Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Twenty years ago today, I picked up John Cage from his campus hotel room

Portrait by Susan Schwartzenberg/The Exploratorium from the New Albion site.

Twenty years ago today, I picked up John Cage from his campus hotel room at LSU (in the building in which I now work) and interviewed him for an hour on the campus radio station.  I remember I was particularly excited he was wearing "the jacket."  I'd read every book and article on John Cage that I could find and just about every one of them featured a photo of him laughing in the same grey jacket.

He very politely answered the questions I nervously asked him. He explained that his then contemporary "number pieces" were attempts to create physical space by putting sound into time brackets. He signed all the records of his I brought with me. One of the other hosts was a composition student who had a piece performed alongside one of Cage's the night before, and Mr. Cage produced a program from his pocket and asked if he would sign it.

The tape is unfortunately long lost to the ether. Mr. Cage told a lot of stories as he often did in interviews, and the one I remembered was about him and another composer walking in a park in Manhattan. They saw a fire engine slowly move through the neighborhood with all its lights ablaze but no siren going. They decided to follow it to see where it was going, but it rounded a corner and silently sped off. "It was a quiet fire engine!" he softly chuckled, the grey jacket brushing my arm as he shifted in his chair next to me. He passed away six months later, just shy of his 80th birthday.

Irvine Arditti, Mayumi Miyata, and Stephen Drury, John Cage: The Works for Violin 3 - Two4

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