I'm not exactly sure when or where or how I first heard the music of Cat Stevens. I only know that it was an important influence in my formative years. His questing lyrics, his melodies, his spirituality--all struck a chord with me. At least they did until I headed for college and grad school, where I was increasingly exposed to the stripped-down stuff offered up by New Wave and alternative groups. At some point, probably prior to a cross-country move, a de-acquisition occurred.
By then, Cat had converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusef, and had renounced music making to devote himself to education. Like many converts, he was extremely dogmatic--causing me much pain and grief by approving the fatwa issued against author Salman Rushdie when The Satanic Verses was published. That's when U.S. radio stations smashed his records and kicked him off their playlists.
After September 11th, he redeemed himself by firmly denouncing terrorism and terrorists, sounding like the peace-loving, charitable humanitarian I had once admired so passionately, whose tunes I'd played so endlessly. And I was peeved when the U.S. authorities mysteriously (and perhaps mistakenly) refused him entry to the U.S., yanking him off a transAtlantic flight and summarily sending him back to Britain. He started recording music again, to raise money for charity, including the single "Indian Ocean" following last December's tsunami.
In a fit of nostalgia last year, I began re-acquiring his music. I bought two--count 'em, two different Best of Cat Stevens discs, because neither one had everything I needed on it. In the back of my mind, I'd formed a plan to buy back some of the albums, because even the "Best Of's" lacked some crucial (for me) material.
Over the past couple of months, Cat/Yusef has been in the news a lot. In September, he was among the 16 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, he won the Songwriter of the Year Award from ASCAP U.K. for "The First Cut is the Deepest." Rod Stewart famously covered it years ago, and Sheryl Crow did so more recently.
Last week, I read in a British newspaper that he has headed back into the studio to record. I've no doubt that there will be a hefty spiritual component to his new work--as there was in the old--but it does sound as though he's comfortable producing material that will appeal to a mainstream audience.
A few days ago, Dolly Parton, who has been collaborating with him on an album, spoke publicly of her support and admiration.
With Cat news popping up everywhere I turned, I suddenly got even more serious about my re-acquisitions. I started with my top two albums.
Buddha and the Chocolate Box is one that I practically wore out, years ago. It became my "driving around" music of choice for much of the week. Amazingly--or maybe not--I still remember practically every word of every song.
Catch Bull at Four is my very favourite. As far as I'm concern, it passes the test of time with flying colours--the music, the voice, the imagery. The songs sound the same to me, and yet because I've matured and changed, I hear them differently.
This is turning out to be a wonderful reunion. I'm discovering that the relationship was solid enough to survive a rough patch. I'm already looking forward to the new music. And I keep my fingers tightly crossed about the Hall of Fame induction. Here's hoping!