Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage
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John Cage was a man of extraordinary and seemingly limitless talents: musician, inventor, composer, poet. He became a central figure of the avant-garde early in his life and remained at that pinnacle until his death in 1992 at the age of eighty. Now award-winning biographer Kenneth Silverman gives us the first comprehensive life of this remarkable artist. We follow Cage from his Los Angeles childhood—his father was a successful inventor—through his stay in Paris from 1930 to 1931, where immersion in the burgeoning new musical and artistic movements triggered an explosion of creativity in him and, after his return to the States, into his studies with the seminal modern composer Arnold Schoenberg. We see Cage’s early experiments with sound and percussion instruments, and watch as he develops his signature work with prepared piano, radio static, random noise, and silence. We learn of his many friendships over the years with other composers, artists, philosophers, and writers; of his early marriage and several lovers, both female and male; and of his long relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham, with whom he would collaborate on radically unusual dances that continue to influence the worlds of both music and dance.
Drawing on interviews with Cage’s contemporaries and friends and on the enormous archive of his letters and writings, and including photographs, facsimiles of musical scores, and Web links to illustrative sections of his compositions, Silverman gives us a biography of major significance: a revelatory portrait of one of the most important cultural figures of the twentieth century.
“specialist” by the State Department, to conduct classes and seminars in England, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. As president of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, Cage had done much to support his partner’s company. When the troupe returned from a four-week national tour in 1966 with a deficit of six thousand dollars, he wrote endlessly to possible patrons, trying to raise money to cover the cost. “I am sick of fund-raising,” he told a friend. Not only the fund-raising wore him out. The
size of the fêtes that honored his seventieth and seventy-fifth birthdays. A five-day festival would be held in Groningen, Netherlands, featuring Roaratorio; two nights of concerts in Tokyo, organized by Toshi Ichiyanagi; five “Cage Days” in Warsaw, including Europeras; a week-long “John Cage NOW” celebration at Northwestern University and the Arts Club of Chicago; “OPEN CAGE” in Bratislava, an installation of eighty cages, each containing a printed card naming some idea, instrument, or person
Malt, hound: JC to Libby Ames, 27 Dec 1981, 4 Feb 1984, NWU. Among many other sources on Cage’s diet, see for instance his interview in Radford 9, no. 3 (Jun 1989). Merce Cunningham’s health/ Financial: see JC to Robert Rauschenberg, 10 Jun 1989, NWU, and copy of Cage’s will, 14 Jun 1988, at Cage Trust Archives. The Cage evening/ Special: JC to Lucile Garrison, 23 May 1989, NWU. And see related programs and documents at NWU and Cage Trust Archives. Cage was troubled by/ Hopeless: JC interview
extremely long, static, shimmering single notes. His Composition 1960 #7 consists of simply a B and an F-sharp, with the instruction “To be held for a long time.” His The Second Dream of the High-Tension-Line Stepdown Transformer (1962), for string instruments, consists entirely of the long-held notes of the chord G–C–C-sharp–D–the “dream chord,” he said, “which I used to hear in the telephone poles.” Cage considered Young’s stretched sounds “very important.” They made it possible to listen to
Passionately fond of chess from his youth, Duchamp had represented France in four Chess Olympiads between 1928 and 1933. A risk-taking player, he drew games with the grandmaster Savielly Tartakower and with the American world champion Frank Marshall. Cage found the game fascinating and eventually became a serious player. But at the time he used his lessons as “simply a pretext,” he said. “I wasn’t really playing chess, I was just being with Marcel.” Duchamp may have sensed this, for he sometimes