Sunday blog: Erik Satie’s “Premier nocturne”

I’ve been a Satie fan since 1971, when I discovered a strange gatefold album of his music in a department store in Vancouver, Washington. The album’s performers (who called themselves the “Camarata Contemporary Chamber Group”) took Satie’s piano music and arranged it for Moog synthesizer, harpsichord, guitar, plaintive woodwinds, and a whispery string ensemble. It wasn’t the way Satie originally wrote it, but I didn’t know that. All I knew was that I’d never heard anything like it before.



I now own three complete sets of Satie’s complete works by different performers. His Nocturnes, which he wrote during the last few years of his life, are among my favorite pieces of music. Rollo Myers says of them: “The style is chastened, simplified, uncompromising in its rejection of any sensuous appeal, but the music is strangely impressive in its bleakness and almost inhuman detachment.”



It is also, when performed sympathetically, music of great tenderness.



Here, from the LP I bought in 1971, is the Camarata arrangement of the First Nocturne.





Age, I do defy thee




Partner and I were in a fragrance boutique the other day (some stereotypes are true, once in a while).  The manager gave us some free samples, in molecule-sized packets.  This was one of those places that slaps a French name on everything, so I got a little giggle out of the following label: CONCENTRE JEUNESSE / YOUTH CONCENTRATE.  Like Wednesday Addams, who thought that Girl Scout cookies were made from Girl Scouts, I wondered idly how many youths had given their lives for this little dab of concentrate.

I tried the stuff, by the way, and it was very nice.  But it did not make me young again.

Getting old is a tricky business.  I was a jerky awkward young man, and I wanted desperately to be older, so that people would respect me.  Now – well, ahem, I’m still waiting for the respect.  I have rapidly degenerated into a stick figure with a big bulbous head and wispy gray hair.  If I wore overalls with suspenders, I would look exactly like one of my paternal uncles.

Adding insult to injury, I work on a college campus.  The students never age; they leave when they hit 21 or so, and a new supply arrives every year.  This means that I find myself getting older and older, right in the middle of a group of people who never get older at all.  About a month ago, I was walking across campus and ran into a former coworker, a woman about my own age.  We were having a lively little chat about the old days, but then I noticed the students on the sidewalk looking at us funny, and suddenly I had a vision of the way the students saw us: a skinny old man with a high shrill voice, talking to a fat old woman with a deep scratchy voice.


I have also become acquainted with the aches and pains of age.  I am reminded constantly that I’m Not As Young As I Used To Be.  I was talking to a coworker about a vacant position in our department and found myself saying “This would be ideal for someone young and energetic,” and as soon as I said it, the words turned to ashes in my mouth.  That young energetic person ain’t me.

And not to be morbid, but I probably don’t have more than another fifty or sixty years in me before my batteries run out entirely.

A friend of mine theorized a long time ago that we stop aging emotionally at a certain age, and stay that way for life.  I think it’s absolutely true.  Partner, for example, is about eight years old inside: beginning to feel grown up, but still vulnerable.  I, on the other hand, stopped aging emotionally at five: easily distracted, easily amused, easily hurt.

Now, all you young nymphs and shepherds, think of how it feels for that five-year-old to look into the mirror and see Abe Vigoda looking back.

And do you know why it hurts?  Because life is so much fun.  There are still so many things I want to do.  The idea that I’m running out of carnival tickets is a bad nasty thing.

I started in French, so I’ll end in French.  This is Erik Satie:

Quand j’etais jeune, on me disait: Vous verrez quand vous aurez cinquante ans.  J’ai cinquante ans.  Je n’ai rien vu!”

“When I was young, people told me: Just wait until you’re fifty years old, and you’ll see.  Well, I’m fifty years old, and I haven’t seen a thing!”



Sunday blog: Erik Satie, by Jean Cocteau




The above (the original of which hangs in our living room) is an engraving of Erik Satie by the French author / artist / provocateur Jean Cocteau. Cocteau dashed it off from life around 1915, liked it, and reproduced it many times during his lifetime; it made him a lot of money.


Here is the provenance of my copy:



  • It was one of a number of engravings in a portfolio given by Cocteau to the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich in the 1950s.

  • Upon Shostakovich’s death, it went to his daughter Galina.

  • Upon Galina’s death, it went to her widower,

  • who sold it to a dealer,

  • who sold it to me.



Satie (who died in 1925) was a well-known crackpot. If he knew I had this engraving hanging on my wall, he’d probably be furious that Cocteau made so much money off his image. On the other hand, he might get a kick out of it.


Cocteau (who died in 1963) would be delighted that his work was still being admired, though he’d probably find my living room too bourgeois. Given that he was a capitalist to the teeth, he’d also want to know how much I paid for his work.


Shostakovich (who died in 1975) would probably just shrug. I imagine him saying: “Oh, was that mine? Yes, I think I remember. Oh, well. I’m glad it didn’t get thrown away, anyway.”


I’m glad too.




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