Saturday, April 17, 2010


john cage - not a household name - which to me is a strange thing . . . . . but then too, jackson pollock isn’t either and perhaps it’s because they shared similar roles in the ongoing deconstruction of the culture they lived inside.

stepping well outside the bounds of what was nominally “music”, cage was alternately famous / infamous for his creative use of musical instruments and especially for his development of “chance music” in which some element of the work is left to chance or to the whim of the performers.

cage’s writing is less challenging but still carries the presence of a singularly brilliant man who carried the burden of moving culture along its path for many years.

go here to read john’s tiny rich stories of life both inner and outer.

once there you can choose from an “index of names” which allows you to access a list of names of people who appear in the little vignettes, or you can access a list of “first lines” which allows you to select a vignette based on its first line. you may also select from an index of “last lines”.

i have many favourites here but my absolute favourite would have to be the one whose first line is:

“you probably know the one about the two monks,
but i’ll tell it anyway”.
it is numbered “2”.
oh and by the way,
don’t be fooled by this sample into thinking that
you are going to be reading a selection of zen parables . . . . .

far from it!


here 'tis.


“you probably know the one about the two
monks, but i’ll tell it
they were
walking along one day when they came to
a stream where a young lady was
waiting, hoping that someone
would help her across.

without hesitating, one
of the monks picked her up and carried
her across, putting her
down safely on the other side.

the two monks continued walking along,
and after some time,
the second one,
unable to restrain himself,
said to the first,
“you know we’re not
allowed to touch women.
why did you carry that woman
across the stream?”

the first monk replied,
“put her down.

i did two hours ago.”

john cage


Dan Gurney said...

I saw a documentary about John Cage a while back. (I can't remember the name of it.) Cage was, paradoxically, both quite ordinary and quite extraordinary. The documentary showed him in his humdrum day-to-day life when he seemed so ordinary... cooking walking around his apartment and so on. It also showed some of his artistic work which really did go well outside the "box" of ordinary artistic work.

Dave King said...

Strange sometimes, what makes the difference between becoming well-known or not. I discovered Cage sometime back. I had heard of him before then, but discovering is something different. Maybe some just take more discovering? Let's hope your post leads to ore folk doing just that.

jinksy said...

Wonderful story!

Pauline said...

one of the nice things you do in your posts is introduce us to people who change the world with their words. adding you to that list.

Paul C said...

I like the story. Most people like to hold on to petty concerns, presuppositions and stew about them. Let it go!

Reya Mellicker said...

I am a big fan of John Cage, also the rest of that crazy quartet of artists, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. They had so much fun, turned the stereotype of the artist as melancholy on its head.

They turned a lot of things on their heads. Oh yeah.

ALeks said...

Im still laughing,and than grinning imagining the other monks face expression when it hits him what the first monk said!! (O:
Great!! Thank you!

Rob Kistner said...

Years ago '67 or '68, in New York, while playing there at Steve Paul's "Scene" with my rock band Stone Fox -- I met Cage early morning after our gig at the Time Square Automat. We went that night with a mish-mosh of folks, into someone's warehouse filled with the sound boards of eviscerated pianos of different sizes, picked up anything we could find, or simply our hands, and played a 'spontaneous' free-form, abstract concert until the sun came up. Never saw Cage again, but it was so damned liberating. At times even sounded interesting -- but the experience was great! Also met and listened to the group Oregon that week. Still have and occasionally listen to stuff from Cage, but especially Oregon. Long ago, but a wonderful time...
Image & Verse

steven said...

hey dan - i'd be interested ins eeing that documentary. it's intriguing to us to see people who are surrounded by reputation and the perception of that reputation experiencing the necessary functionality of their ordinary lives. steven

steven said...

dave i've often wondered how many amazing people are tucked away in relative obscurity and what it was that brought others to some sort of recognition or even fame. chance. then something else. steven

steven said...

jinksy thanks. i'm glad you enjoyed it. steven

steven said...

pauline thanks for that very generous comment! steven

steven said...

paul that's the learning in that story. it is a simple truth but consider the sorry stuff that lingers and obscures ones ability to really experience and enjoy the moment. steven

steven said...

aleks! ha! that's the best moment inside the moment of this story isn't it. steven

steven said...

reya - i like the way they turned things inside out and on the inside of music - well there's silence. great spaces. sudden noise and then magic. steven

steven said...

hey rob it's nice to meet you. thanks for sharing your cage story! i've been listening to oregon since they first formed but i've never seen them. i've posted "the silence of a candle" here some time ago. still one of ym favourite pieces by them but then favourite anything is so bogus - their music is beyond lists! steven

Rachel Fenton said...

Made me smile. Thanks.

Linda Sue said...

Thank you so much for this John Cage link- A for sure favorite! I was stuck right in the middle of it this morning - reading everything- and realized that I was to be at a workshop an hour earlier- Dashed out with Cage quotes in my brain and you, you fabulous person! Thank you so much!Nearly missed the workshop but also moved though it quickly thinking entertaining and provoking thoughts...

steven said...

linda sue that's so really funny! i love the big spaces in john's thinking and then also the complete intimacy! i'm glad you've been able to find time to get lost inside his mind's work also. steven

steven said...

rachel you're welcome!!!! steven

Linda Sue said...

I just posted a link to this post- so awesome!