John Milton Cage was born 100 years ago today. The New York Times described Cage as a “prolific and influential composer whose Minimalist works have long been a driving force in the world of music, dance and art.”
Cage’s first experiments involved altering standard instruments, such as putting plates and screws between a piano’s strings before playing it. As his alterations of traditional instruments became more drastic, he realized that what he needed were entirely new instruments. Pieces such as “Imaginary Landscape No 4″(1951) used twelve radios played at once and depended entirely on the chance broadcasts at the time of the performance for its actual sound. In “Water Music” (1952), he used shells and water to create another piece that was motivated by the desire to reproduce the operations that form the world of sound we find around us each day.
While his interest in chance procedures and found sound continued throughout the sixties, Cage began to focus his attention on the technologies of recording and amplification. One of his better known pieces was “Cartridge Music” (1960), during which he amplified small household objects at a live performance. Taking the notions of chance composition even further, he often consulted the “I Ching,” or Book of Changes, to decide how he would cut up a tape of a recording and put it back together.
His most influential and famous piece is 4’33″. It consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The work was among National Public Radio’s 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century.
The piece, premiered in 1952, directs someone to close the lid of a piano, set a stopwatch, and sit in silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Musicians and critics alike initially thought the piece a joke. But its premiere pianist, who never played a note, calls it his most intense listening experience. “4:33″ speaks to the nature of sound and the musical nature of silence.
Cage died in 1992.
Jesse James was born on this date in 1847. If James were alive today, he’d be the kind of guy who’d park a Ryder truck in front of a federal building. He was not the Robin Hood character many learned, but rather a racist, anti-emancipation, anti-union murdering terrorist long after the Civil War had effectively decided the larger matters. See T.J. Stiles masterful Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War.
“As this patient biography makes clear, violence came to Jesse James more or less with his mother’s milk.” — Larry McMurtry.
“Overall, this is the biography of a violent criminal whose image was promoted and actions extenuated by those who saw him as a useful weapon against black rights and Republican rule.” — Eric Foner
Napoleon Lajoie was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on September 5, 1874. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937 (second year).
Second baseman Napoleon Larry Lajoie combined grace in the field with power at the plate. Renowned for hitting the ball hard, Lajoie topped .300 in 16 of his 21 big league seasons, ten times batting over .350 for a lifetime average of .339. In 1901, making the jump from the Phillies to the Athletics of the new American League, Lajoie dominated the Junior Circuit. He captured the Triple Crown, led league second basemen in fielding average and batted .422 — an American League mark that has yet to be topped.
Paul Volcker is 85. Bob Newhart is 83. Carol Lawrence is 78. Jonathan Kozol is 76. John Stewart, one-third of the Kingston Trio, is 73. Raquel Welch is 72. Werner Herzog is 70. Michael Keaton is 61.
Baseball Hall of Fame member Bill Mazeroski is 76.
In 1954, 17-year-old Bill Mazeroski signed with Pittsburgh as a shortstop and was promptly moved to second base by the Pirates’ Branch Rickey. Mazeroski eventually became one of the best defensive second baseman in history with a lifetime .983 fielding percentage. The 10-time National League All-Star led the league in assists nine times, fielding percentage three times and double plays eight times. A consistent batter, with 2,016 career hits, Maz achieved hero status in Pittsburgh’s 1960 Fall Classic against the Yankees, when he became the first player ever to end the World Series with a home run.
The first Labor Day parade was held in New York 130 years ago today.
The Oglala Lakota Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse) was killed by his military guard at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, on this date in 1877.