Where John Cage Lip-synchs with Lloyd Thaxton while Playing Guitar Hero

“Follow your bliss,” Joseph Campbell advised, while Humanities instructors encourage students to “write about your passion.” But what if we find ourselves blissless and passionless? Or if we are passionate about anything, the last thing we want to do is to write about it, for that will suck the passion right out of the marrow. Better to write about what we lack passion for, about that which we know nothing. Then, like Beckett, we might write about the condition of our very blisslessness, blisslessly laughing at characters hoping for something to happen that might arouse their passion.

Following one’s bliss might involve endless hours of playing Guitar Hero. Kiri Miller, an ethnomusicologist at Brown, writing in the Journal of the Society for American Music, challenges the common assumption that virtual instrumentalists have different values (want something different) than real instrumentalists. “Trouble,” the Music Man persuaded the good folks of River City, is a pool table; better to lip-synch with virtual instruments – the confidence man encourages learning music through the “think method.” Combining Miller’s Guitar Hero analysis with the Music Man’s “think method,” we might call reading a kind of virtual writing. When we read, we recreate the text, like a Guitar Hero player recreates the text of a song. Lloyd Thaxton was the king of lip-synchers, and on his show, The Lloyd Thaxton Show, real musicians lip-synched through canned performances of their own songs.

Miller briefly evaluates the electronic music of John Cage in her article (pp. 404-405). Cage might be a precursor, probably not, but we can easily imagine him taking an interest and no doubt incorporating a Guitar Hero guitar into a composition. Cage also sums up the debate of the usefulness or value of virtual versus actual experience. In his manifesto on music, written in 1952, he says that “nothing is accomplished by writing [hearing or playing] a piece of music: our ears are now in excellent condition.” Yes, and ready for real guitar, Guitar Hero, or to read something by Beckett. Or, as Garry Moore said of Cage’s “Water Music”: “I’m with you, boy.”