Thursday, April 19, 2007

Yusuf Islam-the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens


"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"


Liberal White Boy said...

At last something we can agree on. I thought this day would never come. Cat Stevens is cool. And there I was thinking you were going to try to turn him into something ugly.
Silly me.

Anonymous said...

I'm being followed by a rouge agent, rouge FBI agent!

Incognito said...

Well, well. Long time no see, Lib White Boy...:-) I speak as I see it. Cat Stevens was an amazing talent. I'm sorry he allowed himself to be censored by his religion for almost 30 years. I give credit to him for being able walk away from all of his fame and fortune to dedicate himself, b ut I think it was a waste considering many in his own religion felt it was unneccessary. But he did what he felt was right. So good on him, I guess.

ODP, did you mean rogue?

Blazing Cat Fur said...

When I was young I stayed outside in line, all night, in January, in sub-zero temperature, to buy Cat Stevens tickets to a show at Massey Hall. Ah the follies of youth, to be frank I could not bear to listen to an album of his now. As I recall I met a couple of nice girls in line however, so really it was time well spent. We went for crepes after the concert, hmmmm..thanks for bringing back a fond remembrance Incognito.

Incognito said...

Wow, BCF, that's dedication. Sub zero weather. I know what you mean, I had a hard time watching some of his new videos, but he was still Cat Stevens in the old ones, and his old music still affects me the way it did back then.

MUD said...

There is nothing like a 12 string guitar to jazz up a performance. 28 years later and with an acoustic guitar he just doesn't sound as loud and proud. I too wish he could help the Muslim world come together and understand that killing each other does nothing proud in the name of Muhammad. I loved his music then, I don't hate it now.

Anonymous said...

Speeling was never my strong point.

Troika said...

Wasn't he deported from the US for being a suspected terrorist?

Cat: "Salman Rushdie or indeed any writer who abuses the prophet, or indeed any prophet, under Islamic law, the sentence for that is actually death. It's got to be seen as a deterrent, so that other people should not commit the same mistake again."

A polite way of hanging around street corners in London with 'Behead those who insult Islam' signs, no?

Go ahead and support him by buying his latest album. Whish is just as dreadful as all his other ones, BTW.

Incognito said...

True MUD, but there's something sad and lacking about him now. I still love his old music.

Thanks ODP. Just wondered if you meant rouge as in red as in commie.. so was a tad confused. :-)

He just wasn't allowed into the country TROIKA, because of that issue. I wasn't considering buying it anyway, but thanks for the heads up, about his latest. Suprises me, though, that you feel that way about him.

Troika said...

Actually, he was deported. It was Israel who refused him entry in 2000.

peddlinshutterbug said...

I'm with your is like a long dead or long estranged family member you may not allow near the family any simply remember, reminisce (as you allowed me a lovely step back in time to a much more innocent and blissful time in my life, albeit misled!)
You are correct... the current video of mr islam is empty dead shell of the man that was...i will pray for the man's soul.. I still have my lp "Tea for the Tillerman" downstairs in my stack of old vinyl...Most, if not all of his best work was during his "Christian Period." much for his depth of thanks for the uplifting words of encouragement on my 'predicament' You have are truly a good friend!

Incognito said...

I know Peddlin... there is something lacking, other than a 20 year absence from music. He had been involved a few years back, but not in secular music. I still don't understand the appeal of Islam. I admire their dedication to God, but that's about it. He had tinkered with Buddhism etc. which is a peaceful, tolerant non-repressive religion.

Anytime, Peddlin! How is the 'predicament'?