Today is the day that twitter got excited about 4’33” and the campaign for John Cage to be Christmas number one. I didn’t. I think it’s patronising.
Last year’s success of Rage Against The Machine pipping whoever won X Factor to number one in the corporate sales chart was a fun, if childish, thing. It was a petulant two-fingers to a culture-sapping initiative of recycle and resell, and a man who is just a tiny bit better at exploiting consumers than most people. It irked some people who believe in the charts and the divine right of destiny an X Factor winner has, but they could still enjoy the song.
It was funny the first time.
4’33” is a wonderful composition and very important. It is a human composition, for people. It’s as much a request for self-contemplation as it is for simply taking the time to listen to your own environment — the sound of stifled coughs, creaking chairs, breathing, your blood circulating. It is not a fucking joke. It is not for a collection of smug no-names to huddle around in a recording studio and pat themselves on the back for “getting it”*.
The vast majority of people could still enjoy 4’33” if it were not being promoted in the most skin-crawlingly awful manner. It has reinforced the most binary of divisions, between them and us (“them” who are thick, and “us” intellectuals). It is making something that should be for everybody, unapproachable, pretentious and elitist.
It is one thing for a mega-rich corporation to pass another dead-eyed single, satisfying a crowd who have invested time, money and emotional space into a TV character’s development. What Cage Against The Machine is doing is pretty bad**. It’s a snobbish campaign that wilfully derides the legitimate enjoyment of a massive amount of people for a smug tongue-in-cheek, self congratulatory smirk by some absolute divvies. It’s also disrespectful to John Cage’s legacy and intentions.
Whether you like it or not, the charts still mean something to a lot of people and I think it’s pretty mean-spirited to spit on them.
* It’s not even supposed to be recorded. The individual performance, performer and context is what matters.
** Yes, they’re donating the proceeds to many good charitable causes, but that doesn’t legitimise the approach.