Friday, March 04, 2022

No, Erik Satie did not only eat white foods(!!!)

When you research the life of Erik Satie you will inevitably find many people claiming, in all sincerity, that Erik Satie only ate white foods. 

With radio documentaries and a BBC Prom on the composer to his name, comedian and actor Alistair McGowan is fast becoming the go-to man for all things Satie. He's accepted seeing reflections between the musician's eccentricities – this was the composer who notoriously ate only white food, had identical suits for every day of the week, and wrote 'pieces in the form of a pear' – and his own status as a bit of an outsider in the world of showbiz.

I regret to admit I took the claim at face value myself, before I started to do my own research.

The white food claim is based on an essay that Satie wrote for the February 1913 issue of La Revue Musicale S. I. M.  And since a digitized version of the issue is available online, here is exactly what the article looked like on the printed page.

Satie wrote a series of articles for this publication, grouped under the title "Memoires d'un amnesiac."

Even without translation it's pretty clear that means "memoires of an amnesiac" which of course is a deliberately absurdist title. This particular installment is entitled "The day of a musician."

And the translation is:

The artist must regulate his life.

Here is the precise schedule of my daily acts:

My get up: at 7:18 am; inspired: from 10:23 a.m. to 11:47 a.m. I have lunch at 12:11 p.m. and leave the table at 12:14 p.m.

Salutary horseback riding, in the back of my park: from 1:19 p.m. to 2:53 p.m. Other inspiration: from 3:12 p.m. to 4:07 p.m.

Various occupations (fencing, reflections, immobility, visits, contemplation, dexterity, swimming, etc.): from 4:21 p.m. to 6:47 p.m.

Dinner is served at 7:16 p.m. and finished at 7:20 p.m. Come symphonic readings, aloud: from 8:09 p.m. to 9:59 p.m.

My bedtime is regularly at 10:37 p.m. Weekly, waking up with a start at 3:19 a.m. (Tuesday).

I only eat white foods: eggs, sugar, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water; fruit molds, rice, turnips; camphorated blood sausage, pasta, (white) cheese, cotton salad and certain fish (skinless).

I boil my wine, which I drink cold with fuchsia juice. I have a good appetite; but I never talk while eating, for fear of choking.

I breathe carefully (little at a time). I dance very rarely. As I walk, I hold my ribs and stare behind me.

Looking very serious, if I laugh, it's without doing it on purpose. I apologize always and with affability.

I sleep with one eye open; my sleep is very hard. My bed is round, pierced with a hole for the passage of the head. Every hour, a servant takes my temperature and gives me another one.

For a long time, I have subscribed to a fashion journal. I wear a white cap, white stockings and a white vest.

My doctor always told me to smoke. He adds to his advice: — Smoke, my friend: otherwise, someone else will smoke in your place.

This is clearly meant to be extremely silly and nobody could possibly take this seriously. Also, Satie claims he has a horse, and a park, and a servant. The same people who credulously repeat Satie's alleged eating habits never mention those things. Because if you know even the basics of Satie's life, you know he was poor his entire adult life except on rare brief occasions. 

We know what Satie really ate - whatever he could get, preferably at a dinner party given by one of his wealthy friends. 

And yet in spite of all the information available for free online, people keep claiming Satie ate only white foods:
  • He ate only white food, lived alone, and owned seven identical grey velvet suits which he wore every day of his life.
This one is from the allegedly journalistically respectable Guardian(!):
  • The stories of his peculiarity are legion. The one-man religious sect he established in Montmartre in the 1890s. The crazy titles of his piano pieces. The purchase of seven identical, grey velvet corduroy suits which he proceeded to wear, with no variation, for 10 years. His claim that he only ever ate food that was white.
I guess they figure, "well if he gave crazy titles to some of his piano pieces, he's capable of anything, so why bother doing any research?"

I've even seen one biographer invent a conversation in which Satie confides his alleged eating habits to Valadon. Biography and journalism are professions full of the lazy, the careless and shameless bullshit artists.