Jerry McGuire (bio)
The Death of John Cage
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
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.
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.”