Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Steven, Cat and Yusuf

Cat Stevens is one of the most enigmatic characters in pop/rock music history. He was born with the name, Steven Demetre Georgiou, changed his name to Cat Stevens while pursuing his musical career and then changed it to Yusef Islam after converting to Islam. Change is his thing. He's been on a search and I have to admire him for it.

I knew he was British, but knew nothing else about his early life until today. His father was Greek and his mother Swedish. I always assumed he was from Middle Eastern stock because of the Islamic conversion but that was obviously wrong. He received a guitar for his 15th birthday and started hanging with the hipster crowd in Soho shortly thereafter. He took the name Cat because his girl friend said he had cat-like eyes. He had a few early hits in Britain but they did not sound much like what we would recognize as your typically profound and introspective Cat Stevens song. At the age of 19 (in 1968) he had a life changing event when he contracted tuberculosis and almost died. While convalescing for a year or so, he wrote the songs that would make up his next five albums. This is the period that he wrote such songs as "Wild World," "Peace Train," "Father and Son," "Morning Has Broken," and "Moon Shadow." These are the songs you think of when you hear the name Cat Stevens. I think I'd volunteer to have T.B. if I had a guarantee I could come out of it with just one of these songs.

The more famous he became, the more miserable. He sought out religion. In 1976, he almost drowned off the coast of Malibu. While taking what he thought was one of his last breathe of air, he cried out "to God" that he would work for God if God saved him. He claims a huge wave came out of nowhere and pushed him ashore. He continued his spiritual search thereafter, he converted to Islam in 1977 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. He gave up his music career for 25 years, but not because the music was evil or against his religion, but that there were aspects of the music industry that were incompatible with the teachings of the Qu'ran. He returned to music in 1990's. I like what I have heard of his new stuff. If you like his old stuff, you should check it out. The new songs are similar but less catchy and more complex. My favorite of his new stuff is the song, "Indian Ocean."

No comments: