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John Cage: Still Making Noise at 100


Today is the centennial of the birth of John Cage, the avant garde composer who saw the music of everyday life.

This clip from a 1960 episode of I’ve Got a Secret featuring Cage is amazing. It was a game show — but the host and the audience took Cage seriously, even though what he did undoubtedly seemed odd. Even more amazingly, the host (based on the Wikipedia entry for the show and my own memory, it may be a young Bill Cullen) didn’t patronize Cage. Instead, he decided, on the fly, that what the guest did was more interesting than the game that was set to take place. Since there was not time for both, he simply let Cage perform.

This is from NPR:

In the 1940s, Cage pioneered electronic music, creating works out of randomly assembled snippets of audio tape. But perhaps Cage’s greatest invention was his approach to music and art. After two years studying Zen Buddhism, Cage came up with the idea of using chance to compose his music. He used the I Ching and literally rolled the dice to determine what elements went where, freeing the music from the composer’s preconceptions. Cage said he wanted to see each act as new, as a fresh experience — even something you do every day.

While watching this clip and reading about Cage, it occurred to me that the genesis of music must have been efforts by people to emulate the sounds of their natural environments. If that’s so, what Cage did is in a way truer music than what we associate with the art form.

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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