'John Cage had been one of my heroes since the age of seventeen'

Recently I have found new books far more engrossing than new classical recordings. One of my most rewarding reads has been the first volume of Richard Thompson's autobiography Beeswing. Richard Thompson is best known as co-founder of the legendary folk-rock group Fairport Convention. A few years ago I wrote about his exploration of the Sufi path, and I have also recounted the untold story of the counterculture's Islamic connection in an exclusive interview with Ian Whiteman - aka Abdallateef Whiteman - who with Richard Thompson was a member of the fabled Bristol Gardens Sufi commune in 1970s London.

Beeswing is much more than a rock memoir. It name checks, among others, Delius, Bliss, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Wagner, Satie, Granger and Stockhausen, and includes this John Cage anecdote:  
 
"During that tour, our driver, Walter Gundy, needed to pick something up from his house in upstate New York, and I went with him. There were two units in his rental, and he mentioned John Cage lived in the other half, when he wasn't staying in the city. Cage had been one of my heroes since about the age of seventeen, when I read his book Silence and first heard his music while working with Hans Unger, so I was keen to meet him. Sadly he wasn't there, but his apartment was interesting - there was rush matting on the floor, a simple single mattress in a corner, plain white walls and a small book-shelf with musical scores and books on Zen. After that, I decided to go minimalist myself." 

I wonder how many classical commentators, yet alone classical musicians, will be name-checking Richard Thompson and other non-classical musicians in their future writings?

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Comments

Daddy Hardup said…
Have just read Thompson's book on your recommendation and found it very rewarding. As an account of the late 60s-early 70s counterculture it reminded me of Robert Irwin's 'Memoirs of a Dervish' that you discussed here a few years back I think. Thompson talks in much more depth about the music, of course, and less about the spiritual quest, but that's there as well, with a chapter on the Sufi way.

I remember as a teenager hearing a Fairport Convention gig on Radio 2, enjoying it, and being disappointed to hear that it was their farewell tour. But I was of a later generation, and to have admitted liking this music to my peers would have been instant social death. Not a hippie, are you? So it was only much later that I got to know Richard Thompson's work. I'm still not sure what to make of the counterculture. It seemed to include so much that was escapist, or destructive, or both, and Thompson describes something of those aspects, too. But he gives an account of an extraordinary period of spiritual ferment, of various musical cultures meeting and enriching each other - rock and roll, funk, jazz, folk, blues, western classical, Indian classical - and of the discovery of new (to 20th century westerners, that is) and more meditative ways of engaging with music.

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