Erik Satie | History’s Weirdest and Most Eccentric Musician

If you watched movies, TV or
just been around on earth, you’ve probably heard this song. That’s from French composer
and pianist Erik Satie. And by all accounts,
he was thought of as a crazed and
talentless musician in his formative years. But Satie’s work set the
tone for experimentation for the next century musicians,
such as Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, and jazz legend Bill Evans. Today, we’re going to take a
look at the life of Eric Satie and find out why many consider
him the most eccentric musician in the world. But before we get started,
be sure to subscribe to the Weird History Channel. Leave a comment. And let us know what
music stories you would like to hear about. When you think of
eccentric musicians, several names come to mind. Brian Wilson who wrote
Smile in a sandpit and forced his orchestra
to wear toy fire helmets while recording
the song he never released. Axl Rose who famously
spent 10 years recording Chinese Democracy and
frequently makes his audiences wait for hours before
taking the stage. Roky Erickson, he thought he
was inhabited by a martian. He was jailed for stealing
his neighbor’s mail. And he wrote letters
to dead celebrities. But Erik Satie makes those
guys seem positively normal. Satie was part of
the Kabbalistic Order of Rosicrucian, a cult
founded by Josephin Peladan for writers, painters,
and musicians. By all accounts, Satie was
a member in good standing. He was the church’s
official musician. And he saw the organization
as a good place to introduce other
artists to his music. He even composed a song for
the church, Sonneries de la Rose Croix. After a falling
out with Peladan, Satie bailed on Rosicrucian and
founded his own sect in 1893. He called it the
Metropolitan Church of Art of Jesus the Conductor. Of course, he was
the only member. Most of Satie’s activity
with his religion consisted of writing
pamphlets and articles, which acted as a way to
direct vitriolic attacks against various music critics. The most noteworthy
among Satie’s critics was Henry Gauthier-Villars,
better known as his nom de plume Willy. The two men were so at
odds with each other that they actually got into
a bare knuckle scrap in 1984. Naturally, these strange actions
convinced Satie’s closest friend that he had gone mad. Satie had some odd beliefs
about how an artist should live their life. This passage was taken from his
book Memoirs of an Amnesiac, “an artist must
organize his life. Here’s an exact timetable
of my daily activities. I rise at 7:18. I’m inspired from
10:23 to 11:47. I lunch at 12:11 and
leave the table at 12:14. A healthy ride on
horseback around my domain follows from 1:19 to 2:53 PM. Another bout of inspiration
from 3:12 to 4:07 PM. From 4:27 to 6:47,
various occupations, fencing, reflection, immobility,
visits, contemplation, dexterity, swimming, et cetera. Dinner is served at 7:16
and finished at 7:20 PM. From 8:09 to 9:50 PM,
symphonic readings out loud. I go to bed regularly
at 10:37 PM. Once a week, I wake up and
start at 3:19 Tuesdays.” Whether he was serious
or not is not the point. What’s clear is that these are
the musings of a true avant garde eccentric. To put it mildly, Satie
had unusual eating habits. He once made an omelet
made of 50 eggs. In another instance, he ate
150 oysters in one sitting. And if you don’t
think that’s odd, this is how he described
what his diet consisted of in an aforementioned
autobiography. “My only nourishment consists
of food that is white, eggs, sugar, grated bones,
the fat of dead animals, veal, salt, coconuts, chicken
cooked in white water, fruit mold, rice, turnips, camphorated
sausages, pastry, cheese, white varieties, cotton salad,
and certain kinds of fish without their skin. I boil my wine and
drink it cold mixed with the juice of fuchsia. I’m a healthy eater
but never speak while eating for
fear of strangling.” One of the many mysteries
of Satie was his clothing. After composing Messe
des Pauvres in 1895, he inherited a
nice sum of money. With this money, he bought seven
identical gray Velvet corduroy suits. One for each day of
the week and wore them with no variation for
10 straight years. During this phase
in his life, Satie called himself the
Velvet gentleman. When he died at age
59 on July 1st, 1925 from cirrhosis of the liver,
lost and forgotten scraps of paper were found in
pockets of these suits. These scraps of paper
included notes and drafts of some of Satie’s
better known works, including Genevieve de
Brabant, The Dreamy Fish, piano lessons he
was studying, lots of unpublished and
unfinished works, and handwritten charts for
his most infamous piece of music Vexations. Speaking of Vexations, he
never published or performed Vexations in public. But there’s probably a
good reason for that. The single handwritten
page of sheet music instructs the performer to
repeat the piece 840 times, which times out to
roughly 28 hours. It’s said that Satie composed
the song sometime between 1893 and 1894 shortly after a
brief but intense affair with his next door neighbor,
Suzanne Valadon, the nearest he ever got to a
relationship with a woman. The reasons behind Vexation
varies depending on what music historian you talk to. Some say the
28-hour long song is Satie’s ironic act of defiance. Others say the lengthy piece
was written and theoretically performed to help him get
over the breakup with Valadon. And some art historians
say it was a piece of conceptual Dadaist work. As for why Satie
he chose the piece to be played exactly
840 times, well that might have something to
do with his fascination with numerology. Vexations was written
around the time he formed his religion, which
was influenced by the occult and numerology. We’ll never know the exact
meaning behind Vexations. But one thing’s for sure. It takes quite a provocateur
with an artist’s temperament to write a song
that lasts 28 hours and still expects to
be taken seriously. If you have an
entire day to spare, you can listen to several
versions of the song on YouTube and Spotify. Satie invented a genre of
music in 1917, which he called Musique D’Ameublement. The literal translation
being furnishing music. This was music that was
designed to be heard, but not listened to. Today, we call it ambient music. But no one was writing music as
a backdrop in the early 1900s. It just wasn’t a thing. While a lot of
Satie’s music could be considered furnishing
music or furniture music due to its minimalism
and repetitive structure, he composed five
specific pieces, which were written for the
sole purpose of ambience. And each song had a purpose. One was written for
the arrival of guests. One was to be performed during
lunch or civil marriage. One was specifically
written for bistros. And the other was to be
played in drawing rooms. The fifth piece was
commissioned by an American who lived in Washington DC. It was to be atmospheric
music for the CEO’s office. Ultimately, Satie
grew frustrated with his furniture
music due to the fact that when it was
played, people tend to focus in on his compositions
rather than ignore them and go about their business. Parade was one of
Satie’s great works. It was a one-act
ballet released in 1917 and designed to incite scandal. It was a combined effort
between Satie, John Cocteau, and Pablo Picasso. Cocteau was the guy in
charge of the production. He wrote the scene. Satie composed the music. And Picasso created the
set and costume design. Cocteau wanted to
shake up the art world. He wanted controversy. And he wanted to
disrupt the status quo. Well, Cocteau got
what he wanted. French audiences and
critics loathed Parade. Picasso’s Cuba set design and
costumes made of cardboard were clunky and prohibited
the dancers from moving. Satie’s music didn’t
go over well either. The musicians that Cocteau hired
to play Satie’s composition used unorthodox
noise-making items like typewriters, a fog horn,
a pistol, and clinking glass bottles. Music critic Jean Poueigh gave
the ballet a scathing review, playing into Cocteau’s plan. was is counting on that
this scandal would give him some notoriety. After all bad press is still
good press, even in 1917. Following the negative review,
Satie wrote a personal postcard to Poueigh, which read, “sir and
dear friend, you are an arse, an arse without music.” Signed Erik Satie. Poueigh sued Satie. And at the trial, Cocteau
was arrested and beaten for repeatedly yelling
arse in the courtroom. Satie was also arrested. He received an 8-day prison
sentence for his postcard. Man, imagine the damage that
he would do on Twitter today. To put it mildly, Satie
used to give his songs some weird titles. Here are just a handful of
some of his songs and movements translated from French
to English of course, Two Preludes for a Dog,
Sketches and Annoyances of a Big Man in Wood,
Muscular Fantasy, Do Not Put Your Head Under Your
Arm, Rat Air, and Things Seem Right and Left Without Glasses. There are a couple of
theories on why Satie gave his songs such odd titles. One is that he’s a true
absurdist, who fully subscribed to the Dadaist movement. In other words, he sort
of like being a jerk just to get a rise out of
his audiences and critics. Another theory is that
some of his compositions were throwaway songs. And he just gave
them flipping titles. Because he wasn’t all that
thrilled with the music. Satie performed as a house
pianist for several bars in the red light
districts filled with prostitutes and drunks. While he seemed to
appreciate the fact that he was able to earn money
playing the piano, he also felt like he
was a little bit more refined than his
boozy audiences. The cheeky titles
he gave the songs he wrote during
these years reflected the state of his mood. To top off all of his bizarre
behavior and eccentricities, Satie lived like a squatter in
a filthy one-room apartment. He didn’t always live
like a hobo though. In his 20s, he used to live in
Montmartre, a charming artist village once inhabited by
Picasso and Salvador Dali. Then in his 30s, he
moved into a tiny room on a commune located in the
southern suburbs of Paris. He proceeded to live there
until his death in 1925. Yet in the 27
years he was there, he never allowed
anyone to visit. When friends entered
after his death, they witnessed
indescribable squalor. It was like an
episode of Hoarders. Some of the items found
in his cramped hovel were over 100 umbrellas,
84 identical handkerchiefs, stacks of newspaper clippings,
and two grand pianos stacked on top of each other. He composed music
on the bottom piano, while the top piano was
used to store unsent letters and unopened packages. And of course, they
discovered hundreds of compositions that were
either thought to have been lost or totally unknown. If Satie were alive
today, would he be up there with Bjork, Kanye
West, and the George Clintons of the world? What do you think? How does Erik Satie compare to
some of our modern musicians in terms of eccentricity
and unconventional nature? Let us know in the
comments below. And while you’re at it, check
out some of these other music stories from our Weird History.

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