Monday, October 16, 2006

Bunny Cage

I discovered something today that made all the expense and hassle of this trip instantly worth it.

The nickname that Xenia Cage called her husband?


That's right, John Cage, the pillar of mid-century modernism and the stern, ascetic father of experimental music, was affectionately called "Bunny" by his wife, or "B" for short. Maybe that's why he left her for Merce Cunningham.*

Seriously, it has been a productive trip. I'm actually glad I made it so short, as the archives are much smaller than I expected. The correspondence from the 1950s fits in one thick manilla folder. I had no problem taking detailed notes about all of it in one solid day of work. And I was relieved to find that there was nothing too shocking--most of my ideas about Cage are still intact, only now I have lots of details and evidence to back those ideas up. So that's a good thing.

Cage is still so slippery for me though. The man was so, so careful never to reveal anything about his personal life. I have now been through five different archives related to Cage, and I still have little to grasp on to: the Wesleyan papers, which contain mostly correspondence and rough drafts relating to his books, the Virgil Thomson papers at Yale, and the M.C. Richards and David Tudor papers, both at the Getty. All of these collections are voluminous, and all are places where one would expect to find at least some correspondence from Cage that might be at least a little personal, and deal with at least a little of his private life. But, no. None to be found, so far. Lots of polite letters home to his parents, lots of business correspondence. The most revealing correspondence was a series of letters from Xenia to some friends back in San Francisco. I don't think it is a coincidence that these letters surfaced after Cage's death, and were connected people outside of Cage's immediate circle. Those who were close to Cage clearly protected his privacy--even in their own intimate letters to each other, such as in David Tudor's letters to M.C. Richards which discuss Cage in only the most oblique terms, even as they gossip about everyone else.

Interesting. Very interesting. I should probably stop before I blog my entire chapter! Tomorrow I will poke around a bit more, and than I am having lunch with my cousin who goes to school here. Then home, and the race to write this damn thing takes off in earnest.

* Lest I sound like one more Xenia-basher, I want to go on the record as saying that I find her to be utterly charming and fascinating. Why has nobody ever done any work on her?

1 comment:

Violet Vixen said...

Awesome. I'll race with you. It really hit me today that a paper I'm giving THIS WEEKEND is really only half written. Yikes. So are you coming home Wednesday still? I'm waiting on you for The Wire.