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Sounds Magazine
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.

Cat Stevens sitting with guitarAt 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 isn’t finished yet, he’s 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 can’t say ‘he died too young’ because it’s ridiculous. He died when he died. Maybe if I didn’t worry so much I’d live longer. But I believe that if I concentrate and keep my mind and energy where it should go I can’t burn out. I’ll 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 can’t 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 you’re 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. There’s no such thing as Sunday in my life any more, I’ve lost the time to spend smiling. But you can’t 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 I’m hungry — when I haven’t eaten and I’ve 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 Stevens’s 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 I’m 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— I’ll listen to all sides before making a judgement, my own personal viewpoint. And in both I still have the ability to be wrong. Basically we’re 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 don’t mean mediocre in the bad sense of the word, hut simply that it is no longer confusing. It’s now the complete expression of an artist that is becoming the medium, a period where Carole King emerges because she’s beautiful but very plain and simple lyrically, where James Taylor becomes huge even though his voice isn’t 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 it’s exactly the way I feel comfortable. It’s the only way I can do it at the moment. I mean there was a stage when I’d 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 I’ve found I can create the same feeling in a song on one chord.Close up of Cat Singing

"The barriers have been broken down now, there aren’t so many false idols. Musicians now are like friends of the people they play for. It’s 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 wasn’t quite as real as it used to be. And that’s 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. That’s 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 I’m there."

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