It’s with a frisson of both pleasure and dread that I enjoy the experience of seeing speculative ideas of dystopia start to form in the lived firmament, it’s one of the reasons I recommend annual readings of “Snow Crash (‘burbclaves, the Raft) and “Cryptonomicon (WikiLeaks). One of the great and tragic elements of Gary Shteyngart’s great “Super Sad True Love Story is how he sees America governed by the Bipartisan party, and those not with them are subject to what amounts to authoritarian occupation.

How close is all this? Well, we do live in a country that spies on all its citizens, illegally and with impunity, and although I do trust that torture is no longer official policy (I find it naive to trust that all members of the Security State have given it up completely), those who did commit what is a crime in this country have essentially been told, bygones, don’t sweat it. If only that worked for every felony. And this with a Constitutional Law Professor as President. And then there’s this, the party in the majority, in a position to govern, unable to even describe the concept of doing something that is both good policy and good politics. Because neither party does much governing for the country as a whole, the talk with, listen to, know, and govern for a select few, those Shteyngart calls HNWI. The institutions of government exist to serve these people:

The idea is to run the habitrails until such point as you become a HNWI, then the world of inattentive corporate boards, government contracts and sinecures, think tanking ignorance and responsibility and consequence free failing-upward will be yours. If you can survive until that point, that is. More and more I think the only hope we have for the future is that the whole undeserving Establishment will collapse from their own decadent ennui.

UPDATED: Now with key link; sorry, baby fatigue . . .



Today would have been John Cage’s ninety-eighth birthday, and it is sad he is no longer with us. It’s also sad that the substance of his work and ideas is overshadowed by the myth and legend of the man. We could use more of the substance, especially to spread it like a balm on those who govern us, to perhaps help them stop thinking of the usual, short-term, zero-sum game tactics, and especially to ignore the advice of the ignorant.

Cage wrote music and so he is known as a composer. He wrote a lot of music, a lot of which isn’t very good, some of which is decent and a small amount of which is great. He also made prints, wrote poetry and books, and was a mycologist. Schoenberg called him an inventor, which is true enough, but he was mainly a philosopher of the applied kind, in the legacy of Emerson. He’s perhaps more of a 19th century figure, but one who needed Ives to precede him to make his work possible.

I think Cage had a greater influence outside classical music than inside. On the cutting edge of jazz and rock, musicians and fans have used Cage as a way to expand their thinking about and making of music, of listening, of possibilities, which was his fundamental idea. Can is I think impossible without Cage, and the popularity of composers like Morton Feldman, Varèse, Stockhausen, Ligeti and Xenakis with the jazz/rock public, the whole nexus of new and contemporary composition and progressive/avant jazz and rock is one of Cage’s great legacies, via Brian Eno. The Bang on a Can All-Stars transcribe Music for Airports , and rock audiences dig it and burrow into history . . .

His books are essential reading for anyone who really loves what is possible with music. The Sonatas and Interludes are worth knowing; the music is surprisingly conventional, although the rhythmic drive is terrific, but that’s the point; take conventional music and screw around with one aspect, the instrument in this case, and you have something new. Dare to try. There’s a vast recorded output of that piece and much of Cage, and your mileage will vary. Personally, I’m fond of the Europeras , they are relaxed, good natured and, for someone who has heard a lot of music, full of serendipity. That kind of surprise is refreshing in a world of overdetermined mash-ups. There’s a recording by the S.E.M. Ensemble of Atlas Eclipticalis , which is fabulous, and there’s a brand new collection of older pieces/recordings which I’m excited to have, it includes the hard to find “Williams Mix” and “The City Wears A Slouch Hat,” a radio drama Cage made with Kenneth Patchen. Start with these, and you’ll go far.

And here’s a piece you can perform yourself, at home, in more than one way. And that’s why the world needs Cage.

For more, excellent and comprehensive Cage links here, Cage at UbuWeb here, here and here.

UPDATED:  Here’s my own iTunes list of 4’33” tracks . . .

I Didn’t Want To Do This

He’s an obvious idiot and a boor, so there’s no need to point out anything more about Jay Nordlinger. I was directed to his complaint about serial music via Roy Edroso, and for the most part it’s easy and fun to mock. I mean, is he actually a music critic? Because he doesn’t get out much, it seems the last time he heard the New York Phil was last July 4, outdoors (is he that cheap too?), and he thinks that serial music still rules the musical world. Of course, he works for a publication dedicated to the proposition that 1953 was the best year imaginable, so it makes a certain poetic sense.

There is something that truly rubs me the wrong way though, and is not funny. How is it this nasty cretin is getting press releases from ICE and JACK Quartet, and I’m getting zilch from them?