Jerry McGuire (bio)



The Death of John Cage


[NOTE: pass around hat. everyone should put his/her name on a slip of paper and put it in the hat. these names will be drawn and read aloud during the reading. the hat will also have lines of poetry in it, typed on colored paper. each person who puts his/her name in the hat should draw from the hat a line of poetry, preferably one typed on paper of that persona’s favorite color. if you really like poetry, take more than one line. if you hate poetry, what the fuck are you doing here?]

A young snot approvingly wrote in The Village Voice that a quote acidic political philosopher unquote had called Cage a quote Buddhist cretin unquote. As if anyone who were either of those would care.

Take the music in Buddist cretin. It’s related to the music of everything with four syllables: Piggly Wiggly. Chad the Barkeep. Potty humor. Spotty humor. Dotty humor. Willard “Skip” Fox. Penultimate, as in quote penultimate example unquote. Dear Costumer.

If I call your name, stand up. When someone else recites a line of poetry aloud at you, you may sit. But if you don’t like the line of poetry, you may continue standing. Others may speak, shout, whisper, or sing lines of poetry at you. When you hear one you like, sit down, unless you’d rather continue standing.

If no one says anything to you at all, you may still sit down, after doing the following: look around you. Find an object with which you feel you can produce a sound, perhaps with the aid of another object, or with the aid, if that is the correct term, of your body, or someone else’s body. Bring it here and make the object make its sound, doing whatever it takes to do so. In so doing, use the secondary microphone. The secondary microphone is the microphone I am not using. The microphone I am using is the tertiary microphone. This is the crux of the plot of this event: is there really a primary microphone?

If I like the sound you make your object make, or like the way you make your object make the sound you make it make, I will permit you to sit down. You may, however, continue to stand if you wish. Nobody gives a fuck.

The word penultimate, which is related musically to everything with four syllables, like Harmonium, Buckdancer’s Choice, the expression gag a maggot, world trade center, and peach-faced lovebird, is also related musically to everything with an -een sound: superplenary, beany, arsenio, green, penile, penalization, ball-peen hammer. Anyone named Irene, Doreen, Marlene, or any other name with an -een sound, please stand up. Also anyone named Dean. Anyone who is lean, mean, uses valvoline, or is, has been, or expects to be a marine.

Here’s a story. John Cage came to give a concert at the zoo. He decided to let the animals make their own music employing certain principles of chance. He decided that to do this he would need to force a change in their lives, and so he asked that he, John Cage, be placed in a cage himself, with two great tubs, one full of red meat, the other full of fruits and nuts and succulent greens. He then asked that all the animals—“all the other animals,” is what he said—be turned out of their cages, and he spoke to them one by one. He held out a slab of bloody meat to the snow leopard and said, “Gargle twice a day with Listerene, and your love life will grow by leaps and bounds.” The snow leopard, however, made no sound at all. To the mandrill he extended his ass through the bars of his cage, stuffed full of sweet pecans. Over his shoulder he yelled, “The president annnounced today that all adult males without a clear record of a fresh kill will have to dress like a church elder until he gets one.” And then he asked the mandrill, “Is your name, by any chance, Sweeney?” But the mandrill had no music in him. Stories like this can go on for a long time, they run on automatic pilot. So forget the story. Just imagine it going smoothly on, telling itself in silence while we turn to other things. For instance, once John Cage was in Abilene. In the Church of the Nazarene, he noted an unusual occurence. He had with him a concertina, which he liked to kick around rooms that, like this one, had a particularly lovely ambient resonance—the ghosts of old cockfights, their delighted screaming. But here he found that every time he kicked his concertina, it landed without a sound. “Something is evil in this room,” he said. “There is no music left in it.” Still he kept kicking the concertina, and each time it made no sound at all. At last the silence got to him, and he—even he—began to imagine that he was hearing things.

Meanwhile, all the animals came closer. Cage in his cage turned green. The zoomaster, or whatever you call him, feared an outrageous scene. In Walgreen Park in the middle of town, all this was projected on a tiny, tiny screen, before thousands of people who hadn’t a clue what it was about. “John Cage?” said a representative one among these thousands. “Isn’t he the editor of a filthy magazine?”

And meanwhile, in the other story, which is actually a story about the first story, or about a story with exactly the same words as the first story, although it is in fact a different story, the concertina has discovered itself and become ambitious. When Cage kicks it, it kicks back. Cage makes a sound like a wounded concertina.

“There,” said the rhinoceros, who was a holy avatar of a devout woman who had waited many lives to say this to John Cage. “There,” said the rhinoceros. “Now you finally understand what making music is all about, its most secret meaning.”

“Thank you,” said John Cage. He was always extremely polite. “You have shown me another word with -een in it.”