|Erik Satie painted by Suzanne Valadon c.1892,
the epitome of the 1890s aesthete
The composer Erik Satie, a well-known figure in Parisian bohemia at the turn of the 20th century, was noted for his elegance. He had seven identical beautifully-tailored grey suits which he wore in rotation. He carried an umbrella to keep off the sun during his long daily walk from the sleepy suburb of Arceuil to his favourite bars and cafes in the centre of Paris. And his collars were always box-fresh.
So his friends were amazed when they finally came to clear his flat after he died of cirrhosis of the liver, to find that he lived in squalor. His tiny, grubby flat was filled with old newspapers, unsent letters. and more than a hundred white collars. Two grand pianos were stacked one on the other. The top one was filled with unsent bills. For the 27 years that he had lived there, no one was allowed to visit.
I listened to this description of Satie’s living quarters last week on the radio and thought to myself, that man must have Cancer in his chart. Cancer is the sign that builds itself a shell. And indeed, Satie’s chart perfectly describes this secret, eccentric space. His Moon, the planet of home and of what nurtures and sustains us, is in Cancer and conjuncting Uranus, the planet of weird. Both are in the 12th house of the bedroom.
His dapper outer appearance is there with Leo Rising, and his fame as a great pioneering musical genius is Neptune on the MC in Aries and conjuncting Mars. He did things with chords and staves that other composers had not dared to do before. His music has become so much part of the DNA of our culture that we hardly notice how extraordinary it is. (To listen to Trois Gymnopédies, click here.)
Satie’s piano music makes one so aware of the spaces between notes, which seem to bend and extend. His music manipulates and re-imagines time itself. This ability to warp time seems to be a function of Uranus, which is so powerfully placed in Satie’s chart, trining Father Time himself, Saturn, and precisely sextiling Mercury, the keeper of our minutes and our seconds.
Apparently, he only ever had one intimate relationship — with the painter Suzanne Valadon. It lasted 6 months but he stayed obsessed with her for the rest of his life. A cache of love letters written years after the affaire was found in his flat after he died. This may seem sad, but the you could look at it this way. He only needed the one affair, because his imagination was powerful enough to use it as nourishment for his fantasies for the rest of his life. Cancer is a sign that can live richly off memories, and sometimes just a few suffice.
Interesting to note though, that his North Node is in Libra – the sign of relationships. Jupiter on the descendant in Aquarius would suggest he had many friendships which were very important to him — and this does seem to have been the case.
Maybe the most well-known example of a person who created a special private space, and spent years living off his memories, is Satie’s contemporary, the novelist Marcel Proust. He is often rolled out as an example of extreme Cancer — and with good reason. He spent his later years in a cork-lined room, writing In Search of Lost Time, a vast novel recalling his own youth. He created a room that was like being inside his own mind.
And look, you can see it in his chart quite clearly. In some ways, it echoes Satie’s, but Proust stayed at home, the packed fourth house, and Satie kept his home secret.