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This is a French article translated into English for Majicat.The magazine was called 'Rock and Folk' from February 1976. This article comes courtesy of Jennifer Perez, and once again a big thank you to Michael Valenzuela for translating this wonderful article for us into English.

 


~Cat~

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Boy in the Wind

Does Cat Steven's audience like rock? Does the rock audience like Cat Stevens? If the answer is no, then this article has nothing to do here.

A wisp of voice rises, softly suspended by the lost notes of a grand piano. And it's just as well that with the Palais du Sport crammed full like no one has seen before, the crowd respects a strange silence, identical to what distinguishes a classical concert. Tossed among the human waves, it is difficult to catch sight of the scene other than by flashes; meanwhile, gliding among the clusters of girls who all look like they're in a state of celestial bliss. One catches a glimpse of a fragile young man perched on a white platform advancing toward the audience: Cat Stevens.

Scanning the eyes of the audience, one quickly realizes that you're not dealing with the kind of crowd that makes up the Parisian rock concerts. In the eyes of rock fans elsewhere, Cat Stevens is definitely discredited. Since a sad thing called "Lady D'Arbanville", and the album "Tea for the Tillerman", he seemed like an artist of international popularity where the songs scarcely made up nothing more than music of mass consumption. One album follows another, Stevens doesn't care. He has his own audience that reveres him: high school students, a little awkward, who stare without being able to remove their gaze from him. An audience, a bit anonymous, who scarcely love rock music and all the harshness and violence it carries with it, but who seem to look for something else....maybe tenderness.

Cat Stevens is on a European tour which hasn't happened for many months. Last year the man had even entirely disappeared. For reasons that pushed him to return, Cat Stevens explains further. The worry of not plunging into oblivion as with a very keen sense of business partially justifies this multi-millionaire's coming out of retirement. A new album is published throughout the world ("Numbers") which he needs to promote. Professionalism.

The concert is divided into two parts, the first being dedicated primarily to "Numbers", and the second to "oldies". When Cat Stevens sings, it's the mass. When he stops, it's a frenzy. The audience "plebiscites" the songs it knows best (the hits) and replies in chorus with the singer and orchestra. And the fourteen or fifteen year old girl who shouts in front of me makes me think of Marylou, with her braids and her cheap jewelry. How long has she dreamed of this concert, leafing through her magazines alone in her room? The following day, Cat Stevens opened his door to "Rock & Folk" for an exclusive interview.

Hidden side

Benoit Feller: You retired from the scene for a year. Why?

Cat Stevens: For reasons a bit similar to what drives many others to act in this way in this business: I was tired. I had enough. Not physically, but mentally: always the same life, the same tours, the same circuits, the same people, the same universe. A break was absolutely necessary. Then I left for Brazil, a country I already knew. I rented a house, clinging between the mountains and the sea, and for three months I wrote my new album. Peace and tranquillity were necessary for me, I found them there. I began to feel much better. As a result, I went to Quebec to record what I had conceived, another three months in an incredible studio, endowed with a view of one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen. While I was at it, I devoted the following three months to mixing the ensemble, and the last three months to designing the record sleeve and to putting the finishing touches to my work. I took my time. Then here I am on a European tour to promote the album. And don't you believe that I'm bored, that it's just a simple operation of marketing. The tours, that's life, the people, I love that. But not for a length of time.

BF - This need that you felt to retire, does it correspond to a profound weariness of your own music? To a need to sing something else, to slip into new tracks? Your album "Numbers" is more elaborate than the preceding ones, and especially the backing group that accompanies you has never been present before, nor so expanded.

CS - Musical and human evolution goes in pairs. I'm not telling you anything new in saying that Brazil is the country of rhythm. Of rhythms. I spent that year away to listen to different types of South American music. Some specialists except a few Europeans know the treasure of Brazilian music, its wealth, its productivity. Slowly I assimilated what I heard. I also like traditional Spanish music. And, while I was at it, I was introduced to the drum kit. Today I have one at my house, in the same room as the stereo, and I play it as much as I can. Maybe I'll have the instrument on my next record. It was an extraordinary discovery for me, as if I'm expressing a whole new side which till now was hidden from my personality, an unknown aspect of my being which remained inhibited. I felt an energy that came from afar and slowly brought back from the depths where it was buried. On a total other level, what happened to me is happening to rock today: the fascination with rhythms, from another culture: Africa, the Antilles, the Third World. All you have to do is listen to the work of Carlos Santana and his group, to consider what has been the enormous success in the South American countries. And not just musically. The West ought to learn from the Third World. The rhythms are like the pulse of blood. The music will always reflect human movements, in the largest sense of the word. And that's what's about to happen: the Third World is coming. Thus, I no longer write ballads in the style of "Morning Has Broken" or "new righty.JPG (9002 bytes)Father and Son", even if, like yesterday evening, I still sing them in concert. These pieces, imbued with a simple and sad beauty, remain for me the reminders of a past time, a troubled time, the representation of a very hard ordeal that I had to pass. They're like old photos. I can play them because they make up a part of myself, but to compose titles of the same vein would not make sense, because I've evolved. And, in that sense, the year I spent away from the public, far from the music world, had been very profitable. For it was precisely for the repertoire that I was there. It costs me to have to present forever the same image which for example portrayed the album "Tea for the Tillerman" or the song "My Lady D'Arbanville". The solitude of Brazil shed light on my ideas, which made obvious a hidden conflict that I suppressed but that made me eliminate it at all costs. I know that the audience is always attached to the original

image to the name of which it loves an artist. But in this case, my audience must accept my evolution. It's why "Numbers" differs greatly from my previous creations. The sound is new, and especially the influence isn't the same. And I am the producer, which makes up a considerable innovation. It is even possible that in certain places, I did too much!

BF - You mean to say that your superstar status was for you a source of blockage, that it prevented you from creating?

CS - Exactly. I didn't want to work any more before feeling in me a new vigor, a new influx. I learned in time that I was turning myself slowly into a computer, that I would go into the studio with the enthusiasm of an employee who goes each morning to shut himself in a bank. A painful observation, but one I had to admit. Symbolically, I cut my hair when I left. I wanted for my twenty-sixth birthday the veil to be lifted. It was like a new birth; after some months, the fire returned. But, at the same time, I realized that it had never left me, in fact, that I had only forgotten how to let it talk in me.

BF- What do you resent when you think back to the years before the break?

CS - I told you: I have the feeling of looking at an old photo. I think that I reached a point where the energy was completely lacking for me. Or, to create, one must feel pushed, almost badgered, run through with a quasi-electric current. I don't regret anything. I've had my ups and downs. I will go further; a depression was essential to perpetuate a certain understanding with myself. And everything is clarified today. I am happier.

Numbers

BF - The words of your songs seem to take on an importance with you that aren't generally there in the eyes of many other artists. But does your audience hear them?

CS - I tell stories like the balladeers of the Middle Ages who went from town to town and sang in the public squares of the village. The comparison can seem na´ve, but I believe that it's justified. I also believe that therein lies the profound reason of my success. You must TOUCH people. Beyond that, everything in this business is trivial, for me at least. You're right, the words I write are absolutely of major importance for me, and it's for that that I always see to it that they are written on the sleeves of the records. To know if the audience is paying attention or not is not a simple question. I think that few people disassociate words and music completely; when you listen and re-listen to an album, you are immersed in the ensemble. Words and melody bathe your head and they leave an imprint in a common osmosis. One is hooked or not by the charm which emanates from the record entirely so much as that. In any case, it is according to this conviction that I conceived Numbers. So you'll understand better, I'll tell you this story.

In Australia I met a woman, Hestia Lovejoy. Hestia is around 60 years old, and, as you can read on the sleeve of the "Numbers" album, it is dedicated to her. I was very lucky to make her acquaintance. She spoke to me of Pythagoras, of numbers and of their secrets. I was always fascinated by numbers. It was a passion that was up to then latent in me and Hestia awakened it suddenly. I wanted to find the meaning of figures and other symbols. Recalled abruptly, these last ones don't mean anything, if it's not a simple abstraction. But in reality, they make up the key to everything. They are the absolute law of nature. For example, why is a week made up of 7 days, and a year 12 months? When I began to study the question, I discovered that it is impossible to find a work of Pythagoras and also practically uneasy to obtain books about him. Because Pythagoras was assassinated, and after his death they burned his notes, all his papers, they tried to erase his name and works from the collective memory. Because he was a revolutionary creature. Then I learned, learned and learned again, and it is then that I wrote the story of which I made the book that appears in the sleeve of the record. You can proceed with different lectures, and there in lies maybe the most passionate aspect of the matter. Those who don't have a mathematical spirit can see there in a dadaist or surrealist attempt.

BF - Aren't you afraid that your audience would not be interested in all that? After all, these are only theories, as the sub-title of the album indicates, "A Pythagorean Theory Tale".

CS - I don't know anything about that. Frankly, I never thought about it. I let the subject develop in my head, then I realized my album as it seemed good to me, with the sole intention of translating what I was feeling. I think I have achieved it. Will they like this record? I am unaware of it, but I am not afraid: for me, "Numbers" has its own charm, its own personality.

BF - How do you explain your immense popularity? Do you excite the crowds everywhere like you did last night, at the Palais des Sports, which, in passing, I have rarely seen so full? new lefty.JPG (10670 bytes)

CS - I don't know really. When you are far away, when you remain absent for a long time, the people put a lot of themselves into you, they desire you with a growing force. There, it's been some years since I sang in Paris, and the reaction would certainly not have been so violent if the audience had heard me here a month ago. I was deeply touched. Especially since the show started badly; in the course of the three first pieces, we were having serious sound problems, and we did not know if we could fix them. The balance remained disastrous throughout the concert and the sound bad. I was worried and on edge. I don't know a more enthusiastic audience than the French, when they are WITH you. There was a great communication last night, a true human contact. Isn't that most important? That happens in one out of ten concerts. In Germany, for example, the vibrations were very harsh, and I had a big evil to "win over". But the Germans are very strange. When I don't manage to establish a real contact, I close up, I become withdrawn. I hate that. No doubt it's about fear, or shyness, of these uncontrollable reactions which engender the feeling of being attacked.

BF - Do you consider your musicians to be simple performers, or do you let them take an active and real part in the development of your music?

CS - My musicians participate up to a certain point. Chico (Batera), when he came to Quebec to record, watched me work during several days, and suddenly told me, "You are an architect." He was right. I conceive the ensemble, I direct it, I impose a structure. This proves essential if you don't want to sink into shapeless jams. And the contribution which belongs to each one, the personality that he expresses blossoms even more once the setting is defined. Few musicians are capable of being leaders, most among them need at all costs that said leader bring them to express the best of themselves. That's what I try to do. And if I act in this way, it's because I remain persuaded that the color brought by the group ensemble is fundamental in my albums. But a group deprived of its leader is like a hydra without a head.

BF - You spent a lot of time writing, reflecting. Do you intend to publish a book, or shoot a film?

CS - It's very possible. Again, I'd have to discover the appropriate media. On reflection, I think it might be a film. But what kind of film? A cartoon, a fictional story of the same type as "Numbers", science fiction, realism? I need a solid frame, a stronger direction. It's not a simple question of work.

Interview by Benoit Feller.

 
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