September 25, 1971
By Penny Valentine
Teaser and the white hot Cat
"I built my house of
barley rice, green paper walls and water ice, tables of paper wood, windows of light and
everything emptying into white.
At the top of his new
house in Fulham Cat Stevens sits on a white carpet between white stone walls, the ceiling
goes on up for ever to towering white rafters. giving a feeling of infinite space and
calm. On the floor are two books one by John Cage, the other "The Groucho
Letters" and, because the kitchen isnt finished yet, hes eating a
late lunch from a plastic carton.
We are talking, amongst
other things, about music. His own and the state of the party generally at the moment.
With the release of his third album "Teaser And The Firecat" (which already has
an advance of half a million in the States) Stevens continues his inexorable rise as a
solo artist and writer. Sealing his future and continuing his pure outlook of simplicity
and clarity both lyrically and musically. A satisfying position. but does he ever worry
that with the mortality rate in rock music so high and the success so huge that few
people seem able to cope with it sanely, he may end up losing all the control that has
kept him going in the face of adversity for so long?
"I really do believe
that nobody gets more than their share of anything. And that includes life. You cant
say he died too young because its ridiculous. He died when he died.
Maybe if I didnt worry so much Id live longer. But I believe that if I
concentrate and keep my mind and energy where it should go I cant burn out.
Ill retain my velocity. Personally the answer is to know when your thing
your Karma or whatever is being influenced by other people around you. The
whole problem with people leading this kind of life is that suddenly they find they
cant guide themselves any longer and get so caught up with other people they lose
their sense of their own destiny.
"In my own case the
only real problems I have are that in using my energy so much to go further I forget about
now. I lose time. When youre playing with 3.000 people watching, you do get their
energy and the faith to go on and give a good show, and because of that you offer
everything you have to give. Theres no such thing as Sunday in my life any more,
Ive lost the time to spend smiling. But you cant help sacrificing something. I
really believe that. You can burst yourself trying to do it all and have it all. There
should always be things left to want. I mean for Instance, I find I do my best work when
Im hungry when I havent eaten and Ive smoked too many cigarettes
and feel really sick."
This control over his own
life this calmness and assurance that is the result of an artist who is on his second time
around, who has learnt from his mistakes and gained for his future. It is constantly
reflected not just in his day to day living but very much in Stevenss musical
outlook. He sees his own outlook based in simplicity but with enough room to let an
audience use their imagination. He is, he says, trying to be as honest as he can without
being too open:
"It would really bore
me to tears to talk about myself totally within a song. I have to entertain myself as much
as anyone else. I suppose you could say Im my own favourite artist if you like and I
have to think like that. I have to listen to a song and gain something more from it than
is originally laid down. My attitude to music is the same as my philosophy to
religion Ill listen to all sides before making a judgement, my own personal
viewpoint. And in both I still have the ability to be wrong. Basically were all
wrong and everyone should realize that."
What then is his judgement
of current music of the veer away from complication to personal statement, from
hard rock to ecology, from group to soloist?
l think music
at the moment is going through a mediocre stage. I dont mean mediocre in the bad
sense of the word, hut simply that it is no longer confusing. Its now the complete
expression of an artist that is becoming the medium, a period where Carole King emerges
because shes beautiful but very plain and simple lyrically, where James Taylor
becomes huge even though his voice isnt anything ultra-extraordinary, where Joni
Mitchell and all these people can simply express them selves. So that instead of the music
holding them up, THEY hold the music up.
"Yes I am doing the
same thing myself. But its exactly the way I feel comfortable. Its the only
way I can do it at the moment. I mean there was a stage when Id have loved to play
64 semi-demi quavers in one bar on a guitar. At the time when the main feat was to be as
fast, slick and technical as possible. But now Ive found I can create the same
feeling in a song on one chord.
"The barriers have
been broken down now, there arent so many false idols. Musicians now are like
friends of the people they play for. Its like Coronation Street a
serial where there are different channels for individual artists and you can keep
switching over. I think at one time it got to the point in music where everyone was a
star. Then there were groups that were stars like the Beatles.
Everybody knew it was THEM that was the star not just one of them. But when it got to the
stage where musicians were shifting from group to group I think people realized it
wasnt quite as real as it used to be. And thats why they turned their
attention to individual artists."
And, although now the age
of the Hollywood-style idol is over. Stevens thinks we are still in need of heroes. That
it is part of human nature to have someone to lead the way. Someone with perhaps slightly
more force, who has risen to a position and status but remains not quite as detached as
the heroes of old. Not quite so much out of reach:
"Heroes are the
instinct of human nature. People now still want to see them, but they want to see
extensions of themselves in a position where they can iudge them. Thats why the
Beatles will never fail whatever they do now, or why Elvis and Dylan will always be an
influence because they have given so much of themselves, dedicated their lives on
stage. When you see that as a musician, you have to try and give meaning to your own
position. I mean sometimes I can see my success, or whatever you like to call it growing
to the point where perhaps I might forget exactly where I am and exactly why Im