Tag Archives: copying

Abuse Cage


J Cage – tapa shared CC by maulurizen

I was sent this fantastic video by my friend and TRU co-conspirator Irwin:

It took me a while to place the voice, but of course it’s John Cage.

I’m reminded of a day more than a decade ago, when I was working as a “course development researcher” for the doomed experimental university TechBC. Essentially, my job was to find existing online media to incorporate into course offerings. I had been tasked by a few professors to find materials related to John Cage, which was how I first came across WFMU. DJ Kenneth Goldsmith (AKA Kenny G) frequently played Cage and other forms of “unpopular music”… I quickly became a fan, and happened to be at my desk listening to the station’s live feed at work one day when he announced that he would be playing Cage’s Empty Words Part III, recorded during a riotous 1977 show in Milan:

…the sonorous event planned by John Cage morphed into an happening, to quote a term dear to Cage, animated by unexpected consequences.

At first the audience listened to the piece intriguingly, but soon enough it realized that the ‘concert’ it was attending was not anything near to what it could be imagined. Some spectators then began to scream, hoot and protest; some even climbed on the stage to disturb Cage’s performance, while he was quietly reading his text sitting at a desk illuminated by a small lamp.

In spite of the mess and the impolite behavior of a part of the audience – someone even took his glasses off temporarily – Cage continued his ‘concert’ until the very end when, quite unexpectedly considering how the show had commenced, the audience burst into a big applause. Everybody agreed that Cage ‘had won’ and that the audience had rightly paid homage to the composer.

Kenny G didn’t just play the recording, but opened up the phone lines so that WFMU listeners could join in and “abuse John Cage”. I have a vivid memory of listening live online (itself something of a novelty in 2001), laughing out loud, realizing I was actually doing my job, and feeling very fortunate in my employment. I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.

The archive only exists in RealPlayer format. Given the less-than-optimal usability, and seized by nostalgia, I’ve ripped a copy of the segment as an MP3 (41:25 – 30MB). Given Mr. Goldsmith’s oft-expressed views on copying, not to mention his role with UbuWeb and its ethos, I’m presuming he wouldn’t object.

Kenny G on WFMU – Abuse John Cage

See also: Woodie Guthrie’s fan letter to John Cage. And “some rules for students and teachers”, though the question of Cage’s authorship is, well, indeterminate

I go there

Catching up on my RSS feeds, I enjoyed reading this post by Darren Barefoot about the “restricted cat” (or cougar), an oddly innocuous and kid-sweet warning about impending adult-only content:

Watching that cute pre-picture cat reminded me of when we lived in Hermosillo, Mexico in the late 90′s. We went to a lot of movies because they were fairly cheap and air-conditioned. The films often sucked, but I always loved the cute pre-picture cats that sang a song about the importance of not talking during movies, reminding us to turn off our cel phones. I can’t find the exact clip they played, but this more recent production starring “Front Row Joe” (el gato Joe) is a less charming example.


Segurito y el Gato Joe – Dentro de la Película from Sólo por las Niñas on Vimeo.

Thinking back to those cinema trips I remembered another pre-movie short they would always play. The explicit message is “vive sin drogas” (live without drugs), but the trippy visuals and hypnotic aesthetic undercut that ostensible moral:

The vive sin drogas campaign was bankrolled by TV Azteca, Mexico’s second-largest network, privatized in the 90′s by since-disgraced President Carlos Salinas. At the time, I remember reading reports in the Mexican and international alternative press alleging that TV Azteca owner Ricardo Salinas Pliego was linked to narco-money. More recently, Salinas-Pliego (currently the second-richest man in Mexico) has called for the legalization of drugs.

The vive sin drogas rap, its conflicted aesthetic, the whole concept of psychedelic-inspired children’s programming reminds me of one of my favorite comedy shows ever, Mr. Show, and their sketch Sam and Criminy Kraffft present The Altered State of Drugachusetts:

As an aside, my favorite podcast these days is Comedy Bang Bang, hosted by Mr. Show alum Scott_Aukerman, and featuring others from Mr. Show including Paul F. Tompkins.

As another aside, the Mr. Show character of “Drugachussets” Professor Ellis D. Traills is played by Tom Kenny, who would go on to voice Spongebob Squarepants. Nothing weird about that one…

Apparently “The Altered State of Drugachusetts” is a fairly straight take-off on H.R. Pufnstuf, a kids show reputed to be steeped in drug culture:

Marty Krofft has neither admitted nor hinted in occasional interviews that the references were made knowingly; in one case, a writer reported that when pressed as to the connotation of “lids” in the title Lidsville, “Well, maybe we just had a good sense of humor,” Krofft said, laughing.[21] His comments to another interviewer were more direct; in a Times Union profile whose author observed, “Watching the shows today, it’s hard to imagine a show with more wink-and-nod allusions to pot culture, short of something featuring characters named Spliffy and Bong-O,” Krofft conceded that the show’s title had been an intentional marijuana reference, as had Lidsville, but “that was just a prank to see if they could get them past clueless NBC executives”.[25]

Alice 05a-1116x1492

Of course, the notion of entertainment or art for children being suffused with themes and tropes of surreal intoxication predates 1970′s television… Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass come immediately to mind. Lewis Carroll is just one of the writers who receive critical treatment in Marcus Boon’s The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs (title drawn from William Blake). Boon’s book is by far the most thorough treatment of the subject I have ever read. Around the time the book came out, Boon gave an interview on WFMU with the riotous on-air personality and renowned proud plagiarist poet Kenneth Goldsmith (AKA Kenny G). You can listen to that interview here if you still have RealPlayer installed.

That chain of reference and reminiscence got me wondering what Marcus Boon is up to now… Turns out he has directed his efforts In Praise of Copying. Besides publishing that volume, he has turned the tables and interviewed Kenny G on appropriation, contributed to a diverse and mind-bending collection edited by “intellectual property theorist and prankster [and roboprofessor] Kembrew McLeod and dada scholar Rudi Kuenzli” entitled Cutting Across Media: Appropriation Art, Interventionist Collage, and Copyright Law. He was interviewed again recently on WFMU, this time by DJ Rupture. About this point, I’m having to work hard at not descending into envy at the orientation of this dude’s career. I have worked my various levers to acquire legal copies of all this stuff, and am working through it now…

If the digressive trajectories of my approach and work have confused you in the past, this post may serve as something of a Rosetta Stone.