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This wonderful article comes courtesy of Chris Abrams. I am not quite sure from which magazine it appeared other than it is from a British magazine in the mid 70's.

           Written By:tcpg1c.JPG (20977 bytes) JOHN KERCHER           TOP  CAT


Cat Stevens is one of those people you feel compelled to watch and listen to. Is it the hypnotic quality of his eyes or the haunting lyrics he sings which keep you spellbound? Perhaps it is his face with its almost classical features, like a bust from ancient Greece. Cat’s songs are a journey through his own mysteries and observations. They are not pungent protests but subtle cameos and caricatures of the world about us and the microcosm within us. His reluctance to be interviewed or have his life-style exposed to the nerve ends only serves to deepen the mystery of the man with the guitar. Yet, now and then, a pinprick of light reveals an almost sage-like reverence for life and the people who inhabit his world. If we are all childlike then the adage "give me a child and I will give you the man" is a clue to the man called Cat Stevens, minstrel of the western world.

"What is childhood? An excursion through the beginnings of time, an awakening into a strange environment? Is it the determining of what we shall be, or the socialisation process? Or is it just adapting ourselves to a world we have to accept which, at a later point, we may find unsuitable and wish to change or, at least, bend a little to our own criteria. I don’t know.

"What I am aware of is my own interpretations of my childhood. A cosmopolitan environment and family, world of exciting strangers. A multi-racial, multi-religious cosmos. You see, my father was Greek and my mother was Swedish, so, even before I became aware of a world outside of my own home, I already had a background of several cultures all fused into one. I think that it's exciting to be brought up in this kind of atmosphere because you don't have a one-sided view of life. You gauge yourself against different standards.

"I was born in 1948 in Hammer-smith, close enough to the West End of London to be able to travel up there with my parents, and, later, by myself. In that kind of situation, you grow up very quickly. I never found I was bored with the same environment. There was always something new to look at, to hear, different people walking by, and into your life. Even street signs and shop displays had their attractions. Words created images and they all go to mould the kind of thing you will later become interested in in life.

"I really can't say where the artist begins in man. Perhaps some people, as children, can't focus their attention on any one thing and, later, they wonder what they can do with the hotchpotch of impressions which have fascinated them for so long. They feel other people ought to share it and, consequently, they channel their energies into art, music, writing, sculpture and what have you. Whether this is true, I don't know-it's an idea.'

Contrary to the usual, Cat did not have a burning desire or unfulfilled ambition to be a singer or a musician from the day he hit a spoon on a biscuit tin.

"It was art that first attracted me in a definite direction. I wasn't what you would call academic - not that I put that down in any way, but I just couldn't concentrate on the usual kind of things. But I revelled in the art lessons and would be totally absorbed in my work then.

"So I enrolled at an art college and was set with the idea I was going to be an artist.

I do think that the normal, school education system we had, and still have in most places, is too restrictive. Kids start out with an interest, but somewhere it is crushed. It is made to seem no more important than any other subject on the school curriculum. Even the inventive side of our personality is restrained. You are told that you can't go about a thing a certain way. That there are rules, laws and procedures which have to be followed, and conformed to, in order to get the results.

"Of course, it's not just in schools that that's happening. We're all doing it to each other all the time. Our entire society is built from frustration, of trying to reconcile what we want to do with what wetcpg2a.JPG (7509 bytes) have to do. Perhaps that's why we've got so much violence… and I don't mean physical assault, but violence of the tongue, of prejudice, of emotional violence. It's finding a scapegoat for inner problems."

For Cat, resurrection came many years after art school.

"I'd had a guitar for some time, but my playing had been confined to other people's songs and, even then, primarily for my own pleasure. But I began to feel a dissatisfaction with merely imitating. I think this is probably what causes most composers or lyricists to become what they are. It is a desire to express yourself. So I began writing and playing occasionally for my friends. They kept telling me that I should try to get some of it recorded. Well, it was worth a try and I made a tape of what I felt were some of my best compositions and took them along to a record company.

"A short while later they said they were prepared to offer me a contract."

For Cat, it meant the end of art school and the commencement of his career as a singer/musician. It was to take him out of the world of his own mysteries and into the blatant and commercial business of pop. At that time, creativity was not so much a joke as an unnecessary hindrance to the machine of hit-making. If the artist had already done the creating, no harm done. But, once inside the studio, the atmosphere was irrelevant. The song had to be suitably packaged, according to the laws of the market.

A Press release stated: "His early songs, such as Matthew and Son and First Cut Is The Deepest, are melodic and incisive and have an intimate charm all of their own. However, it is the shock arrangements and the lyrical angles which set a Cat Stevens song outside the usual boundaries. In no time, Stevens was a successful recording artist."

Successful in terms of money, but as a person frustration, anger and a feeling of despair were building up within Cat.

"Once you're a success," he says, "it becomes very difficult to judge things; people love everything that you do. But it's important to me to try new things, different things, even if they sometimes fail."

The studios had other ideas that wore less extravagant.

"At that time," says Cat, "an artist, had little or no control over how the material was put together. I found my songs being recorded with large orchestras to back me.

"I used to dread recording sessions. I'd spend sleepless nights in what seemed like a waking nightmare of dreading having to walk into that studio and face a mass of blank, uncomprehending and, quite often, unsympathetic session musicians. They'd go mechanically through their chore and put down a technically ported, but totally antiseptic, recording of my music."

tcpg2b.JPG (7362 bytes)The tensions built up for Cat until he felt it difficult to reconcile what he wanted to do and what he felt was being done to him. The pressures of the business are tremendous and this, coupled with his own frustration at having his freedom to create restricted, brought some drastic consequences.

"With the hit records came the usual intensity of promotion; more recording, television shows, concerts, tours and personal appearances. It's sort of necessary when you are starting out, but I overdid it. I was trying to do too much in too short a time. I found that I barely had time to think.

"One minute I would be running about the country and trying to write songs-the next minute I'd be in my bed, worrying myself sick that the song wouldn't be put out right and that everything would fold in.

"It reached the point where I was getting physical pains. I didn't give much attention to it at first, but they persisted and so I took myself off to the doctor for a check-up.

"He didn't take too long to give me his diagnosis. And when he did I felt the world fall in about me. He ordered me to take a complete rest and informed me that if I chose to ignore his advice, then I'd be dead.

"Apparently, I'd contracted tuberculosis. One lung had already collapsed and the other was dangerously close to following suit. I knew that rest would be out of the question if I tried to stay in my present environment with all the pressures. So, I packed together a few belongings and a stack of books and took myself off to a sanatorium.

"It was a different world. A peaceful isolation. No telephone calls harassing you, no frustration about recording sessions-just hours and hours to think in the country with plenty of fresh air to breathe.

"I read such a lot and became interested in yoga and religions. It didn't take me long to see that there was a lot more to it than adopting unusual positions like a contortionist. It helped me relax, enabled me to focus my attention on just one thing at a time instead of being lost in a sea of ideas.

"I began to look into myself and see who I was, what I was trying to do and relate myself to the world rather than let things impose themselves upon me.

"Gradually, as I got better, I began to be flooded with ideas for new songs, all totally different. In fact I do not repeat the way I write a song. Doing that gets you into some kind of rut and you find you keep turning out the same songs with different words.

"Each song is an entity in itself. It says something different and, therefore, the music is complementary to the feeling of the words. The music is just as image-evoking as the lyric. With me, the music is the image-it dominates at the beginning and the words give an added impetus. In fact, I can't think with words, only with images. 'I become totally involved with the song I am working on. Usually, if I'm on a terrific high or a terrible low, the images come more quickly. I'm far more creative in emotional extremes than when I’m on an even keel. But, I guess, this can apply to anything of an artistic nature. You have to work in bursts of emotionalism.

'I can get opinions from friends afterwards as to whether I have gone on the tracks with the songs. But I am probably my own sternest critic, and always try to assess the importance of written criticism in reviews."

What Cat learned in those long months at the sanatorium was to put himself in perspective and the flow of images that came to him were realised in the album Mona Bone Jakon.

The songs were different from others I'd done in as much as, previously, I had relied on external imagery. Here I was concerned with inner reflection."

He put the songs down on tape and sent them to Paul Samwell Smith who immediately got in touch with Cat and told him he'd like him to record them. An added bonus for Cat was being told that hetcpg4a.JPG (7898 bytes) could put the songs down in whichever way he felt was best. This was the moment he had been waiting for; he had shaken off the antiseptic and unsympathetic atmosphere of his former recordings and was able to project musically as he wished. The album was a huge success, leading Cat to do a full-length special in France for TV.

Tea For The Tillerman followed and, once again, the accolades were poured upon the album, which gave Cat his maid, opportunity to tour America.

"I played the Fillmore East. New York and Los Angeles before returning to score the music for the film."

Meanwhile, Wild World had fast established itself as a major hit in the US. But, for Cat, things were moving in different directions, as he was in his personal life. "I'd never been one for wanting to stay in the same place too long. I guess it all comes back to that feeling of being static. There's the world out there and the world in here and I've got to get to know it as intimately as possible and effect some kind of harmonisation.''

Teaser And The Firecat was the result of his yearnings for a peripatetic existence. This also found its way into print and was published in book form with special colour illustrations by Cat. Eventually, it was produced in over a dozen languages. But Cat has described this as being no more than a 'minor detour'.

Everything I have recorded is just like a set of cameos. They are little projections of myself at a particular point in my development-diaries, if you like which a lot of people can read. It's like opening a book on someone else's thoughts. But I find that they are all valuable to me, also.

"You see, a lot of the material on the albums is telling of things I would like to achieve. For, example, its possible for me not to have inner peace and yet compose a song about it. And, through this process, I come a little closer to achieving it. The song has been a meditation process almost.

"Even now, I sometimes listen to an old song I did and it bears no relation to how I feel now. But what I can determine is the direction I was trying to take. Now that I am there, it is merely an interesting exercise to listen to what began the developmental process.

"But I don't like listening a lot to my albums. Once I've completed the set, then I put it aside. Otherwise, it's like repeating the experience twice.

"I wouldn't even say that I begin with a fixed formula for an album, either. For example, I don't sit down and think: Ah, yes, I'll take this as a theme and churn out an album around it. It just doesn't happen like that.

"My song writing is a continual process, which is automatically geared to how I'm thinking, the emotions I'm going through at that particular point in my evolution. So I'm not aware of a whole. But somewhere along the line there is an album, which, if you like, is another month in the diary."

The next album was Catch Bull At Four, which was dominated by experiments in narrative, romantic and naturalistic writing.

But Cat moved on yet again. No one is capable of predicting what will be the rough idea of the next Cat Stevens album. Only Cat himself can do that when he's completed the songs, because they are so intricately wound up with his own mental development. But does it give him a sense of elation to make it all public when it is essentially an introvertive process?

"Albums are necessary if you are to achieve a wide audience. There is a limit to the amount of people I can play to and create the atmosphere I want to.

"I used to lay down such meticulous plans for perfection in my concerts. I would strive for perfection in the studio and then attempt to recreate it for an audience. It didn't work. I soon realised that the tcpg4c.JPG (6418 bytes)perfection came from my emotions. There had to be that complete sincerity and an immediate affinity between myself and the song.

"If it didn't click then it was just like singing any old song and the special meaning was somehow lost. I knew it and that was what mattered. That's why I try to avoid the old songs as much as possible for the simple reason that I was singing about things that were from a much earlier part of my development; emotions I don't have such strong feelings for now and, consequently, it would all be a bit synthetic. But people can still listen to the albums and I can present the new material live in concerts."

Cat's next album was Foreigner, which set out his feelings about himself in relation to others and the outside world.

"I don't like pinning nationalities on people. We are all basically foreign to each other. We are aliens to our own nature. We are a planet of foreigners. We are all lost children."

Cat produced this album himself in an effort to change the direction. A lot of it was, consequently, done in Jamaica, which Cat enjoyed.

In fact, it has been said that this album partially quenched his thirst for total expression. But in his album Buddha And The Chocolate Box, he changes direction again and underlines the force of love and understanding, which is reflected right through his work.

The album is people with wide-eyed children just beginning their travels and sad-eyed elders nearing the end of theirs. These two, far apart but integrally related, contain the paradox which is Cat Stevens' art.

He seems, at once, to be the cheerful innocent thrilled by the world and the aged sage, dying from it. He understands and feels both edges of life and bridges them.

"I feel I am getting closer and closer to the true meaning of my life all the time. I find a great peace in silence."

But what of friends, of relationships-do then help to alleviate the low periods?

'They do and they don't. You can tend to bring them down to your emotional depth rather than being brought out of it. My songs are my outlet."

Despite Cat's life with his parents in their home, where he stayed for many years because "we all understand each other", he has now moved into his own house, structured around his personality. "It's a working house. Three floors, basement ground and upper. The first thing I did was to get the workmen in to knock down the walls so that each floor was just one large room.

"The top floor, which is completely white, and the ceiling, which is the natural roof of the house, is light and airy. I like working in these kind of conditions. In fact, there is no furniture in the room at all, except for a piano. That's where I compose and paint when the mood takes me.

'My bed rests on a piano platform, which is set into the wall on one side of the studio, and you reach it by going up a short flight of open pine steps.

"The ground floor of the house is where I've installed my hi-fl and stereo system around a sunken wall, and I've scattered the floor with large cushions. Then I've got an illuminated tank of tropical fish, too.

"Down in the basement, I've built a complete recording studio. It's capable of handling eight tracktcpg4b.JPG (12482 bytes)s. and I use it for making demos, which will later be recorded in a more sophisticated studio.

"But I'm not using it just myself. I intend to let other song-writer/composers come down here and work in peace and turn out their demos. So I've got an engineer who can control all the gadgetry working there and he handles all that side.

"As for the garden, well, it's mostly Japanese influenced, with bamboo screens covering one wall, and there's also a pond, fed by a constantly running stream, which I find soothing and refreshing. The sound of water is so beautiful.

I've got lots more ideas for the garden so that it really will be like a Japanese setting. But it'll take time.

"Right now, I've got a tour of the States and then I fly to Japan. From there, I'll take a rest. I've just bought this plot of land on a Greek island.

"I said I'd never do that once, because all I'd want to do would be to laze in the sun. Well, that's what I want it for now. So I'm having a house built there for me to spend a few months in each year"

Any bets on a future album being Hellenically inspired?

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