, in both New York and San Antonio, John Cage rested along the edge of the pit. And then they came young people shuffling forward, composers, musicians, admirers. Cage’s beatific smile curled across his face. He became absolutely engaged. +++ SINCE HE DIED FOUR months ago, Cage has been eulogized as a minimalist, a leader of the cultural avant garde, etc. What he was, was an artist a composer of sometimes breath taking work. And ,he was a democrat. He was interested in breaking down hierarchies. He believed in democratic notions of sound and order. All sounds are important. All kinds of understanding are important. The 12-tone scale, the lapping of waves, the sound of a radio as the dial moves across bands are all elements of this world and, as such, should not be excluded from the arts, which lead us to a fuller understanding of this world. He championed randomness, the I Ching, not to replace traditional Western notions of order but to undo them. And so, his friends Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns use elements of the lived world in their art and Merce Cunningham uses natural everyday movement in his dance. John Cage was our zen master, knocking traditional notions of pre-eminence off their pedestals, then destroying the pedestals so that everything around them became our field for cultural conversation. +++ TWO MONKS CAME to a stream. One was Hindu, the other Zen. The Indian began to cross the stream by walking on the surface of the water. The Japanese became excited and called to him to come back. “What’s the matter?” the Indian said. The Zen monk said, “That’s not the way to cross the stream. Follow me.” He led him to a place where the water was shallow and they waded across. “How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run” A Year from Monday, John Cage, 1967 +++ In memory of John Cage let’s observe a moment of noise. i b ,101MINI AI d -+ 410. Jew. 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