First of all, why have I posted all these John Cage videos on my blog in the past week?  Part of me would have preferred to post his writings, but they are still under copyright.  Last week I was going through my old prison journals and and seeing how into Cage’s books I was for a month or two in the mid to late nineties.  Most of my life I’ve copied down sentences or paragraphs I wanted to remember out of things I’ve read.  When it came to Cage’s Silence book, I must have copied half of its contents into my journal while I worked in the prison library (I’d gotten it through inter-library loan from Cleveland).  I also copied a lot of his Empty Words and other works for future reference.  Of course these journals got sent home shortly after I filled them because at Marion Correctional Institution, all an inmate’s possessions had to fit into his 2.4 cubic foot locker box.  There was no way I could keep all the books, letters, cassette tapes and journals I’d have liked.  So I kinda forgot how much I’d gotten out of Cage’s works until I started going through my boxes in the attic this year (though not totally, because my poem John Cage Engaged and Uncaged predates my digging in the attic).

I’m not one to put much stock in astrology.  But a day or two after this Cage rediscovery, while his ideas were still simmering on my brain burner, Rob Brezsny had this to say in my Free Will Astrology Virgo horoscope for the week of 4 December (it came out last Tuesday):

“In 1952, renowned modern composer John Cage created the infamous 4’33”. It’s a “song” that consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of pure silence. Recently a San Francisco performance artist, Jonathon Keats, did a remix of that tune and made it available as a ring-tone. I’d love for you to be inspired by those two geniuses in the coming week, Virgo. It’ll be an excellent time for you to come to a perfect stop, fill yourself with stillness, and bask in the healing power of undiluted nothingness.

If you don’t believe in synchronicity, you have to admit this was at least an intriguing coincidence.

Anyway, I determined it was good advice, whether or not it came from a horoscope.  Quotations about silence have always resonated with me.  Two that come to my mind when I become too full or sure of myself come from the book of Job (“If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom”) and the Tao Te Ching (“He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know”).

Coinciding with my decision to meditate on John Cage and silence for a week came the arrival by mail of two new books: The Spring of My Life and Selected Haiku by Kobayashi Issa and Basho: The Complete Haiku, both of which seemed to fit with the idea of avoiding unnecessary words.  I think perhaps speaking only what is necessary is a form of silence.  After all, as even Cage seemed to conclude at the end of the last video I posted, there is no such thing as absolute silence.  I believe there is only relative silence, which allows us to hear things we might never otherwise notice – things perhaps more important and enduring than the things we generally do hear.

One reason the whole concept of silence appealed to me in prison: there was no such thing as silence there.  TVs were on from the crack of dawn till way past night fall – and there were hundreds (thousands?) of other noises that rarely took a break.  It’s been a similar situation here at home since four grandchildren (ages 6, 5, 4 and 3) and their mother moved in with us at the end of September.

I was somewhat successful in remaining silent online – at least I didn’t write any “real” blogs or share any journals or any of my own poetry – though I couldn’t resist opening my mouth here and there (like when I jokingly called myself Dick Goddard and Dorothy Fuldheim to comment on the Cleveland Poetics blog).  In real life, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to remain silent. 

I’ve begun daily journaling again.  I had stopped after my release from prison in June 2004 (because daily writing, having been such an integral part of my life there, only reminded me of prison – and because I decided then I’d rather spend my time living life than writing about it).  I can also see why John Lennon found primal scream therapy so appealing for a season (his Plastic Ono Band masterpiece came out of that season).  And I’ve been meditating on Lennon as well (yesterday was the anniversary of his assassination).

But where am I going with all this?  I haven’t a clue.  The journey isn’t over.  But the statement on a sweatshirt I had to buy in Bar Harbor, Maine, a couple of years ago seems to fit my current mindset: “The journey is the destination.”  So welcome to the destination.  And enjoy the ongoing journey.  Perhaps I’ll be back with more soon.

P.S. One good thing that’s come out of my latest Cage meditation and exploration: I’ve discovered visionary artist/musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk.  If you didn’t check him out in my Beyond Noise, Silence, Jazz blog, you might want to reconsider.  And here’s a quite-a-bit different sample of Kirk’s work, called “Volunteered Slavery.”  I’ve never seen a cat able to hold a note for so long.




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