Friday, December 14, 2007

The Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens

     Cat Stevens is one of those artists whose music I associate with childhood.  There was a period when my older siblings would play his records all the time, and a lot of his songs still resonate with me today. I always wonder about the music I heard and played when I was a kid--whether I still like some of it today just because of the memories that are intertwined with it.  I'm sure I wouldn't feel the same about it if I hadn't heard it until the onset of so-called adulthood.  I think that especially holds true for the Cat.  His music always reminds me of some cousins of ours who had a house in the Adirondacks--I think they were the ones who "turned on" my two older sisters to him.  I remember them driving a huge green pre-SUV, a Chevy Suburban perhaps, with Grateful Dead bumper stickers on it--very mysterious and a little scary to a highly impressionable eight-year-old boy growing up in rural seclusion.  For a few years in the late '70s we would visit them in the summertime, and they would come and see us in Vermont during the winter holidays.  The older ones would smoke pot and drink Jack Daniel's with my sisters up in their room--I have a vague memory of one sister coming down to the living room and sitting in a blissed-out fog while my cousins' dad apologized to mine for his sons' less-than-benign influence.  I think I drank champagne for the first time with them at one of our New Year's parties.  I'm pretty sure there's a group photo somewhere, taken at the house in the Adirondacks, in which someone is holding up a Cat Stevens album.  One summer their cat had some kittens, and we took one home--and named it Cat Stevens, of course.  We already had one cat, a male named Toddy, and I don't think the kitten was fully weaned, because we soon noticed that Cat Stevens was sucking on Toddy--and it wasn't on one of his nipples.  (I guess you could call that kitty porn).  I can't remember what ended up happening to Cat Stevens the kitten, but Toddy lived to a ripe old age, without the benefit of any more feline blow-jobs (as far as I know).
     I got a little excited the other day because I finally listened to the song that Dolly Parton did with Yusuf Islam, as he's now known (it's a cover of "Where Do the Children Play").  My excitement was soon replaced by a feeling of disappointment.  Islam doesn't even sing on it--he only plays acoustic guitar, which hardly even counts.  I was hoping for some kind of east-Tennessee-meets-former-West-End-pop-singer-turned-Muslim musical summit.  It was not to be.  "Where Do the Children Play" is one of my favorite Cat tunes, and I'm posting the original instead of Dolly's version because although I'm a big fan I still have to say hers is pretty cringe-worthy.  I'm also including an early oddity called "Come On Baby (Shift That Log)".  Besides the great title, it's got this nicely incongruous stylistic identity crisis--one minute acoustic guitars and strings, the next a Stax-style soul groove.  
     Even though the fact that the artist Cat Stevens ended up transforming himself into the Muslim Yusuf Islam is sort of sad and problematic to me, I still grudgingly respect him for his earnestness and honesty.  It's true, you can't really listen to some of the songs anymore, but even "Peace Train" sounds pretty good in an era of seemingly endless war.

1 comment:

Marky Mae Brown said...

"An Other Cup" is not without its merits.

I loved him then and I love him now.