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John Cage at Lascia o raddoppia?
(Milan, 1959)

John Cage a Lascia o raddoppia? (Radiocorriere-Tv n°7, febbraio 1959)

Caption: John Cage is mostly known for his love toward concrete music rather than toward mycology. Such a music makes a symphony out of bells or the sound of a train passing by. For the daily noises program, John Cage put up an orchestration consisting of a piano, two radios, a blender, a watering can, a whistle, a gong and a kettle (from Radiocorriere-Tv n°7, February 15-21 1959)

There have been lots of rumors over the years about the participation of John Cage as a mushroom expert at the Italian quiz show Lascia o raddoppia, hosted by Mike Bongiorno. John Cage was in Milan as a guest of composer Luciano Berio who was then working at the Studio di Fonologia (part of RAI, the Italian broadcasting company) where he was doing audio research. Sylvano Bussotti, Umberto Eco, Bruno Maderna, Roberto Leydi, Marino Zuccheri, Peggy Guggenheim and Berio's wife, Cathy Berberian, were all working side by side with Cage those days (end of 1958, beginning of 1959) and according to some unconfirmed rumors, due to the close relationship of some of them with RAI, they didn't just help Cage to be selected as a contestant in the quiz show, but some say they also smuggled out some of the questions he was going to be asked, to allow him to win the 5 million Lire jackpot! However, considering John Cage's stature, this sounds quite improbable.

Anyway, during his five appearances on the show, Cage entertained the audience with his weird compositions (namely Amores, Water walk e Sounds of Venice). The audience was in fact constantly reminded that he was a composer (from Stony Point, near New York), although Mike Bongiorno often joked with him about his unconventional musical pieces. No footage has survived of this peculiar event (it seems it has been lost or destroyed in spite of those claiming to have seen it some years ago during a late television broadcast). John Cage would have participated the following year at the American tv show I've got a secret and perform one of the pieces he had presented in Italy, Water walk. You can watch the video here (strangely enough, three years later John Cale was a guest on the same show, because he had joined an initiative promoted by Cage himself: the world premiere of Erik Satie's Vexations, as he had been one of the twelve pianist alternating at the piano for more than 18 hours; here is the video).

There should be an audio tape – from which the final dialogue between Cage and Bongiorno was transcribed and which includes both the mushroom Q&A and the closing snippet, when Bongiorno was hoping Cage would spend more time in Italy, while hoping his music would disappear instead, contrary to what Cage told him before saying goodbye – somewhere, but it has not surfaced yet. This transcription appeared for the first time in the October 1975 issue of Gong, an Italian musical magazine, and later reappeared on some other Italian publications about Cage.

John Cage a Lascia o raddoppia? (video?)

Caption: Mike Bongiorno and John Cage: a screenshot from the videoclip?

However, some pictures exist. Some of them come from the Radiocorriere-Tv magazine, that usually featured a weekly report of the quiz show. There is one in particular (see picture above) in which the astonished and perplexed host, Mike Bongiorno, is staring at Cage's unusual musical equipment. This one on the left instead, seems to be a screenshot of the elusive video which cannot be found anymore.

More images appeared on the daily newspaper La Stampa from Turin, where brief summaries of the quiz episodes were featured. Thanks to the online archive of the newspaper (www.archiviolastampa.it), I could eventually state when Cage had really participated to the quiz show, usually aired on Thursdays. Cage was a guest for the first time on January 29, 1959, then he returned on February 5, 12, 19 and 26. Here are listed the most significant (chronologically ordered) excerpts from La Stampa (translated in English) that reveal how Cage was welcomed in Italy.

Later, I began to gather the photographic and text material published on the Radiocorriere-tv issues regarding this period which you may find below by clicking here.

More recently, thanks to the new Archivio Storico (historical archive) of Corriere della Sera (that I kindly thank for allowing me to publish on this site the articles of its archive), I was able to add further material which describes the winning participation of John Cage to the Italian quiz show.

Last find is a beautiful picture of a concentrated John Cage in the booth during an episode of Lascia o raddoppia. The photo comes from the archive of the Studio di Fonologia Rai, now under the responsibility of Associazione culturale NoMus.

John Cage in the booth (Archive of Studio di Fonologia Rai)

Caption: John Cage in the booth during an episode of Lascia o Raddoppia, 1959 [copyright of the Archive of Studio di Fonologia Rai]

Newspaper articles about John Cage at Lascia o raddoppia?, 1959

Excerpts from La Stampa

from La Stampa, Friday, January 30 1959, n°26, pag. 4:

Second contestant: Mr John Cage, from New York, strange and futuristic music composer and performer. Mr Cage sat by a special piano tweaked [they should have said prepared] with nails, screws, elastic bands drawing unusual chords from it. The piece was entitled Amores and it sounded like a funeral march. He participated as an expert of poisonous and edible mushrooms. He had no hesitations, hence he easily succeeded until the end.
John Cage, an American very fond of mushrooms, left a very good impression. The lanky contestant revealed that he had begun getting into mushrooms while he was walking in the Stony Points woods near his house. He is now in Italy to perform experimental music concerts and play an extremely weird composition of his made of shrilling squeaks and dreary rumbles via an expressly modified piano.



from La Stampa, Thursday, February 5 1959, n°31, pag. 6:

Tonight's quiz show second number features Mr. John Cage, a crossbreed between a baseball player and a marine. Mr. Cage, who has recently come to Italy to perform some experimental music concerts, was a sort of institution inside New York university circles some time ago. Everywhere he went, students with a Jerry Lewis hairdo and their girlfriends in blue jeans dropped their books and gathered around a jukebox. That's where Cage showed his incredible capabilities: he goggled his eyes with a disappointed face, he widened his long arms and uttered weird guttural sounds from his mouth. The students happily danced to the rock'n'roll music around him.
John Cage's tall figure, his Gary Cooper legs, assumed an amazing appearance and put up a scene that could have only been possible in America. But John Cage did not show himself completely during the quiz show Lascia o raddoppia. He's the kind of character that once he explodes, it's hard to hold him back.
He once dragged a students' marching band through the streets of New York, risking a bizarre imitation of what jazz used to be at its beginning: only the police managed to stop Cage's tumultuous enthusiasts. He might unveil his capabilities tonight, when he performs his already announced experimental music concert. John Cage will face the 640.000 Lire query.



from La Stampa, Friday, February 6 1959, n°32, pag. 4:

John Cage, futuristic music composer and mycologist, has won the 640.000 Lire prize. Before entering the answering booth, he performed a concert entitled Daily noises. Instruments: piano (scarcely used), two radios, a blender, a watering can, a washtub, a whistle, a little firecracker and other strange tools. Result: a carnival din. The audience enjoyed the joke and applauded.



from La Stampa, Friday, February 6 1959, n°32, pag. 6:

John Cage e Mike Bongiorno (La Stampa, 6 febbraio 1959)

Caption: The American John Cage, futuristic music composer e mushroom expert, performs a concert entitled Daily Noises with instruments and strange gadgets (from La Stampa, Friday, February 6 1959, pag. 6)

Before facing the 640.000 Lire question – which he would brilliantly answer afterwards – John Cage performed an experimental music concert expressly composed for the Italian tv audience. The piece, if we could call it so, was entitled Water walk. The imaginative American used a kettle, a bathtub filled with water, a blender, a toy fish, a firecracker, a watering can, a seltzer bottle, a bunch of roses, a whistle and a couple of radios in order to perform it. The outcome of all this can be easily imagined. It seems that John Cage will repeat the piece in all the Italian cities he will go to perform his concerts. After which – he funnily admitted backstage – I could set up my truck farming business.



from La Stampa, Thursday, February 12 1959, n°37, pag. 6:

John Cage (La Stampa)

Caption: The American John Cage (from La Stampa, Thursday, February 12 1959, pag. 6)

Two contestants are running for the 1 million and 280.000 lire question: Vincenzo Maccarone for the operetta category and the American composer John Cage for mycology. The long-legged young American with an open smile will again perform a brilliant solo (he's quite an appreciated composer within his family circle, totally into modern music rhythms). Last Thursday he obtained a personal achievement: his strange concert amused the tv audience.



from La Stampa, Friday, February 13 1959, n°38, pag. 4:

Last winning contestant: the American John Cage, composer of futuristic music. An already overly exploited odd character...



from La Stampa, Friday, February 13 1959, n°38, pag. 6:

Then the great finale featuring the American John Cage, who knows everything about mushrooms, took place. After he announced that there had been 180 people at his last concert in Padova, he introduced an amusing recording of his last exhibition at the quiz show Lascia o raddoppia.
Basically he made fun of the host, Mike Bongiorno, by looping his I got it, I got it. Cage was asked to indicate the size (in micron) of an enigmatic mushroom and after thinking a few seconds he replied: From 12 to 15 micron.



from La Stampa, Thursday, February 19 1959, n°43, pag. 6:

John Cage e Peggy Guggenheim (La Stampa)

Caption: The American John Cage in Venice guest of Miss Peggy Guggenheim, renowned in the art world for his enormous collection of paintings and sculptures (from La Stampa, Thursday, February 19 1959, pag. 6)

2 million and 660.000 lire question: John Cage, an American mushroom expert who will surely perform another one of his so called experimental music concerts.



from La Stampa, Friday, February 20 1959, n°44, pag 4:

Another boring episode of the quiz show Lascia o raddoppia. The contestants: ... and John Cage, the American composer of futuristic music.



from La Stampa, Thursday, February 26, 1959, n°49, pag 4:

Two contestants arrived at the final 5 million and 120.000 Lire question: Vincenzo Maccarone, a clerk from Rome (operetta) and John Cage, composer from Stony Point (mycology).



from La Stampa, Thursday, February 26 1959, n°49, pag. 6:

Tonight's main event will be John Cage's (mushroom expert) final attempt. Once again the American, whose offbeat concerts are already known throughout the country, will perform another musical hit.



from La Stampa, Friday, February 27 1959, n°50, pag 4:

John Cage in cabina (La Stampa, 16 maggio 1984)

Caption: John Cage in the answering booth, zoom (from La Stampa, Wednesday, May 16 1984)

Yesterday's quiz show was boring despite the presence of a new brilliant contestant and John Cage's great finale...
... John Cage, the great American mushroom expert, seemed to be more determined. During the first question he had to complete the analytic key of the poliporacee a mushroom species) from which four names were deleted. He did it without hesitating as well as adding the name, the color, the shape, the width and the length of a particular mushroom whose picture was shown to him shortly after.
Nevertheless the very last question, worth 5 million lire, shook his nerves and cold blood. John Cage had to spell the twenty-four names of the white spored agarici. All in one! A very tough question even for a real mushroom expert. However, John Cage – a little sweaty this time – quickly pronounced all of them in alphabetical order. A triumph! While he was receiving the applause from the audience, he thanked the mushrooms and all the people of Italy.

John Cage in azione (La Stampa, 21 agosto 1980)

Caption: John Cage during one of his performances on the stage of the quiz show Lascia o Raddoppia? It could be Sounds of Venice (from La Stampa, Thursday, August 21 1980).

(back to the articles list)

Excerpts from Corriere della Sera and from Corriere d'Informazione

Corriere della Sera, pag 6, January 18, 1959:

RAI-TV revealed the names of the new participants in the next Lascia o raddoppia quiz show. They are Antonietta Raule from Rovigo, saleswoman (on Don Quixote), John Cage from New York, composer (on mushrooms)...


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, January 22, 1959:

... tonight we should see some of these contestants in front of the cameras: Ms. Antonietta Raule who will answer questions about the novel Don Quixote, the American composer John Cage who chose to be tested on mushrooms...


Corriere d’Informazione, pag 9, January 22-23, 1959:

The International University Club presented a concert of modern music at the Ambrosianeum, if such term can be used. The event featured together with John Cage, musicians like La Rosa, Hidalgo, Marchetti and others. Applause as well as protests from the audience in the hall.


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, January 29, 1959:

Three new partecipants in Lascia o raddoppia, three names already scheduled last week. The American composer John Cage, pupil of Schoenberg, and considered one of the most interesting figures of modern music, is participating as a mycologist, that is, a mushroom expert, he will return to music for a bit and perform a piece of music before answering the quiz questions.


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, January 30, 1959:

The performance of the second contestant, the American composer John Cage, wasn’t as funny and entertaining although it was not his fault, but in his poor Italian and his quick English, the Latin names of the various species of mushrooms (already quite difficult to the novice) were deformed so much, that it was difficult for the tv audience to follow the competition, which resulted in a jargonish dialog between Bongiorno and Cage.

Nevertheless, at least the prelude to the quiz was funny, or somehow curious. Mr. Cage is a composer of experimental music for which screws and bolts need to be inserted among the strings of a piano to alter its sounds. Mr. Cage performed a piece called Amores on such a transformed instrument which emanated a rather singular, though acid, timbre.

Bongiorno quickly said that such a performance reminded him of an out-of-tune piano; we are a bit more cautious about aesthetics and we will suspend the judgement, for now. Anyway, Mr Cage, a tall man with strong facial features marking his cheeks like scars (a moviestar kind of a face), did not lose his aplomb. It seems that among the unusal instruments he used there were buckets of water to be poured at precise timings. We will have a better idea about this to be seen (as Cage himself stated) music, next time.


Corriere d’Informazione, pag 9, January 30, 1059:

The debut of the other contestant, the composer John Cage from Stony Point (New York) an enthusiast of mushrooms in his spare time, was standard. Mr. Cage, pupil of Schoenberg, performed a piece of his music without really convincing Mike Bongiorno as well as the audience.


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, February 5, 1959:

American composer John Cage steps into the booth to answer questions about mycology for the 640000 Lire jackpot. We already noticed that – though we don’t want to sound disrespectful towards other mushrooms experts – these kinds of questions are quite bland for the audience which is not able to elaborate its own precise idea about the subject, an indispensable premise to satisfy any curiosity or debate. Moreover, the slides showing various species of mushrooms are not really spectacular. Once again the contestant, a lanky American, offered the best part of the show in spite of Bongiorno’s remarks against his experimental music based on screws and bolts. Mr. Cage has promised for tonight the performance of a piece where water buckets will be employed as well.


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, February 6, 1959:

The happy, or at least peculiar, face of the evening was provided by another of the 640000 Lire contestants, the American composer John Cage, mushroom expert. His major contribution weren’t the correct answers he gave to Bongiorno, indicating type and species of some coral fungi, rather a short concert of experimental music by means of unorthodox instruments. Among these, so to speak, instruments there were: some radios (meant to emanate hisses and screeches), a seltzer siphon, a bowl of water, a grinder, a mechanical fish, a watering can, a bunch of roses, a boiling pressure cooker with its hiss and finally one of those rubber ducks for children. With these and other musical means (hitting the piano with his elbows, for example), Mr. Cage performed a Water walk.

I am aware that in these cases it’s too easy to be ironic. Memory recalled inevitably the Futurist evenings with the intonarumori; time goes so fast in the arts that we always risk ending on the next artistic movement without realizing it and thus making a bad impression. Bongiorno was shocked, while the audience enjoyed, laughed and applauded the event.


Corriere d’Informazione, pag 9, 6-7 febbraio 1959:

... the other 640000 Lire contestants, John Cage (mushrooms), went on smoothly....


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, February 12, 1959:

There are two contestants for 1 million and 280000 Lire: the operetta enthusiast Vincenzo Maccarrone and the composer who knows everything about mushrooms, John Cage. The opera singer Graziella Sciutti will pose the questions to Mr. Maccarrone, while for the musical part of his performance, the expert of American mushrooms does not need any assistance. Last Thursday Bongiorno startled while staring at Mr Cage dipping a bunch of roses in a tub or drinking a glass of water, gestures that were suddenly elevated to the musical ranks (those were in fact some of the instruments used during the concert). We don’t know what this unorthodox composer has prepared this time for the audience of Lascia o raddoppia. Perhaps the funniest side of his performance lies in the ceaseless ambiguity left in those who experience it: is Mr. Cage serious, is he playing, or does he keep himself on the insidious border between truthfulness and self-irony?


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, February 13, 1959:

Two contestants were competing for the 1 million and 280000 Lire prize: the opera expert Vincenzo Maccarrone and the mushroom man, the American composer John Cage... Mr. Cage, before entering the booth and giving the precise measurement in micron of the spores of boletus edulis, had us listen to his latest work: a rather sarcastic, so to speak, collage of excerpts from his last week performance recorded on magnetic tape.


Corriere d’Informazione, pag 9, February 13-14, 1959:

Both the 1 million and 280000 Lire contestants made it through: Mr. Maccarrone (operetta) greeted by opera singer Graziella Sciutti, and Mr. John Cage (mushrooms) who showcased another noise concert, which, if not as thrilling as the previous ones, was at least humourous. Subject: Mike Bongiorno and John Cage. Execution: the parody of the two characters obtained through a few meters of magnetic tape on which were recorded, the repetitions, misundertandings and gaffes during their previous dialogs during the quiz show, accompanied by screeches and various cacophonies. As we said in the beginning, Mike Bongiorno was the first one who smiled at it.


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, February 15, 1959:

Two contestants reached the 2.5 million Lire question: the operetta fanatic Vincenzo Maccarrone and the American composer John Cage, who chose mycology.

... another foreigner joins the already long list of contestants who have participated in the show „Lascia o raddoppia“ from outside Italy. It’s Mr. Cage from Stony Point (United States), a composer expert in mushrooms.


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, February 19, 1959:

The top contestants (tonight they will face the 2.5 million Lire question) are the operetta expert Vincenzo Maccarrone who doesn’t seem to be willing to be caught off guard, and the American composer who answers on mushrooms, John Cage. Bongiorno and Mr. Cage took turns of making fun of each other. The first one making fun of a concert based on pressure cookers and hits on the piano with elbows presented by the contestant two weeks ago; the second, maliciously, concocting a magnetic tape filled with Bongiorno’s typical expression I understand.


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, February 20, 1959:

The 2.5 million Lire performance of the American composer John Cage, who knows everything about mushrooms and who rapidly recognized among seven pictures the polipolus frondosus to inform us that it is an edible mushroom which grows on wood, was much less risky. However, the audience is more interested in the music he promotes, specially in the instruments he uses to make it, rather than the subject he is interrogated on. Yesterday we noticed on stage: a) a giant spring connected to a microphone that, if delicately hit, sounded like a machine gun, b) a hunting horn, c) a sort of putipù (a Southern Italy folk instrument), d) a water pitcher with additional tub, e) a broom, f) a piano, g) a huge bell, h) two tape recorders, i) a mysteriously covered object which proved to be a cage filled with birds (and we have just listed the most visible items). With such musical material, Mr. Cage played his piece (can we still define it so?) inspired by Venice. It’s a kind of music that must be seen as well as heard: Mr. Cage during the performance lit and smoked a cigarette, a gesture which clearly had its artistic significance within the concert. Regardless of the way we want to judge these performances, it is Cage himself who puts off any debate. While staring at Cage’s angular face, always opened to a smile, Bongiorno asked him:Why are you always laughing?. It’s a funny situation Cage candidly replied (or was it pure innocence with a touch of poison?).


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, February 26, 1959:

(Tonight two contestants will fight for the 5 million Lire prize. The operetta expert Vincenzo Maccarrone and mushroom fan, John Cage)

Mr. Cage made his way through the disinterest of the audience for such a non–spectacular subject and the cheerful curiosity for the music he promotes. His ease at answering questions looks promising for the final success.


Corriere della Sera, pag 6, February 27, 1959:

(One of the finalist withdrew, while the other one won 5 million Lire. Mr. Maccarrone (operetta) preferred to leave, while Mr. Cage (mushrooms) brilliantly triumphed)

You kept your head on your shoulders a pleased Bongiorno said to the operetta fanatic, and coherently he said the opposite when, with a impertubable smile, the other finalist, Mr. Cage, declared that he wanted to double the prize amount. Bongiorno’s attempts (half in English, half in Italian) to dissuade him didn’t persuade Cage at all. In the end, however, the one with a head on his shoulders was indeed Mr. Cage. Even though mycology, beyond a certain level, is an impenetrable subject for the neophytes, it’s undeniable that the final performance of the American contestant featured elements of curiosity and thrill. Even those who would not be able to complete the analytic key of the Poliporporacee (first question) or have a vague idea about the dimensions and color of the spores of a mushroom shown on a slide (second question), and even those who ignore what white spored agarici are (third question), could understand that the questions posed to Mr. Cage yesterday were pretty insidious.

And that’s where Mr. Cage was admirable. He never paused or hesistated before giving the exact answers. His face was sweaty, but his answers to Bongiorno’s questions were cold, calm and prompt. When he was asked to list twenty-four genres of white spored agarici, he didn’t bat an eyelash and lowered his voice and impassibly declaredthat he would name them in alphabetical order. If mycology didn’t prove to be a very spectacular subject, Mr. Cage’s performance was certainly so: the audience cheered him as he walked out of the booth. The contestant again showed the smile he had abandoned after entering the glass cage (the only sign of the solemnity of the moment) and he bowed repeatedly. No time to improvise a concert though.


Corriere della Sera, pag 9, February 27, 1959:

Thus the American composer John Cage dominated the scene with a brilliant performance which led him to the final prize. The questions prepared by the experts about mycology, malicious as usual and as insidious as a mine field (the last one comprised twenty-four questions), touched him, but didn’t unsettle him. With a calm voice, shook just a little by tension, John Cage answered all the questions without a qualm.

(torna alla Rassegna stampa)

Excerpts from Radiocorriere-Tv

John Cage a Lascia o raddoppia? (Radiocorriere-Tv n°6, febbraio 1959)

Caption: John Cage in his second appearance at Lascia o raddoppia?, February 5 (from Radiocorriere-Tv n°6, February 8-14 1959)

from Radiocorriere-Tv n°6, February 8-14 1959, pag. 40:

Mr. John Cage from Stony Point, New York, is what can be defined as a real American. Years ago the New York police had to take action to dispel a horde of students merrily gone crazy, who were marching through the central avenue of the city repeating the clamor that once characterized the jazz pioneers. Leading those fans was an unstoppable shambling fellow, well-known already within the context of American youth due to his amusing madness. The fellow was, of course, our John. Who now, on the wave of electronic music, which he practices, has come to Italy. Here he is at the quiz show Lascia o raddoppia to show off an unusual hobby of his: mycology. Because of his expertise, he now only has to invent electronic mushrooms.


from Radiocorriere-Tv n°8, February 22-28 1959, pag. 19:

(excerpt entitled Mushrooms and spaceships)

It is said, according to the taste of exaggeration which distinguishes us, that Vittorio Gassman, so good as an actor, would be applauded even if he recited the train schedule. And here is Mr. Antonio Contigini, an elementary school teacher from Fermignano, near Pesaro, demonstrating to us that, even without being Gassman, it is possible to entertain both literate and famous people by means of speeches on railroads and wagons. The wondrous power of Lascia o raddoppia!

John Cage a Lascia o raddoppia? (Radiocorriere-Tv n°8, febbraio 1959)

Caption: John Cage in the booth ready to answer (from Radiocorriere-Tv n°8, February 22-28 1959)

And how long will we keep on calling science-fiction as such? Due to the steps made in the last years towards sidereal spaces, what does fiction after science stand for? Let's have a look at the expression of the university student Giuseppe Vespignani, contestant at the quiz show Lascia o raddoppia, an expert in science-fiction, to motivate our question. This is no topic to joke about! On the right: from the sweet melodies of Mr. Maccarrone (operetta), to the dreadful language of concrete music of which John Cage is a qualified exponent. The latter however, participates at the quiz show Lascia o raddoppia focusing on one of the most common, traditional and middle-class hobbies that have always fascinated man: mycology. In the humid autumn mornings, Mr. Cage rambles through the woods searching for mushrooms and, while listening to the voices of the forest, he draws inspiration for his extraordinary musical compositions. Here is an absolutely uncommon way to mix business (concrete music) with pleasure (a stew garnished with porcini).


from Radiocorriere-Tv n°9, March 1-7, 1959, pag. 40:

John Cage a Lascia o raddoppia? (Radiocorriere-Tv n°9, marzo 1959)

Caption: John Cage during one of his performances (from Radiocorriere-Tv n°9, March 1-7, 1959)

The end, also for Mr. John Cage. Accompanied to the last episode by the perfidious smell of poisonous mushrooms and the appetizing fragrance of edible ones, the nice American retired, visibly satisfied, in the silence of his studies (provided that for an expert of concrete music it is possible to speak of silence). Apropos this musical genre, the tinkling of gold coins is concrete music par excellence.

(back to the articles list)

Dialog between John Cage and Mike Bongiorno during the final episode of Lascia o raddoppia?
(Milan, Thursday, February 26 1959)

Trascrizione botta e risposta Cage-Bongiorno (Gong, ottobre 1975)

Caption: Transcription of the Q&A between Mike Bongiorno and John Cage on Gong magazine, October 1975

Here is the transcription of the mysterious audio tape featuring the final question on mushrooms, 5 million Lire worth, appeared on the October 1975 issue of Gong, an Italian musical magazine of the 70's.
According to Carlo Bertocci, the author of this article (whose ironic title is The prophet and puppet master, referring to John Cage and the quiz show host, Mike Bongiorno, respectively), the tape was handed to him a couple of years before by his friend Mario Leone.

The same text was later featured into a series of essays about Cage gathered in an italian book called John Cage. Dopo di me il silenzio (?) (pag. 51, Emme Edizioni, December 1978). It was also featured inside Sonora's John Cage issue (pag. 94, Materiali Sonori, 1993), an Italian/English collection of articles celebrating the composer after his death in 1992. This transcription has also been recently published in John Cage (pag. 198, Edizioni Mudima, 2009), a new collection of essays on Cage.



Showgirl: Mr. John Cage!
Mike Bongiorno: Good evening Mr. Cage, are you ok?
John Cage: I'm fine.
MB: So, I was explaining the audience that the player who has just gone has his head on his shoulders because he has withdrawn, since everybody always tries for the 5 millions. I'd like to know then if you have your head on your shoulders too, that is if you have decided to recede or if you want to go for the 5 millions.
JC: I'll double up.
MB: You double up.
JC: Yes.
MB: Ok, even after this little speech I spoke to convince you! (laughs)
[the audience applauds]


MB: Fine, you double up. Listen, if you lose now you won't get that much, you get the 1400 (a car) which is 1 million and 400.000 Lire worth.
JC: That's fine.
MB: Is it? Is 1 million and 400.000 Lire enough?
JC: That's a lot.
MB: A lot? That's only 2000 dollars.
JC: Very, very good.
MB: Very good, 2000 dollars. 2000 dollars are ok with you.
JC: Yes, there's a talent check in America, Guggenheim's talent check.
MB: There's a talent check in America, called Guggenheim... [Cage stutters some english words the host has to translate]
JC: 2000 dollars
MB:... that is 2000 dollars worth. The Guggenheim talent check.
JC: Very, very good.
MB: It's very hard to get such a check. You see? If you lose you'll get the same amount of money anyway, but what if you win? 5 millions are 8000 dollars.
JC: That's better.
MB: It's better, I know.
MB: Ok, but if you lose it's 2 thousand dollars whereas if you leave now you'll get 2 and a half thousand dollars.
JC: Yeah but it's different between 8 and 2.
MB: What do you mean?
JC: Two thousand...
MB: I see. You mean 8 is better than 2. So you want to try to win. We're getting lost with all these lotto numbers here. So Mr. Cage, do you feel like entering the booth trying to double up? You don't have to choose any envelope, have a seat and let's see what happens. Don't get upset if you lose though, I recommended you to withdraw.
[footsteps sound as Cage enters the booth]


MB: Ok Mr. Cage, once again we had the questions translated in english, therefore I'll give you the envelope containing the translation and you can read it there. You must be more excited than the previous evenings, I suppose. [opening envelope sound] I can see you're sweating, your face is all wet, please dry yourself Mr. Cage. We're going to show you slide #1, it's on the screen now. This is a screenshot of the analytic key of the po-li-po-ra-cee (mushroom species) taken from the Atkinson volume. Four names were deleted from it which correspond to the letters a, b, c and d. You must complete the analytic key inserting these names back again. This is really a 5 million question; one has to read it twice in order to understand it. Complete the key with the missing names. Ninety seconds from now. Did you get it?
[countdown starts]
JC: For a, fistulina.
MB: A, fistulina. Correct.
JC: For b, poliporu.
MB: B, poliporu. Correct.
JC: For c, poletus.
MB: C, poletus.
JC: For d, bollitinus.
MB: Bollitinus, well done Mr. Cage. Let's move on. Here's question #2. Would you please bring Mr. Cage the translation of the new question? Was it difficult?
JC: A little.
MB: A little, just a little. Ok. [once again Bongiorno had to translate Cage's reply]


MB: Slide #2. This time we're showing you a mushroom which has a black stalk. You have to tell us: the scientific name, its spores color plus the shape, the length and width (micron) of the spores. Stay focused Mr. Cage.
JC: The name of the mushroom is Bacillus, Bacillus Acrotometosis.
MB: Bacillus Acrotometosis is the scientific name, correct. What about the spores color?
JC: Yellow.
MB: The color of the spores is yellow, correct. Now tell us the shape of them.
JC: Oval.
MB: Oval, right. Their length?
JC: Four to six micron.
MB: From four to six micron, correct. And now their width.
JC: Three to four.
MB: From three to four. Very well Mr. Cage.
[the audience applauds]


MB: Question #3. This is the third and last question Mr. Cage. If you have sweat so far you will sweat more once you read the last question for the 5 million prize. Be careful Mr. Cage. You must tell us the 24 names of the agarici (a mushroom species) and the white spores contained in the Atkinson volume.
JC: I can enumerate the alphabetic list.
MB: What did you say?
JC: I can enumerate the alphabetic list.
MB: Mr. Cage says he can alphabetically list the 24 names.
JC: Ok, alphabetic.
[the countdown begins and Bongiorno counts as Cage enumerates the names]
MB: One, Amanita good, Amanitassis, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine... Very well, you made it!
[music jingle and applauses]


MB: Well done Mr. Cage. Very well Mr. Cage, good job! Mr. Cage proved us that he's a real mushroom expert because the questions we asked him tonight were very tough. He hasn't just been an odd character performing strange music on the stage, he's a prepared scholar indeed. I knew it because I remember him saying he had been living by the woods near New York and that everyday he used to go walking searching for mushrooms. That's where he improved his skills.
JC: I'd like to thank the mushrooms, RAI and all the people of Italy.
MB: All the people of Italy!
[applauses]


MB: Goodbye Mr. Cage. Have a nice trip; do you go back to United States or you stay here? [as Bongiorno literally puts it]
MB: Ah, you're coming back.
JC: My music is staying.
MB: Ah, so you're leaving and you're music is staying. But we'd wish you to stay here and your music to go away instead!
[laughs and applauses]
MB: Goodbye Mr. Cage. See ya soon and good luck to everyone with Lascia o Raddoppia!


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