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John Cage (Critical Lives) Paperback – June 15, 2012
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About the Author
Rob Haskins is assistant professor and graduate program coordinator in the Department of Music and the University of New Hampshire, Durham. He is the author of Anarchic Societies of Sounds: The Number Pieces of John Cage.
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I used Haskins' biography as a text in a college course on John Cage. In the final class evaluations, 80% of the students gave this book the highest possible rating for "the textbook made a valuable contribution." The remainder of the responses were at the second highest level. And yet this book is also an interesting read for someone well-versed in Cage scholarship, for Haskins spices his concoction with his own opinions (always well-defined as opinions). Cage is fascinating simply in terms of his own biography, but Haskins actually likes the music, the poetry, and the art that he is dealing with, and is a compelling advocate for the work itself.
Just a brief mention of the "one star" review here. It is mostly about another matter entirely, having nothing to do with the Haskins biography. It also criticizes Haskins for a book he has not yet written.
Haskins explains in his introduction that he finds the experience of playing Cage's music beautiful, and then goes on to elucidate the path to and means of that beautify in Cage's career. He loves Cage, and out of that love is willing to think critically about the man and the composer, an essential feature. There was no one like Cage, and he was one of the most important artists in the history of civilization, but that does not mean that every though he had was good, nor that every piece he made was successful, that made sense even on his own terms, and Haskins is clear about this.
Haskins depth of knowledge is impressive, but the book is not weighty. He expresses important and difficult concepts clearly and ties them in directly to Cage's actual practice and experience. The biographical details are cogent but brief, and Haskins emphasizes the flow and change of Cage's musical output. He doesn't fetishize "4',33"" and the "Sonatas and Interludes," but identifies the truly fertile periods of Cage's work, and makes lucid critical judgements on what pieces stand in the first rank of achievement. Throughout, he has great intellectual and emotional affection for Cage, but it never clouds his thinking or his writing. The best single book on Cage that has been published.