Where the Heart Beats is the story of the tremendous changes sweeping through American culture following the Second World War, a time when the arts in America broke away from centuries of tradition and reinvented themselves. Painters converted their canvases into arenas for action and gesture, dancers embraced pure movement over narrative, performance artists staged “happenings” in which anything could happen, poets wrote words determined by chance.
In this tumultuous period, a composer of experimental music began a spiritual quest to know himself better. His earnest inquiry touched thousands of lives and created controversies that are ongoing. He devised unique concerts—consisting of notes chosen by chance, randomly tuned radios, and silence—in the service of his absolute conviction that art and life are one inseparable truth, a seamless web of creation divided only by illusory thoughts.
What empowered John Cage to compose his incredible music—and what allowed him to inspire tremendous transformations in the lives of his fellow artists—was Cage’s improbable conversion to Zen Buddhism. This is the story of how Zen saved Cage from himself.
Where the Heart Beats is the first book to address the phenomenal importance of Zen Buddhism to John Cage’s life and to the artistic avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s. Zen’s power to transform Cage’s troubled mind—by showing him his own enlightened nature—liberated Cage from an acute personal crisis that threatened everything he most deeply cared abouthis life, his music, and his relationship with his life partner, Merce Cunningham. Caught in a society that rejected his art, his politics, and his sexual orientation, Cage was transformed by Zen from an overlooked and marginal musician into the absolute epicenter of the avant-garde.
Using Cage’s life as a starting point, Where the Heart Beats looks beyond to the individuals Cage influenced and the art he inspired. His creative genius touched Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Alan Kaprow, Morton Feldman, and Leo Castelli, who all went on to revolutionize their respective disciplines. As Cage’s story progresses, as his collaborators’ trajectories unfurl, Where the Heart Beats shows the blossoming of Zen in the very heart of American culture.
About Kay Larson
An acclaimed art critic, columnist, and editor, KAY LARSON began her career in journalism in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at The Real Paper, then served as an associate editor at ARTnews and an art critic for theVillage Voice. She was the art critic for New York magazine for fourteen years, and has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times. In 1994, she entered Zen practice at a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York. Though Larson has written for many types of publications, Where the Heart Beats is her first book.
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Cage is most famous for 4’33”, a 1952 work whose audacity—essentially four minutes and 33 seconds of silence in which the only sounds are those of the performance environment—inspired a raft of experimental artists. The piece has also been mocked for its anybody-can-do-that simplicity. However, as longtime art critic Larson makes clear, it sprung from years of deep spiritual practice and hard thinking about the structure of music. Beginning his career on the West Coast, Cage studied with pioneering modernist composers Arnold Schoenberg and Henry Cowell but broke free to find ways to integrate music with the noise of everyday life. At the same time, he grew enchanted with varieties of religious mysticism, studying under D.T. Suzuki, who helped promote Zen Buddhism in the West. In time, Cage’s work acquired an openness that ultimately produced 4’33”. Larson structures the book as a kind of call and response between Cage and his associates, alternating paragraphs of conventional biography with extended, often gnomic, quotations from Cage. The strategy is most effective when it shows the effect his uncanny calm had on others: Composers like Morton Feldman and Yoko Ono and painters like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were all influenced by Cage’s thinking. However, Larson’s approach does leave Cage’s life as more of a mystery than a biography perhaps ought to. After the triumph of 4’33”, she dwells little on the details of her subject’s life, only briefly noting that Cage struggled with his homosexuality and kept his decades-long relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham a secret. – Kirkus Reviews
Listening to the Void, Vital and Profound
The New York Times Book Review – July 22, 2012 (Excerpt)
“Where the Heart Beats” is a book about a man learning to use and trust the void. It’s a kind of love story about overcoming the need for love.
Written by Kay Larson, who for 14 years was the art critic for New York magazine, it describes John Cage’s philosophical awakening through Zen Buddhism, which changed not only the sort of music he composed but, seemingly, everything he did and said. Cage’s music and his interactions have been documented in many other books, but what makes “Where the Heart Beats” different is that it centers first on the ideas behind the work: why he sought them, when he came upon them, and where and how he used them. Only secondarily is it about his notated and copyrighted scores, and Cage’s place within the history of music (if indeed that is the place he ought to occupy).
For more than 40 years — from the time of his 1951 talks at the Club, a loft space on East Eighth Street in Manhattan opened by the sculptor Philip Pavia, until his death in 1992— Cage often found himself around devoted scribes and live microphones. He was an apothegm slinger; he was unstoppable. “I have to get out of here,” the sculptor Richard Lippold, Cage’s neighbor in a run-down Lower East Side building during the early 1950s, told the composer Morton Feldman. “John is just too persuasive.” [Read the full article...]
Review: Kay Larson’s inspirational ‘Where the Heart Beats’
The Chicago Tribune Book Review – July 22, 2012 (Excerpt)
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, composer John Cage underwent related crises in his personal and musical lives. He was America’s most progressive, most original, most brilliant, most charming and most media-genic young artist. But he had reached a dead end.
Shortly after moving to New York from the West Coast by way of Chicago, Cage, who was born 100 years ago this September in Los Angeles, made his New York debut in 1943 with a concert of percussion music held at the Museum of Modern Art. It was big news and was excitedly reviewed even in Life magazine. But during his early New York years, Cage’s marriage broke up over his growing relationship with dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham. Music, he found, had become an inadequate medium for expressing emotions. Where he meant to reproduce the bleating of a broken heart, some listeners heard woodpeckers pecking. He was poor as a church mouse. It all seemed hopeless.
Cage tried everything. He dabbled in Jungian psychology. But Indian thought proved more conducive. With his luminous 1948 “Sonatas and Interludes” for prepared piano (his invention of placing nuts, bolts and other objects between the piano strings to create a one-man percussion band), Cage began a quest for answers outside the Western tradition, turning to Hinduism as a path to tranquillity. Then he began attending courses at Columbia University in Zen Buddhism given by D.T. Suzuki, a Japanese scholar whose books had become all the rage among New York artists and intellectuals. [Read the full article...]
The Indigo Bird
An Erotic Novel by Max Markham
James Graveney, a young Major in a respectable regiment, is outwardly conventional. In private James is bisexual, with a strong urge for his own sex. Gay sex, however, is illegal in the Army, so he is discreet about this.
James’ world is turned upside-down when he meets Lieutenant Richard Finch. Richard is intelligent, charismatic and exceptionally handsome. He doesn’t mess around. He gets what he wants, and is completely unscrupulous about how he gets it. Richard will stop at nothing to achieve this, including Machiavellian deception and a cunning and brutal murder. James starts responding to Richard, cautiously at first, then gets swept along on the great love affair of his life.
The Indigo Bird is a rollercoaster of surprises set against backdrops varying from the jungles of Belize to London, the English countryside, and Ireland, and the scene is set for more shocks and adventures. [Read more...]
The Indigo Bird is available through Amazon.Com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords.com, Amazon Kindle US, Amazon Kindle UK, and any other good bookstore.