Saturday, April 02, 2011

Y'know, I really wish that the ne'er to be seen second issue of the English fanzine OUT THERE had been published if only to have read the piece on John Cage that editor and future NME contributor/Frankie Says Felch Me mastermind Paul Morley promised in the first and thus obviously only issue of his slick read. I just know it would have been a real gas reading a piece on Cage in between the rest of the articles that would have popped up in that issue, though if you must know the intermingling of Cage and various sundry items of a more punkitudnal nature has occurred in the interim, mainly via the twentieth issue of a certain BLACK TO COMM. It was within those hallowed pages that the subject of Cage was handled by staff writer Bill Shute, a man who detailed within the span of a good 1 3/4 pages (small type too!) about the time he had to sift through about three dozen self-absorbed artistes to hear Cage give a talk and actually spoke with the man finding him a pretty down-to-earth affable kinda person who seemed bored with the thought of having to give a talk to a buncha beret and stale doritos types. Oh yeah, it sure was a great piece I only hope some Cage biographer will acknowledge in the future, a downright eye-opener even when the piece got into these weird bits of Shute's youthful indiscretions and paens to flat-chested women he tried to turn on with METALLIC KO of all things! Dag-nabbit! if I just don't go and reprint that article (that ish being terminally o.p.) on this blog or better yet coax Bill into publishing it on his, because it's stuff like this that made up the DRIVING FORCE of the rag, something that stood out from the usual decadent drek of "'zine culture" back when most of those fishwraps were merely acting out armchair Marxist theorizings as if their ideals, their politics were going to matter one iota within a good two or so years.

And if somebody's gonna do another article on Cage it would be great if they would do one on his influence on rock (& roll even!) music. We know how much the jazz avant garde borrowed from him as if Anthony Braxton and the entire AACM oeuvre wasn't enough of an example, and I could go on for days about all of the conscious Cage swipes from Lennon down through Sagittarius' mid-section of "My World Fell Down" but I'll leave that to a (way) future post or better yet let somebody else with more stamina tackle such a subject. But right now I'd just like to tell you about two Cage sets I received just this past week which are getting hefty play here in the wee-wee hours that not surprisingly send me back to age 18 when I was heavily immersing myself in Cage as a component of what was making up my musical structure suffering heavily considering the scant few Cage recordings that were within my grasp.

And hey, although the last thing I would want to do is re-live those days at least these disques zone me back to the better aspects of my youthdom when so many musical avenues were being opened up right before my very ears. I'd usually take a few detours and headed way off the not-so-beaten path because I sure did not know better, but at least I was having more fun than I was listening to nineties amerindie singles!

I'm not too surprised that Columbia actually released a double-set of Cage piano works back in '70. If they had done something of this magnitude a good eight years later during the big vinyl shortage/label purges I would have been startled quite a bit, but '70 seems like just the right date for the future Sony to have begun pumping those wild "Music Of Our Time" platters at us. Some like that Max Neuhaus one with a feedback percussion take on "Fontana Mix" remain extreme readings of sixties experimental music and I can still recall the waves of rage Stockhausen's MIKROPHONIE induced in my father way back in the early days of '75 ifyoucanbelieveit (and you'd BETTER!). But I don't think dad'd mind MUSIC FOR KEYBOARD 1935-1945 (with noted Cage "expert" Jeanne Kirstein on pianos...toy, "prepared" and real) one bit. It might be too stodgy or classical for him, but the thirties avant garde jibe really wouldn't go out of its way to offend him and it is pleasant in its at-times, almost proto-new agey way.

In fact the earlier tracks could fool the average Jose amongst us...y'know "hey, that kinda sounds like Beethoven!" or something like that. "Well, it's a piano ain't it, so it's gotta be Beethoven!" Cage had yet to get into his outer reach period, and the music was still rooted in the early avant gardeness of Cowell 'stead of Marcel Duchamp, a guy I thought woulda slugged Cage for maybe taking a little too much of his schtick and running all over the place with it. Thirty-eight's "Bacchanale" sorta breaks the ice with an early use of the "prepared" piano but even that sounds structured next to the wild-eyed radicalism that Cage was working on in other realms. I'll have to admit that the shift from loud and crass ("Root of an Unfocus") to sedate ("Dream") did help oose me into the arms of Morpheus a lot easier'n had I slapped on a heavy metallic excursion guaranteed to push pedal to the adrenaline gland, but I ain't complainin' about the selection or the performance which does have this strange "cultural" hold on even a suburban slob such as myself.

Must say that I prefer Wergo's THE 25-YEAR RETROSPECTIVE CONCERT OF THE MUSIC OF JOHN CAGE a whole lot more if only for the way it gives a good cross-section of where the guy had been when this concert was held (May 15, 1958) and perhaps an inkling of where he would be heading for the remainder of his 79 years. You might remember this one...I sure do...wanted it in the worst way back when George Avakian was selling it out of his apartment for years on end and even wrote him for ordering instructions back inna day. I might still have his response somewhere in the files explaining that the triple-disc set now cost a whopping $35, and frankly at this time that amount of money might as well have been a million smackeroonies to an unemployed scrape-your-money kinda kid like I was. Well, fortunately by the time New Music Distribution Services was peddling this one in their catalog I had obtained gainful employment and could dish out that amount for albums such as this any many more now lingering in my collection. (Some, like the various Finnedar releases now worth a pretty penny which I kinda find strange considering how they even showed up in the local chain record shops at the time.) But back '78 way I wanted to hear this one in my worse obsessive seize the moment fashion possible, and danged if something like this wasn't just gonna elude my grasps considering the lack of moolah or handy record catalog t'boot!

Fortunately the Kraut Wergo label reissued this on tea coaster back in the nineties so it's not like any current kiddo with a hefty Cage hankerin' isn't gonna be starvin' the way I hadda! Of course I doubt if there is a soul on this planet who would want to hear every shard of electronic freakdom to emanate from the cranium of Cage but if there are any this set would be a good place for them to start. From his earliest ("Six Short Inventions for Seven Instruments") to his most recent ("Concert For Piano and Orchestra") the career of Cage is neatly cross-sectioned with examples of his piano (prepared and otherwise), percussive, and electronic work all performed live in front of a mostly appreciative audience and under his jurisdiction too! (Well, there is a bit of a kerfuffle during "Concert For Piano and Orchestra" that almost makes this one the avant garde precursor to METALLIC KO). Some of it is back-brain stimulating enough even if it sounds like it was written by and for the 1935 equivalent of your old high school pottery teacher while the percussion ensemble piece ("First Construction in Metal") and the electronic "Imaginary Landscape No. 1" intrigue me not only with their energy but their uniqueness in predating a whole load of ideas that seemed to make up the avant way of thought during the post-war/pre-hippie era. The tape composition "Williams Mix" was also revelatory even if it seemed more like a precursor to more fleshed-out Cagean ideas from the late-fifties like "Fontana Mix" (are any of those other tape compositions of his like "WBAI" [conceived in the studios of the famous En Why See radio station natch!] available?), while "Music for Carillon" kinda sounds like one of his piano pieces of the forties played on giant church bells. The rest, from the tom-tom quartet of "She is Asleep" to the various sonatas also work well not only in giving us outta-the-loopers an idea of what Cage was up to during the first half of his composing career, but an idea as to where a whole lotta music was heading throughout the sixties and beyond when such concepts as "Revolution 9" and "Two Minute Silence" were turning up on Beatles and related albums getting played on cheapo consoles world-wide.

Of course years later even Cage became almost as much a artiste as the rest of the grant-grabbing anti-Amerigan flock of phonus balonuses that I know most of you readers continue to drool over, but in 1958 I'm sure it was all considered adventurous and trailblazing enough even if most of the cracker barrels woulda scratched their noggins in utter confusion. Of course maybe some of the excitement over the concept of noise and sound (and vice versa) has worn off, though I get the feeling that if you like to spin the likes of Chrome or think that the best part of sixties rock was the feedback you do have Cage to thank. Of course if you want to save some money you could listen to (and enjoy) everything from the wind whistling through trees while distant trains clank on, or just stay home and enjoy the furnace turning on and off. Cage doesn't have to make a living anymore and, well, I kinda think he wouldn't mind one bit you taking his credo to heart this way 'stead of blowing all that money on these platters. But hey, the choice really is up to YOU.

1 comment:

Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

Chris, you probably have seen this, but just in case you haven't:
Nifty. As much as I like John Cale's bass solo in the Patti Smith Group's live version of "My Generation," it might have been even more exciting to hear Ms.Smith yelp "John Cage!" and have Cage come out and do something like this. But I may just be off my nut...