John Caged - Stephen Conroy "The Enthusiats"

“The elements of the city are the pieces of my orchestra. See, here I put a bird into my score and that squiggly line is the closing of a door,” he says during in his lecture on how music is everywhere; all I have to do is listen. His hair looks like it was cut with a saw and I decide it’s representative of the quality of his brain. Any fool can tell you that noise is noise. It isn’t music.

No more than a shopping list is a poem or a surgical procedure is a piece of performance art. No more than you can take an empty frame, throw it at a random place on the planet and expect to find art within its limits. A clutch of depressed men standing inside an airplane, or at the track, or waiting for the other shoe to drop is only that and not competition for Michelangelo. Those men should go outside and get some sun because their weak chins and frustrating passivity repulse me. I certainly don’t want them hanging on my wall just because someone captured their round, dead-fish eyes with cloying newspaper print pastels.

Then one morning when I am sitting in what is supposed to be a silent worship I become frustrated by the lack of quiet. The rattle, drone and whimper cover me with the need to be a child again living in a house without electricity, with only kerosene lanterns, and coal-fired stoves. The rooster in the morning. The coyotes at night. The wind, always the steady, steady wind.

Suddenly I hear it! The music of the jet planes overhead and the lawnmower counterpoint, the cars on the frontage road, the hum of the fan, the intermittent breathing of the boy with muscular dystrophy, the new baby’s suckle, the old man’s snores, the cicadas in the sycamores. Even the silence has taken on a rhythm of the slowly fading echo of the great big bang. They all play together in such a shocking way that I am rapt in the beauty and the sadness and the love and the . . . the symphony of it all.

Now I can remember him, the old man with his unruly hair who had once taught me something that I only learned today. I break out and laugh at my stupidity and my luck. Now the newspaper prints poetry in the most unlikely places and some men raking leaves are also practicing a strange new dance. When a fire alarm goes off in the building ahead and a crowd of disconcerted men spills out onto the sidewalk and into my path they are no longer obstacles but are the cast of a theater performance being done for me. And the only real change from yesterday to today is that now I recognize art while I live it.


The Enthusiasts” painted by  Stephen Conroy  in 1987
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK