Laurie Anderson and John Cage’s Wonderful Conversation Long Ago (Two Heroes!)

At Artists’ Books, Multiples and Editions we found this wonderful photo with the notation Two Heroes: John Cage & Laurie Anderson. Ours too! A digital walkabout took us to the source: a 1992 edition of Tricycle, the great Buddhist magazine. In Taking Chances, Anderson interviews Cage, then 80 years old. Here are some catalytic bits:

A: You seem like such a hopeful person, do you think human beings are somehow getting better?

C: What can we say but yes. There’s no other answer.

A: To go on? To be able to go on?

C: Not to be able to go on, but to go on. As D.T. Suzuki said once, There seems to be a tendency toward the good.” Isn’t that beautiful? There seems to be a tendency toward the good. He never explained what he meant. And we never asked him.


A: How has the response to your work changed over the years?

C: Well, I don’t have to persuade people to be interested. So many people are interested now that it keeps me from continuing really. I asked a former assistant a few days ago how I should behave about my mail that is so extensive and takes so much time to answer? If I don’t answer it honorably, I mean to say, paying attention to it, then I’m not being very Buddhist. It seems to me I have to give as much honor to one letter as to another. Or at least I should pay attention to all the things that happen.

A: What did you decide to do about it? 

C: To consider that one function in life is to answer the mail.

A: But it could take the whole day. 

C: But you see, in the meanwhile, I’ve found a way of writing music which is very fast. So that if we take all things as though they were Buddha, they’re not to be sneezed at but they’re to be enjoyed and honored. 

A: But this is a huge challenge. 

C: It’s a great challenge. The telephone, for instance, is not just a telephone. It’s as if it were Creation calling or Buddha calling. You don’t know who’s on the other end of the line. 


A: For me, being in a political group, particularly a women’s group, is sort of like answering mail. I feel that I should do this—I should be there.

C: It gives you a sense of responsibility.

A: Yeah.

C: But your real responsibility is the one that you discover. However you work. Your best work is what you yourself discover.


…Your real responsibility is the one that you discover. However you work. Your best work is what you yourself discover.


Marion Ettlinger


Read the entire conversation here.

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