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16 February 2011

Smelling the Proverbial Roses

In the days just before Merce Cunningham died, we often just sat together, idly talking. One time, I was fidgeting with an unused wallet that was sitting on the small table between us, and, looking inside, I was surprised to find a single business card, very old and worn.

I looked up quizzically, and saw an uncharacteristically wistful expression on Merce's face. "Oh, that!" he said, taking it between his trembling fingers and smiling down at it. "I stayed there after our world tour. It was so beautiful, right on the water. I saved the card thinking that maybe I'd go back." He clumsily returned it to the wallet. "Did you?" I asked. He looked confused for a moment, then quietly replied, "Oh, no." Sadly shaking his head, he tossed the wallet onto the table. "There never seemed to be enough time."

This made me remember a conversation I once had with John Cage late in his life about regrets. Did he have any?

(Significantly, this conversation took place in the midst of a staggering amount of work being done on his Europeras 1 & 2 for the Frankfurt Oper, which almost did him in. No matter how much he delegated, Cage himself was functioning as composer, set designer, costumer, choreographer, lighting designer, director, librettist. The list goes on. And Cage in Wagner's shoes was not a natural fit.)

Just one, he allowed. It had to do with the Sarabhais in India (of Gita and Gira fame), who had once invited him to come with them on a trek into the wilds of their country, on elephants. He was sorry, he said, not to have made the time.

I shared this memory, along with the story of Merce's card, with Rob Shepperson, a lovely Hudson Valley artist, and asked if he might create an image of Cage's dream come true. He did, and I like to think it did, if on an unknown plane. As Richard Fleming says, referencing Camus (speaking of Sisyphus), one must imagine Cage happy.

Rob Shepperson ©2011

Laura Kuhn