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Appreciating John Cage

The Jessica Love cartoon of John Cage in the February issue amuses and touches me very much. I first became aware of Mr. Cage’s music a year after I graduated from high school. At the time, his work made a lot of sense to me—I saw it as a continuation of the spiritual work being done by Charles Ives. Eventually I came to research and write about some of Mr. Cage’s work for my doctoral degree (in performance studies, at N.Y.U.) which was later published as John Cage’s Theatre Pieces: Notations and Performances (1996).

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For me personally, Mr. Cage was a mentor, role-model, teacher, surrogate father-figure—I was in awe of him, much as he would say he was in awe of Arnold Schoenberg. Seeing Jessica Love’s cartoon brings back fond memories, and also shows how I’m reassessing Mr. Cage’s work and influence upon me. As a boy, I could easily play piano by ear, but struggled with music notation. Mr. Cage’s work in that area—particularly with spatial notation—helped unblock and free me to write music, and for that I’m sincerely grateful. And now, rather than question or criticize various aspects of Mr. Cage’s work and life, I instead try to find my own voice and content. The cartoon reminds me that, concerning Mr. Cage, I have some denial yet to process. For instance, someone I met in 1998, to whom I showed a photo of Mr. Cage, replied, “He looks like a mean person.” The “Evil Scientist/Dr. Frankenstein” caricature of Mr. Cage was especially prevalent (so far as I can tell) from the late 1950s into at least the early 1970s. I never saw that side, and perhaps that is my own lack of a fuller perspective (at any rate, a reminder of my immaturity from when I knew him and was absorbed in study). Certainly, my basic opinions on his work have changed from more than 15 years ago. I prefer to keep my personal opinions private, because they really aren’t important to anyone except myself. But the cartoon is a wonderful addition to the growing critical literature on Mr. Cage. Something that fosters a questioning, open mind, with a sense of humor, definitely works for me.

Will Fetterman
Allentown, Pa.

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