"Now I've been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating, why can't we live in bliss
Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again."
Remember Cat Stevens, or should I say the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens? Some of you might be too young to remember him. His career, albeit wonderfully prolific, was short-lived. Unfortunately. A mere 12 years. But his music lived on, thankfully, in spite of a request to record companies to stop distributing it. I adored Cat Stevens. Bought most of his albums, when those things still existed. I have them socked away somewhere, probably gathering mold and dust. But he has always been one of my favorite vocal artists. His mellow, folksy often spirited sound touched a chord with most people, in those days, who connected with the spiritual, everyman aspect of his lyrics.
I think I loved the film "Harold and Maude" (one of my faves), first and foremost, because of its appealing soundtrack, which prominently featured Steven's wonderful music. He truly was a musical genius, writing most of his songs in his late teens and early 20s. But a year-long bout with tuberculosis in 1968 and then a near-death drowning experience in 1975 led him on a spiritual quest that ended with his eventual conversion to Islam in 1977, his final performance in 1979 and a 28 year absence from the secular musical spotlight. Cat Stevens, figuratively speaking, 'died' in 1978 and re-emerged as Yusuf Islam. He spent the next several decades dedicating himself to educational and humanitarian endeavours relative to Islam.
I had no idea he had ventured back into the musical field until I saw a recent video of "PEACE TRAIN", and a BBC interview where he discusses his life and his come-back, both on You Tube. It took him all these years to finally come to terms with the idea that his music and Islam could peacefully co-exist. There are factions in Islam that consider music and instruments haram (forbidden).
Yusuf considers himself a moderate Muslim, although there was some criticism of him when, in response to media questions about the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, he agreed that blasphemy was a capital offense. He contends, however, that he did not condone the execution of Rushdie. Gray area, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
In the interview with Alan Yentob, he says of Islam that "Peace...... that is the heart and soul of the religion. Alot... the majority just want to live a happy life and be at peace with the rest of the world. That's the reality." I wish I could believe that, but what I see every single day on TV and in the papers and on videos and on blogs indicates, in no uncertain terms, that it is the antithesis of what he says. Maybe they want to live a happy life, but they don't seem to want peace amongst themselves, let alone the rest of the world. And it's ironic that when he sings "PEACE TRAIN" now, the words "why must we go on hating", ring hollow. Hatred is the catchword for that religion. They hate each other, they hate the west, they hate anything non-Muslim.
Perhaps Yusuf Islam can influence, through his music and his actions, his fellow Muslims to follow a more enlightened, tolerant path, but it seems unlikely. It will be interesting to see what kind of music he does create, after all these years. He finally released a new album of original pop songs, in 2006, but I've only heard one song. I found something missing in his recent performances, some spark of life lacking. Maybe he just needs more time to get his bearings back. Time will tell.
The following is a new rendition of "PEACE TRAIN".
This is the Cat Stevens I remember and loved, also singing "PEACE TRAIN"