- Circus Magazine July 1971
- By Danny Goldberg & Salli Stevenson
- Cat Stevens
- Cosmic Superstar
- Cat is Back
Cat Stevens' story is
becoming increasingly well known. His parents are of Greek origin and run a restaurant in
central London. He is christened Steven Demitri Georgiou. He hated school except for art,
and he made plans to be a painter. He was accepted as a student at Hammersmith School of
Art and it was there that he started writing his own songs because he was " to lazy
to learn other people's." London was bursting with the rock explosion when Stevens
was eighteen. One thing led to another and he was " discovered"; found himself
with a new name; a mod image; and a hit record entitled " I Love My Dog".
The record was produced by Mike Hurst who had been one third of the British group
" The Springfield's" the other two thirds were Dusty and Tom Springfield. His
transition from painting to music came gradually. He bought a guitar for eight pounds (
$23.00 ) when he was fifteen and had just played with friends. " I loved West Side
Story," he recalls, " it turned me on completely. The some guy turned me on to
Dylan and Leadbelly and I really got into folk music. I use to go down to folk music clubs
where everyone played guitars and sang, but I never had enough courage to go up on stage
and join them."
Once he did decide on music as a
career however, things happened very quickly; too quickly as it turned out. He had several
hit singles in a row, but found that the fine print in his contract prevented him from
from exerting any control over his music. While he expressed the desire to make a simple
solo LP, the record company insisted on 90 piece orchestras. " I used to dread
recording sessions." he remembers. " For days before, I'd spend sleepless nights
fearing having to walk into a studio and face a mass of blank uncomprehending and
unsympathetic session men who would go mechanically through there chore, put down a
technically perfect, but totally antiseptic piece of recording of my music, and then drift
off into the next session for the next guy.
" The mistake I made
was believing in my own image and believing without truth my music, which wasn't very
truthful. The word weren't right. They had meaning, but in a very simplified form. The
music was confused. I still like the music. There is nothing wrong with it. The simple
things, basic young things. The struggle of everything - young countries. This country for
a start is crazy young. the whole thing is really young and everybody's going through hang
ups and the things you have To go through to come out the other side. it's the same thing
with music. I still look back on it. I still enjoy it quite a bit, but it's just helped me
so much to see myself before."
Stevens talks about his
time with TB: " In the hospital I was really bored and fed up and I didn't know where
to go you know, or what to do. I was stuck in that bed for three months, so I said to
myself there's got to be something I could . . . that I could get something from the
whole situation. This is ridiculous. I couldn't just come out of it and carry on - you
know - cause everything seemed so down. There was a gigantic cloud over my head at the
time. I couldn't see through that and I really needed something to see me through. I had a
book called " The secret Path" and it was just what I needed. I read that book
once and thought about it and I used it to meditate. There was nowhere that was quiet
enough in the hospital. I had to creep out and there was this couch shed with a
couch in it. I use to go in there and lock the door, then sit down and think. It was
completely silent and that is where it came to me. It just happened. You reach that
moment and you see it and say ' Of Course ." Then everything sprung from there like
Cat got into Yoga, studied
metaphysics and wrote a lot of new songs that reflected his new introspective thinking. He
recorded some of his songs on a home tape recorder and started playing them for people. He
found Chris Blackwell most receptive. Blackwell had just formed Island Records and offered
Stevens a chance to record as and when he wanted. FREEDOM ! He used few musicians and
producer Paul Samwell- Smith. The album was called Mona Bone Jerkin, was released in early 1970
and was a huge English and European success. A single from the album called "
Lady D ' Arbanville" made the English, Swiss, German, and Italian charts. His second
album ' Tea For The Tillerman ' was recorded shortly there after and released last winter.
It included the single ' Wild World ' that made Cat so famous in the USA, and featured
a painting of his own on the cover depicting the title song. A & M is the label
in the States.
Recently he has written
several film scores and is reported to bethinking about making movies himself: I got into
film scoring because my manager introduced me to a man who had just heard some of my
music and he wanted to use it for his film, 'Deep End'. We met and talked about the film
and then we went to see it and it was good. You know I've always wanted to do a music
score. I've always wanted to do a movie actually. To be a director and just make one
that's the same as my music.
" I'm doing another
movie now called ' Harold and Maude'. It's got Bud Cort in it and Ruth Gordon; they fall
in love together which is really strange. I liked it very much because I feel a great
kinship with the character of the boy. He is completely abscessed with death. I mean very
bloody thing,kind of exaggeratedly so. To get his mother to notice him , he kind of
commits suicide or pretend to and goes through these strange scenes.I used to love doing
that too, you know. I was always in for a shock thing. I never did the suicide bit but I
was always in for the shock of it.
" I use to always draw
the most terrible things and used to make those little guillotines. I was so hung up on
the Tower Of London, used to dig walking around where they had there heads cut
off and in the exact spot I'd say 'here it happened.' That kind of drove me for a long
time - there must have been other things I was interested in, but I can't think of them.
There was painting, there were school and there were all those hang-ups."
Cat is very happy with the
production of Paul Samwell-Smith, mainly because there is such a free communication
between them: " Paul has a very clear mind. He can see things clear. He's very
technical. Immensely so. I'm just ' anything as long as it feels good and sounds good,'
That was a problem when we went to the studio- he surrounded me with ten mikes and I
knew that was wrong_ I can't sing in front of ten mikes. All I need is a basically one,
you know, and that's it. I thought' well that has got to change' and we started to talk
and get it out."
Cat was asked about this
" enlightenment " he talks about. Naturally the inner changes that a person goes
through cannot be put into words. ("Existence is beyond the power of words to define
- terms may be used but none of them absolute"_ Lao Tzu), but Cat does a pretty good
job explaining himself: " It's something I'm constantly aware of. I never forget it.
I happens sometimes. I can never forget it. It happens anywhere. Sometimes when I look in
the mirror and I see myself. I really do say 'whew'. I can't see it for too long because
I'm not ready to quit yet. When I look at myself in the mirror and I can stay and I can
stand it, that's the day I won't have breathe anymore. I didn't delve any further than
that book. I let myself go on and build my own whatever it is and think it's love for
life. That' all. It's love I think.
" Being a pop star has
helped a lot because I can see what mistakes I made. That's the best way I learn, is
from mistakes. Somebody can't tell me not to do something. I've got to hurt myself doing
it. That's the only way I can go further."
Cat is a bigger star than
he has ever been before. His in person performances are attracting larger and larger
crowds. Recently he played the newly located Gaslight A Go Go in New York and drew crowds
that lined around the block to hear him. This success has given him confidence. "
think the greatest thing now is that I know nothing can be taken from me. You can't say
you're not going to sell another record; you're not going to have your car or your house.
That 's not going to upset me because it means nothing. There are a lot of things that
take my time up now that if I didn't do them, I'd be getting into a lot of other things. I
might be into settling down. Right now I'm very happy because I know that I've been
waiting to work for a long time and actually get on stage."
One of the things that
makes Cat so popular is his songs. " My inspiration for songs? I get it when I'm not
thinking, when I'm absolutely flowing, just being. I don't just sit down and be. I pick up
the guitar and be through that. I don't write them down I may write some lyrics down, but
mostly I just get the melody, and the words go with the melody. I write songs alot in
different ways. It might start with a whistle or an old traditional record, listening and
suddenly getting an idea and your not listening to the record, it taken you somewhere else
and you find something else. It can be talking or it can be a word.You don't kind of
create something. I hate that. You can't just say that you're a creator. To be a
creator you must be able to make something breathe. What your doing is just taking
something that is already there from whatever you see and remember. You use it and you
throw it out again - your way.
" After a performance
I feel very satisfied. After an interview I never feel satisfied," Cat says with a
smile. " There are always things I forget to say, I don't know - words they just mess
me up. I get confused and I don't use them right sometimes and it confuses people. They
misunderstand what you're saying and it goes through a whole circular winding thing and
comes back and hits you in the face."
Cat goes on: " When
you find yourself talking, you find yourself almost at peace with things. Talking is
almost a strain because your trying to force out solitude and that kind of feeling. Words,
they fall short of feeling - the same as eyes, almost. Once you get into the visual thing
- I mean what is red anyway? And what are you seeing? If you close your eyes it would
still be going on and you still cry. You still do everything. You just wouldn't have eyes.
" Music is a stronger
thing because it actually causes vibrations in your head. That's simple and it's nice
cause it relieves you of the thought of words. Words cut the air, they hit it. Music on
the other hand is much more. It can mean a lot of things, but it's one thing constantly.
Nobody can say it's not music. This is one of those things I thought about for a long
time. They used to say' this is the catchy part.' Now why is a catchy part better than a
non-catchy part? Then I realized that a catchy part is something that jolts you slightly.
You're going along and it goes thic-ump and it goes along down there and suddenly you
remember or realize what's happening and it's like in that meditation thing where you go'
" Everybody comes
together on this one catchy part and they say 'right - we dig it, we dig it.' They
say ' we dig you' but what they're really saying is ' we dig it - we dig
everything.' That's what music does. It just has no boundaries. It's not white or black.
It's just music."