We are now officially in the dog days of summer, and once again I find myself without my beach body. Oops. A quick internet search tells me though there is still hope for this summer. With the right miracle diet (and the right price), I too could be an Adonis on the sands before August is out. The options are plenty: Atkins, South Beach, Mediterranean, Paleo, The Zone, Cabbage Soup, Grapefruit, Werewolf. The list goes on. But I like to march to the beat of my own drum, so I’m putting forward an alternative a bit off the beaten path. I’m going to call it The Velvet Gentleman Diet. Intrigued?
The Velvet Gentleman was the name applied to one of classical music’s capital-E Eccentrics, Erik Satie. He earned the moniker by always being impeccably dressed in one of twelve identical grey velvet suits. His diet, in his own words: “My only nourishment consists of food that is white: eggs, sugar, shredded bones, the fat of dead animals, veal, salt, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water, moldy fruit, rice, turnips, sausages in camphor, pastry, cheese (white varieties), cotton salad, and certain kinds of fish (without their skin).”
You now have a glimpse of what the life of the Velvet Gentleman may have been like. You won’t be surprised to learn that there’s more. Much more. Satie was the founder (and sole member) of his own religion, the Église Métropolitain d’Art de Jésus Conducteur (The Metropolitan Church of the Art of Jesus the Conductor). He carried a hammer in his coat pocket wherever he went, in the event of a surprise assailant. After his death in 1925, it was discovered that his apartment (to which no visitor had been admitted for 27 years) housed two grand pianos—one on top of the other. The upper piano was used as storage for parcels and letters. He had a collection of over one hundred umbrellas.
Erik Satie was a strange one, that much is established. He was also an astonishingly original musical voice. At a time when music was growing to epic works of gargantuan proportions (think Wagner opera, average length 5 hours), Satie went the route of the miniature. Even if you don’t think you know his music, google his Gymnopedie No. 1. I guarantee you’ll recognize it right away. He made money as a cabaret pianist during La Belle Époque, the heady days in Paris before the First World War. Despite some strange sounding titles of his works, like my favourite, the Flabby Preludes (For a Dog), Satie was no musical lightweight. He kept company with the greatest artistic minds in Europe at the time. His one-act ballet Parade was a collaboration with Jean Cocteau, Sergei Diaghilev and Pablo Picasso, no less. And just to prove that Satie was nothing if not well-rounded, he was also a contributing author to Vanity Fair. That’s not bad as far as musical street cred goes.
Before I go too far in endorsing Satie’s diet, a qualifier: I’m not entirely convinced it ever got him beach-ready. After all, it’s hard to know what anyone might look like under a grey velvet suit. But if anyone has a good cotton salad recipe, pass it along.