Celebrating John Cage at 100

September 5, 2012

This morning I enjoyed reading the piece (linked at the bottom) by John Diliberto, host of the Echoes radio show and writer of the Echoes blog, celebrating the incomparable John Cage in honor of his 100th birthday. (Hmm, Cage and Woody Guthrie were both born in 1912 – an interesting musical legacy left by those two.) I especially liked that Diliberto highlighted Cage’s manifesto to listen to the world around you. It reminds me of one of the best pieces of writing wisdom I ever received, from the poet Galway Kinnell when he was brought in for a reading by my writing teacher Bill Minor at Monterey Peninsula College. I asked him what advice he could give to a young writer (I was 19 or 20 at the time, in 1983 or ’84) and Kinnell answered with something along the lines of, “Listen. Listen to the sounds of nature, to the machines, to people, to your own breath – listen to everything around you and you’ll hear the music and poetry of life.” Maybe he was a fan of John Cage? It was memorable advice that resonates with me to this day.

My copy of John Cage’s book of lectures and writings, Silence. First published in 1961, this is a 1973 trade paperback edition from Wesleyan University Press.

I don’t even know Cage’s music all that well, but I’ve always admired the way he fearlessly explored the further boundaries of musical expression and opened new frontiers for musicians that have followed in his footsteps and now seek new paths themselves. He was infamous for his avant garde work but he could also write exquisite melodies. I have an old copy of John Cage’s book, Silence, that I’ll delve into after this.

As I write this morning, I’m listening to Cage’s 1948 composition “In a Landscape,” as performed by pianist Stephen Drury. If you have a spare 9:49 to listen to this, even in the background, I encourage you to do so. It’s simply beautiful. I have the window open and can hear the birds and the crickets and the hum of the air conditioner and the far off sound of cars on the streets, and now a dog barking, all playing along with the tune, making the music and poetry of life…

Sshhhhhhh. John Cage at 100.

by John Diliberto


The John Cage Centennial – and much more info at the official John Cage Trust website.

Music Is Everywhere: John Cage at 100 – a nice audio story by Tom Vitale that I heard on NPR’s All Things Considered evening news after writing this post.

The John Cage Century – by Alex Ross at The New Yorker.

Happy Birthday to John Cage, Who Made a Lot of People Angry – a nice brief discussion of his most infamous work, 4:33, at the Smithsonian blog.

Silence and Sound: Five Ways of Understanding John Cage – by Anastasia Tsioulcas at NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog.

33 Musicians on What John Cage Communicates – compiled by Max Blau at NPR Music.

John Cage Recital? Take the A Train – by Allan Kozinn at the New York Times.

From Russia with Love…for John Cage – by Stephen Smoliar – a look at Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov’s new recording, John Cage: As it is, on ECM Records – at the Examiner.com.

The John Cage Prepared Piano App



  1. Enjoyed this post! You inspired me to seek out (just the other day) a recording of Cage’s “In a Landscape” — you’re right: a beautiful, quiet, yet also very stirring and engaging piece. Thanks for the tip.

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