ERIK SATIE, MOVIES and the PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE of having to WAIT by Enid Richemont

Every Monday morning I go to a class at my local Health club. The class is called Chi-Balls, and is a very satisfying combination of T'ai Chi, Yoga and Pilates. It's performed against a background mix of someone's idea of other-worldly and meditative music, which certainly works for me. One of the pieces it uses is the very-well-known "Gymnopedie No 1" by Erik Satie. If that sounds a bit obscure, google it and listen - the chances are slim that you won't know it, as it's used - over-used - in so many TV dramas, especially the mystical, atmospheric, and deeply psychological kind.

We used to have an Erik Satie CD, but I seem to have lost it, so I thought I'd try looking for him in my local libraries and music shop with - astonishingly - no luck. I turned to the Web, where there is, of course, masses of information about him. I was grabbed by a performance of the ballet "PARADE" - a collaboration between Satie and Picasso. I knew nothing at all about his actual life apart from his music, so I looked for that, too, and was mesmerised. I think now we'd classify him as a gifted autistic, but I doubt if those terms existed in the late Nineteenth Century.  He had only one serious love affair with Impressionist woman painter Suzanne Valadon, who lived next door to him in Montmartre  (it lasted six months). As a student at the Paris Conservatoire, he was described as incompetent and useless, but he went on to become a close friend of both Debussy and Ravel, at the same time as performing in night clubs like Le Chat Noir. He lived on a personally chosen diet of only white foods, and became seriously involved with the Rosicrucians for whom he composed, and ended up inventing his own religion of which he was the sole member. Eventually he left Montmartre to spend the last thirty years of his life in a filthy, run-down suburban bedsit, but still managed to dress impeccably - he owned several identical grey suits. Musically, he was way beyond his time, influencing people like John Cage, As you can see, I've become somewhat obsessed. Made sensitively, his life could inspire an absolutely amazing movie or documentary, and I'm hoping somebody will.

Mentioning movies - well, mine drags on and on, although they've now appointed a line director and are planning to start shooting in August (will I live so long?) And now I've sent off a new book to my agent on the very day she was going on holiday - great timing. I am the world's worst waiter - I cannot bear to wait for an expected phone call, and if you're late coming to my house for coffee, you'll find me pacing the street assuming the worst, so why, given this mega-character flaw, have I fallen into a career with waiting as its main characteristic? Think publishers... I keep reminding myself of that wonderful story in which the Devil tries in vain to upset an old lady (he breaks her chair etc etc, and she simply smiles and says: "I was going to get rid of it anyway, so thank you very much.") In other words, I should bounce back, and use the waiting space as an opportunity. Oh, if only I could.

 As a child, I loathed Grimms Fairy Tales, preferring instead the wonderful fantasies of Hans Christian Andersen (which I still love) and the variously coloured fairy books which I devoured. Not for me the old women, the sad soldiers, and the ogres and demons which seemed too uncomfortable close to the human monsters beloved of the tabloids. However, about a year ago, I was given Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales, and now find myself regularly dipping into them. The latest tale to grab me is Godfather Death, with its image of a great underground cavern filled with candles, each candle representing a human life. Death has been chosen by the child's father because Death is the great equaliser. Dad rejects God, who also offers, and also the Devil, but Death seems fairer, targeting without preference both the rich and the poor. It's a fascinating book, with historical footnotes to each story, and the tales just the right length for a contemplative read on the loo.


Dennis Hamley said…
Lovely stuff, #hid. Satie is wonderful. Gymniopedie , the last tiime I tr8ed, was the only piece of piano music I can still play, if that's what you call it!
Anonymous said…
Yes, I like Satie's music but had no idea what an eccentric he was, as well as brilliant. Thank you for this fascinating picture. I agree, his life would make a wonderful, extraordinary film.

And I must have a go at Philip Pullman's Grimms' Fairy Tales. I'm intrigued you preferred Hans Anderson, whose stories struck me always as far more painful than Grimms' (a mermaid condemned to perpetual exile from all worlds, human and her own - such bleakness).
Bill Kirton said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Kirton said…
Loved it, Enid. Much as I love reading novels, I often get more pleasure and satisfaction from biographies. I knew nothing of Satie beyond the music and, as you say, he really sounds a suitable case for treatment.
Enid Richemont said…
You can play that beautiful piece, Dennis? Respect! Gymniopedie brings back, for me, the interior of a gymnasium outside Paris where my kids were learning Karate. Apart from the (obvious) name link, I can't think why - mind connections are strange.
Umberto Tosi said…
Thank you for bringing up one of my favorite composers, Satie. Good luck with your film.

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