robin_d_laws (robin_d_laws) wrote,

Satie Goes To Jail

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We of the Internet generation like to believe that we invented flame wars, and that the rivers of snark unleashed online are uniquely characteristic of the medium. Tell that to the great poison penners of the past, who managed to wage rancorous feuds with nothing more technical at their disposal than the postal service and an occasional small literary journal. The arts scene between the wars in Paris goes down in history for its viciousness. Performances rocked with protests, near riots and scuffles. The surrealists in particular were noted for backing up their radical political agenda with fisticuffs and cane strikes.

If you don't know the modernist composer Erik Satie, you are nonetheless familiar with his mordantly haunting piano piece, Gymnopiede No. 1. It appears in movie soundtracks to evoke emotional notes ranging from bittersweet melancholy to encroaching madness.

In a classic flame war of the late teens, Satie wound up briefly imprisoned after sending a postcard to an old guard music critic. The critic had panned Satie's ballet Parade, which had baffled audiences with its contemporary scenario from Jean Cocteau and cubist set design by Picasso. The postcard read simply, “You are an arse.” The critic charged Satie with criminal libel, on the grounds that his concierge had seen the postcard. (Lesson: seal your imprecations in an envelope, so that the serving classes can't peruse them.) Satie was eventually exonerated, but not before spending several weeks in jail. Cocteau, for his part, was fined for gesticulating at opposing counsel with his cane during a heated court session.

Source: Cocteau, Francis Steegmuller.

Tags: history, music, social networks

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