I’m reading Timequake, by Kurt Vonnegut, and Vonnegut’s narrative style reminded me of John Cage. It’s a sort of random stream of consciousness narrative—he combines events from his own life with a fictional story with the even more fictional stories of an imaginary author within his story. And sometimes, he randomly makes observations about life. His narrative style is nonlinear (of course) and a little confusing, but somehow, you can always figure out what he’s saying. The book really isn’t all that good (I think it’s supposed to be biting social commentary, but criticizing nuclear weapons, violence, and television has been done so many times as to be staggeringly unoriginal), but it’s always interesting, and I think that John Cage would enjoy it.
Reading Vonnegut, it seems to me that there are quite a few artists (using art in its broadest sense, to mean author, musician, etc) who I like who were influenced by Cage, which is interesting, since I really don’t much like Cage himself. I’m not a huge Radiohead fan, for example, but I recognize that they are a talented band and definitely have some Cagean elements in their music. Ditto techno—I don’t really like it personally, but many people do, and it was heavily influenced by John Cage also. Even the Beatles (who I like, I guess, but not as much as many people—for me, their music is good but not great) were, if that article Dr. Langguth posted is correct, inspired by Cage.
It seems to me that the lesson here, if there is one, is that it is possible to dislike an artist but appreciate his imitators. As far as I’m concerned, the world could do without Cage’s music. (I was talking to some friends about Cage, and one said that Cage’s story is a bit like the “Emperor’s New Clothes” story—in other words, that Cage wasn’t that important but academic types keep looking for talent that isn’t there. Debatable, but interesting). But I enjoy some forms of art that wouldn’t have existed, or would have existed differently, without Cage. So while I dislike John Cage, I do at least appreciate many of those he influenced. So perhaps Cage wasn’t as big a waste as I thought he was—he had at least some good effects.