Music and Mushrooms

By September 26, 2011Uncategorized

Most of us have a central practice (writing, teaching, counselling, building, etc.) but alongside this work is often a parallel practice from which we draw energy and inspiration.

These days, my parallel practice is yoga—for which I could easily replace the word “breathing” (with intention) or the word “emptying” (as in emptying my head sufficiently so I am actually able to take in more than echoes of my own thoughts.) Yoga is a beautiful flight from the awkward daily consciousness of writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I think writing is worth thinking about, from time to time. But not all the time. Usually, in my experience, it’s preferable to think about other things.

Which brings me to John Cage and his mushrooms. John Cage was not only a major figure of the musical avant-garde but also a passionate mycologist, who first got into collecting wild mushrooms while walking in the Stony Point woods near his house. His knowledge of the fungal world was so sophisticated that in the late 1950’s he even won 5 million lire on an Italian TV quiz show with mushrooms as his specialty subject. In the 1960’s he supplied a New York restaurant with edible fungi, taught a mushroom class at the New School and helped found the New York Mycological Society.

“It’s useless to pretend to know mushrooms. They escape your erudition,” wrote John Cage in For The Birds. Haphazard and anarchic, defying the classifying intellect: “I have come to the conclusion that much can be learned about music by devoting oneself to the mushroom.”

(Photo of John Cage and his mushrooms.)