Friday, September 21, 2012

Consider Cat Stevens

Today I thought quite a bit about Cat Stevens. I don't want to end up like him. Allow me to explain.

So, like, Cat Stevens is awesomely talented, and he made a huge contribution to the world with his music, not to mention his charitable, social, etc. contributions that came after his pop star days.  I mean, let's just take Tea for the Tillerman. That is an incredible album. It is so easily a desert island disc. It is in fact such a desert island disc, such a masterpiece, that I can't imagine anyone not liking it. There are some albums I would bring to my desert island that I recognize might not go to everybody's desert island, but this one? No, this one is sheer musical truth. If someone were to listen to Tea for the Tillerman and not like it, I would really, seriously ask that person what the hell is wrong with him or her.

And by the way, to explain that it contains "Wild World," "Sad Lisa," "Miles from Nowhere," "Where Do the Children Play?" and "Father and Son," among other amazing songs, does not even do it justice, because it is an album album, to be listened to as such, in one big flowing fell swoop. It will move your soul, if you listen.

OK, so then on top of that Cat Stevens has a million other musical hits, AND he has collaborated with loads of great stars, AND then he quit the music industry to go soul-searching, AND he has tried to make the world a better place, AND, of course, there's the whole fact that he is not even named Cat Stevens anymore -- well, I mean, he never was, as that was a stage name, but now he is Yusuf Islam -- and he is all about his personal spiritual journey.

And despite all this, you know that in his obituary in The New York Times and wherever else, they're going to hit on the "Salman Rushdie controversy" within a few paragraphs.  (Note: it's ironic that I'm totally having a Cat Stevens moment in my heart and on my MP3 player this week, because literature-wise I am having a Salman Rushdie moment this week -- what's up with that, universe?)  I mean, you can decide for yourself whether or not Cat Stevens was misunderstood and whether or not he actually ever "supported" even in theory the idea of the fatwa against Rushdie, but the bottom line is that he's in the mix. He's associated with it. People burned his albums. (Record albums!!! Remember those? How could the kids today ever even protest a recording artist so fervently? No wonder Chris Brown has got off so easily in the public eye--what are the kids supposed to do, a mass deletion of his song from their iTunes? Not the same effect, I'd say.) Designing Women referenced the burning of his albums as the epitome of free speech mental gymnastics in one episode. The Cat Stevens-Salman Rushdie controversy is famous, famous, famous. I personally don't really think all that entirely much about it, because 1.)I do think he was partly misunderstood 2.)I think all religious fervor is f****d and more attention should be paid to all of it, not just highlighted examples in famous people and 3.)as I mentioned, when I listen to Tea for the Tillerman, I am transported to a higher plane, regardless of subsequent actions of the man who recorded it.

Even so, someone who also likes the Cat Stevens music asked me on Monday, "Do you know much about his life?" and I said, "Yeah, some" and I found myself talking about the alleged support of the Rushdie fatwa within a few sentences. What gives?!  This is why I know it will come up in any and all Cat Stevens remembrances. It's just such a pop culture touchstone.

And that is why I say that I don't want to end up like Cat Stevens. Not because I don't want to end up Muslim (well, that either) but because I don't want to end up with this one random incident always being brought up about me. I want my contributions to be diverse and far-reaching and not overshadowed by any one thing, especially one thing that might be a foolish mistake. I mean, it's like Bill Clinton, who could have been a truly great contributor to the world but will always have Monica Lewinsky haunting him...some things just will not go away. I think one of my goals is to get my art and self and creations out there in the universe without ever having that one unfortunate disrupting incident.

Now, as for a series of rebellious and crazy incidents over the years? This is definitely on the table.

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