Chopin House

It happens all the time: cultural icons wind up meeting through odd circumstances, icons with vastly different backgrounds. They, each on their own, mostly stick within the idiom of their own terrains, whether it be the world of writing, music, film, sports, Fine Arts, and the like. However, it is usually due to their elevated status within the Zeitgeist of the time that these curious meetings take place.

Some confirmed chance encounters that could definitely be labelled bizarre include: Absurdest playwright Samuel Beckett and gargantuan wrestler Andre the Giant; the Godfather of Soul Music James Brown and maverick film director Alfred Hitchcock; the masterful poet of the macabre Edgar Allen Poe and beloved populist writer Charles Dickens; Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot and master funnyman Groucho Marx; Italian film maestro Federico Fellini and Marvel Comics honcho Stan Lee, and quite a few others that would certainly give you pause (or, if nothing else, a great belly laugh).

One thing that we know for certain–the single common denominator that cannot be disputed– is that, when these iconic namesakes met, everyone involved was (at least at the time of the encounter) among the living.

In the following encounter–a chance meeting among three legendary musicians–one of the involved had been dead for almost 130 years!

This event took place in the year 1977, inside the secluded weathered walls of the Chateau D’Herouville, a sprawling manor buried deep the French countryside.  During that period, various musicians had rented the manor, as it had all the ideal accouterments for recording. It had once been the homestead of renowned classical composer Frederic Chopin, who lived there with his lover, the proto-feminist writer, playwright and essayist George’ Sand, and was the birthplace of several famous Chopin recordings.

Among the rock-n-roll community, there was a lot of whispering about the Chateau being haunted, to the point that the majority of rock bands started to politely demure whenever the Chateau was brought up as a possible recording locale. Various stories from well-known bands who had recorded there–The Grateful Dead, Bad Company, Pink Floyd, and Elton John–were just disturbing enough to give other bands sufficient reasons to alter their recording locales.

Oblivious to all this, musicians David Bowie and Brian Eno trotted from their gloomy digs in Berlin to the Chateau to continue their work on Bowie’s milestone album ¨Low¨, bringing with them producer Tony Visconti and the album’s main cluster of musicians: Carlos Alomar, Dennis Daves, George Murray, Ricky Gardiner, and Roy Young (guitar virtuoso Robert Fripp also made several visits to the manor and added bits of uncredited flavoring).

Bowie at Chopin           eno at Chopin House

In the initial sleeping arrangements, David Bowie was assigned the master bedroom, the Chateau’s main bedchamber, where Chopin had slept since moving in. In fact, it was in this room, in the very same bed, that Chopin succumbed to Tuberculous. However, after just one night Bowie refused to sleep there. He insisted that during the night he was kept awake by someone constantly shaking him awake, and at one point he saw the luminous spectres of Chopin and his lover, standing over his bed, watching him silently.

It should be noted that it was during this period that Bowie was recovering over a serious bout of cocaine psychosis and was drinking heavily, which could easily explain the ¨apparitions¨ he saw. However, Bowie was adamant; he would not even step foot in the room again, and had some underlings remove his stuff.

To Brian Eno, however, the idea of sharing a room with Chopin and Sand sounded great. Without any hesitation he quickly moved his stuff into the master bedroom.

For the next week one of the highlights of each dinnertime soiree, when the entire crew–musicians and techies alike–feasted at a tremendous oak wood-sheen antique table in a large, echo-y dining hall was Eno’s retelling of his otherworldly encounters with his two post-mortem roommates.

For the most part, their antics didn’t really bother him; however, he too was prone to being “shook awake” by the ghost of Chopin in the dead of night, who stood over him, staring inquisitively, never saying anything. Finally, after the third night Eno sternly sat up, looked the apparition straight in the eye, and told it: “Listen here, you bugger, if you have something to ask me, speak up! Otherwise, go bother someone down the hall and let me get back to sleep.” He said that Chopin’s expression changed; his posture drooped and he seemed to look sad. Then, without a sound, the apparition vanished into the darkness.

Eno then said that he couldn’t fall back asleep that night because he felt so bad about yelling at one of the great classical composers of history. He hoped that Chopin would return so he could apologize.

On other occasions he said that he would come into the room and see off in the corner the apparitions of both Chopin and George Sand rummaging through a corner desk, as though they were searching for papers. Not wishing to disturb their concentration, Eno would quietly lie down on the bed until, after several minutes, they would disappear.

One time, after they seemed to have found what they were searching for, the couple turned towards Eno, smiled at him and bowed graciously. Eno returned the smile and said to them: “It’s the least I could do.” They both smiled broadly back to him, then disappeared, never to return for the remainder of the time spent at the manor.

Just another bizarre meeting between creative souls. In this case even the boundary between life and death was not a deterrent.

Chopin and Sand