John Cage was a man of extraordinary and seemingly limitless talents: musician, inventor, composer, poet. He became a central figure of the avant-garde early in his life and remained at that pinnacle until his death in 1992 at the age of eighty. Now award-winning biographer Kenneth Silverman gives us the first comprehensive life of this remarkable artist. We follow Cage from his Los Angeles childhood—his father was a successful inventor—through his stay in Paris from 1930 to 1931, where immersion in the burgeoning new musical and artistic movements triggered an explosion of creativity in him and, after his return to the States, into his studies with the seminal modern composer Arnold Schoenberg. We see Cage’s early experiments with sound and percussion instruments, and watch as he develops his signature work with prepared piano, radio static, random noise, and silence. We learn of his many friendships over the years with other composers, artists, philosophers, and writers; of his early marriage and several lovers, both female and male; and of his long relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham, with whom he would collaborate on radically unusual dances that continue to influence the worlds of both music and dance.
Drawing on interviews with Cage’s contemporaries and friends and on the enormous archive of his letters and writings, and including photographs, facsimiles of musical scores, and Web links to illustrative sections of his compositions, Silverman gives us a biography of major significance: a revelatory portrait of one of the most important cultural figures of the twentieth century.
About the Author
Kenneth Silverman’s previous books include A Cultural History of the American Revolution; The Life and Times of Cotton Mather; Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance; Houdini!!!; and Lightning Man: The Accursed Life of Samuel F. B. Morse. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has received the Bancroft Prize in American History, the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America, and the Christopher Literary Award of the Society of American Magicians. A professor emeritus of English at New York University, he lives in New York City.
Praise for Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage…
"Begin Again is a much more nuanced picture of Cage’s personal life than has currently been available . . . What emerges most powerfully is Cage’s enormous capacity for work, together with his exceptional self-discipline as an artist and his willingness to approach every new challenge with a ‘beginner’s mind.’ For this alone it is a book worthy of being read by anyone, young or old, who is faced with the daunting task of a new creative beginning." —John Adams, The New York Times Book Review
"The life of Cage is meticulously told." —The New Yorker
"Outstanding." —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Arty connoisseurs might find the definitive John Cage biography, Begin Again, by Kenneth Silverman, thrilling."
–James Hannaham, Village Voice, Holiday Gift Books for Any Kind of Troublesome Friend
"Excellent, thoroughly researched . . . The first in-depth, detailed account of Cage's rich and colorful life . . . Silverman's prose is lively and occasionally mirrors Cage's own wit." --Library Journal (starred review)
“Since his death almost two decades ago, Cage's influence has increased to the point where he is now seen as one of the major creative spirits of his age. This marvelous biography brings into focus the many elusive facets of his music, and situates them against the background of his personal life and the seething cultural currents of the era.” —John Ashbery
“Silverman’s artful narrative lays bare Cage’s compositional processes, aesthetic posturing and the cross-cultural philosophical underpinnings to his work with a clarity that musicologists and art historians have yet to achieve. Not just an exemplary biography, but a significant contribution to the cultural history of American music.”—Kirkus, starred review
“John Cage, whose pieces dazzled and confounded audiences for six decades, hardly seems the easiest of subjects for the biographer, but this is a well-researched, coherent, quite readable account of the composer and his work.” —Alan Moores, Booklist
“John Cage, a master of musical modernism, meets Kenneth Silverman, a master of the biographical art. Cage, the most innovative composer of recent times, comes freshly alive in Kenneth Silverman’s magisterial biography. Silverman distills an astonishing amount of information in an engaging, fluid narrative that brings alive every facet of John Cage’s life—his loves, his friendships, his career, and his path-blazing experiments with sound. Cage expanded music, and Silverman considerably expands our knowledge of Cage by interweaving fascinating new details of his everyday life with insightful accounts of his musical maturation. A gripping, ceaselessly revelatory biography.” —David S. Reynolds, author of Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson and Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography.
“Begin Again is a glittering manifestation of the biographer’s craft. With impeccable aim and pitch-perfect tone, Kenneth Silverman has curated the crowded, cacophonous, frenetic and fractured details of modernist master John Cage’s life into a witty and sensuous literary exhibition. Readers will feel privileged to attend the gala opening of this cosmopolitan show—performance art between two covers!” —Neil Baldwin, author of Man Ray: American Artist