by Weston Cutter
This has happened before, but every time it happens I still love it: someone I’ve never read writes and asks if I’d be willing to take a look at some recently published thing, and I almost always say yes, and then sometimes, if I’m very lucky, the thing I’m looking at ends up being one of the more interesting and lovely books of the year—in this case, Jeff Alessandrelli’s Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound, a book about which I’ve been struggling for a few days thinking how to talk about. The book is beautifully lyric and is—in ways I don’t think I’ll be much good trying to articulate—a quiet book. I read it off and on three times in a bit over a week and I don’t think I once played music while listening to it. The weirdness of this fact has to do of course with the fact that Erik Satie was a musician, and there are poems in this book which are on the page as musical scores. But stick with it: ultimately the book doesn’t urge one toward some (boring, or at least foregone) appreciation for the music of poetry or some such; what the book does, I think, and very very well, is it ends up proposing questions about limits and silence and music and self. That’s a fairly vague and broad way to talk about this book, but it holds, for me: the (according to Alessandrelli) little book packs quite a punch in terms of ideas. It’s just a fantastic thing—you should get and read this book as soon as possible. For real. Here are five questions with JA re his book:
In however you can address this, how did this book come together? It’s got a cohesive elegance that doesn’t at all feel forced–doesn’t feel like it was engineered or anything, yet clearly it’s been put together with care. However you want to address this, go for it. Also: extra points for how the f you found your way to watusies, which is maybe the perfect whimsy word for the whole endeavor.
Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound had a fairly long gestation. In brief, though, I started listening to Satie in the winter of 2006 when I lived in Portland, Oregon at a 2 story house that had no heat; when I woke up one morning I could see my breath. Every day before I went to work I put on a Satie mix cd that my friend Dylan had made me, one that had on it Satie’s “hits,” as it were—the “Gymnopédies” and “Gnossienne” pieces, as well as a four minute version of his 18 hour long “Vexations.” At the time I didn’t know anything about Satie’s life and simply liked the music because I didn’t have to listen to it; it was soothing background music, music that asked absolutely nothing out of me as its listener. For about 8 months I listened to that Satie mix cd nearly every morning. Then I lost it, forgot about it and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in August of 2008. No Satie at all for a year. But in Lincoln I began reading (sometimes rereading) a lot of serial/ longer poems–John Berryman’s The Dream Songs and Homage To Mistress Bradstreet, Wallace Stevens’ “The Auroras of Autumn,” Anne Carson’s Short Talks, a hefty amount of Jack Spicer’s work, Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette, Louis Zukosky’s All: The Collected Short Poems,1923-1958, Mathias Svalina’s serial-poem-chapbook Creation Myth–and also began listening to a lot of instrumental/ vaguely electronic music, particularly Boards of Canada, Tortoise, Brian Eno and John Cage’s “Ryoanji.” One day—it’s a bit murky, as these things often are—I thought of Satie again and on a whim bought a box Satie set (6 cds) online for something like $25. It came in the mail, I listened to it a lot and one day I Googled Erik Satie and found out how much of a weirdo he was; I had not known this before. Read the rest of this entry »