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Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artistsby Kay Larson
Synopses & Reviews
The first biography of composer John Cage to show how his work, and that of countless American artists, was transformed by Zen Buddhism.
One of the greatest American composers of the twentieth century, John Cage created music that defies easy explanation. Many writers have grappled with Cage’s music—which used notes chosen by chance, randomly tuned radios, and even silence—trying to understand what his music means rather than where it came from. An unprecedented and revelatory book, Where the Heart Beats reveals what actually empowered Cage to compose his incredible music, and how he inspired the tremendous artistic transformations of mid-century America.
Where the Heart Beats is the first biography of John Cage to address the phenomenal importance of Zen Buddhism to the composer’s life, and to the artistic avant-garde of the 1950s and 60s. Zen’s power of transforming Cage’s troubled mind, by showing him his own enlightened nature—which is also the nature of all living things—liberated Cage from an acute personal crisis that threatened his life, his music, and his relationship with his life-partner, Merce Cunningham. Caught in a society that rejected his music, his politics, and his sexual orientation, Cage was transformed by Zen from an overlooked and somewhat 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 he influenced and the art he inspired. His circle included Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Merce Cunningham, Yoko Ono, Jasper Johns, Morton Feldman, and Leo Castelli, who all went on to revolutionize their respective disciplines. As Cage’s story progresses, as his students’ trajectories unfurl, Where the Heart Beats shows the blossoming of Zen in the very heart of American culture.
Both an innovative biography and a ground-breaking cultural history of the American Century, Where the Heart Beats is the work of acclaimed art critic Kay Larson. Following her time at New York Magazine and The Village Voice, Larson practiced Zen at a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York. Larson’s deep knowledge of Zen Buddhism, her long familiarity with New York’s art world, and her exhaustive original research all make Where the Heart Beats the definitive story about one of America’s most enduringly important artists.
"Part biography, part cultural history, and part adoring fan's notes, journalist Larson's inventive and contemplative reflections on Cage's encounters with and absorption of Zen Buddhism opens new windows on Cage's often complex yet always compelling, music. Weaving threads of the teachings of Zen Buddhist writer D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts, along with Cage's own reflections and writings on art, music, dance, and life, Larson patches together a brilliant quilt that covers Cage's growing understanding of the nature of noise and silence and the roles that each plays in music. Although Cage studied with Suzuki, he admits that he didn't understand Buddhism until one day when he was walking in the woods looking for mushrooms, the meaning of Suzuki's teachings came to him. He lived from that moment practicing the Buddhist belief in the interpenetration of all things. By 1946, Cage was reaching out to the great contemplative traditions to comprehend the nature of his suffering self — his marriage was breaking up, and his relationship with Merce Cunningham was quickly developing — and to reflect his great love, music, in the mirror of a greater love. Larson's thoughtful meditation on Cage offers a glimpse at the evolution of an artist who abandoned many of the musical structures of the past and opened new doors for several generations of musicians and artists. Agent, Anne Edelstein. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A andldquo;heroicandrdquo; biography of John Cage and his andldquo;awakening through Zen Buddhismandrdquo;andmdash;andldquo;a kind of love storyandrdquo; about a brilliant American pioneer of the creative arts who transformed himself and his culture (The New York Times)
Composer John Cage sought the silence of a mind at peace with itselfandmdash;and found it in Zen Buddhism, a spiritual path that changed both his music and his view of the universe. andldquo;Remarkably researched, exquisitely written,andrdquo; Where the Heart Beats weaves together andldquo;a great many threads of cultural historyandrdquo; (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings) to illuminate Cageandrsquo;s struggle to accept himself and his relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham. Freed to be his own man, Cage originated exciting experiments that set him at the epicenter of a new avant-garde forming in the 1950s. Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Allan Kaprow, Morton Feldman, and Leo Castelli were among those influenced by his andlsquo;teachingandrsquo; and andlsquo;preaching.andrsquo; Where the Heart Beats shows the blossoming of Zen in the very heart of American culture.
A “heroic” biography of John Cage and his “awakening through Zen Buddhism”—“a kind of love story” about a brilliant American pioneer of the creative arts who transformed himself and his culture (The New York Times)
Composer John Cage sought the silence of a mind at peace with itself—and found it in Zen Buddhism, a spiritual path that changed both his music and his view of the universe. “Remarkably researched, exquisitely written,” Where the Heart Beats weaves together “a great many threads of cultural history” (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings) to illuminate Cage’s struggle to accept himself and his relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham. Freed to be his own man, Cage originated exciting experiments that set him at the epicenter of a new avant-garde forming in the 1950s. Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Allan Kaprow, Morton Feldman, and Leo Castelli were among those influenced by his ‘teaching’ and ‘preaching.’ Where the Heart Beats shows the blossoming of Zen in the very heart of American culture.
About the Author
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 the Village 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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