We in American music owe a great debt to John McCain and Sarah Palin. Those two have so cheapened and tainted the word “maverick” that it will be at least a generation, maybe two, before anyone will be able to use the word non-ironically again. And that means, surely, that there will be no more talk about the “American maverick composers.”
As I’ve written here before, the musicological purpose of the word “maverick” is to legitimize certain handpicked composers despite the unconventionality (as compared with alleged European norms) of their composing methods, and to do so without de-marginalizing all the other composers who share those methods. What we need is for the methods themselves to be legitimized, so that a true pluralism of aesthetics can be accepted into discourse. The “maverick” image of Cage, Nancarrow, Lou Harrison, La Monte Young as lone dissenters – composers who, after all, had teachers, friends, students, protégés with whom they shared ideas and developed their creativity collectively – was always a palpable fiction. And no one who watched Palin vacuously self-identify as a maverick at the end of the vice-presidential debate will ever be able to use the word seriously again, thank god.