The VW Years, Ch. 3: John Cage

The VW bus makes many appearances in John Cage's own writings, especially his tour diaries in Empty Words: Writings '73-78:

After winning the mushroom quiz in Italy, I bought a Volkswagen microbus for the company. Joe's was open but said it wasn't. At Sofu Teshigahara's house, room where we ate had two parts: one Japanese; the other Western. Also, two different dinners; we ate them both.

We descended like a plague of locusts on the Brownsville Eat-All-You-Want restaurant ($1.50). Just for dessert Steve Paxton had five pieces of pie. Merce asked the cashier: How do you manage to keep this place going? "Most people," she replied rather sadly, "don't eat as much as you people." [p. 80]


Tarpaulin centered on the bus's luggage rack, luggage fitted on it. Ends'n'sides were folded over; long ropes used to wrap the cargo up. [p. 82]


We were waiting to be ferried across the Mississippi. We had nothing to eat. We waited two hours. It was cold and muddy. When we decided to leave, Rick and Remy had to push the bus up the hill. Later we learned that the ferry service had been discontinued two years before. [p. 90]


Pontpoint: the company ate by candlelight. Everywhere we've gone, we've gone en masse. A borrowed private care took two, two such cars took six to eight, the Volkswagen bus took nine. Now airplanes and chartered buses take any number of us. Soon (gas rationing) we'll travel like Thoreau by staying where we are, each in his own. [p. 95]

In Richard Kostelanetz's John Cage: an anthology, the dance critic Stephen Smoliar recounted one story Cage told the audience at opening night of the company's 1970 season at BAM:
The Cunningham Company used to make transcontinental tours in a Volkswagen Microbus. Once, when we drove up to a gas station in Ohio and the dancers, as usual, all piled out to go to the toilets and exercise around the pumps, the station attendant asked me whether we were a group of comedians. I said, "No. We're from New York."
This pushes back the end of The VW Years to the 60s at some point.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: December 21, 2011.

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