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Yusuf Islam a/k/a Cat Stevens

PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 2:05 pm
by Russell
He's baaaack and how sweet it is. Here's the new album promo:

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And here's the title song:

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You can stream the entire album here.

PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 7:20 pm
by Rob
As much as I loved his music, I can't listen to it without remembering the Rushdie fatwa and what he said 20 years ago. He's backtracked in recent years from the statements, and alleged that he was simply repeating the legal views in the Koran, but he's never totally disavowed any of it. However, his words back then are pretty clear and at odds with his recent claims. Call it naiveté, call it willful ignorance, but the guy who wrote "Peace Train," should have known better.

I usually don't judge my musical likes/dislikes on an artist's political persuasions, and I'm sorry for interjecting it here, but to me, he's forever tainted by the whole affair.

In Islam there is a line between let's say freedom and the line which is then transgressed into immorality and irresponsibility and I think as far as this writer is concerned, unfortunately, he has been irresponsible with his freedom of speech. Salman Rushdie or indeed any writer who abuses the prophet, or indeed any prophet, under Islamic law, the sentence for that is actually death. It's got to be seen as a deterrent, so that other people should not commit the same mistake again.

And from an interview:

Robertson: Would you be part of that protest, Yusuf Islam, would you go to a demonstration where you knew that an effigy was going to be burned?

Y. Islam: I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing

Here's a letter that Rushdie wrote to the Daily Telegraph two years ago:

Cat Stevens wanted me dead

However much Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam may wish to rewrite his past, he was neither misunderstood nor misquoted over his views on the Khomeini fatwa against The Satanic Verses (Seven, April 29). In an article in The New York Times on May 22, 1989, Craig R Whitney reported Stevens/Islam saying on a British television programme "that rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie, 'I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing'.''

He added that "if Mr Rushdie turned up at his doorstep looking for help, 'I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like. I'd try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is'.''

In a subsequent interview with The New York Times, Mr Whitney added, Stevens/Islam, who had seen a preview of the programme, said that he "stood by his comments".

Let's have no more rubbish about how "green" and innocent this man was.

Salman Rushdie, New York

PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 8:49 pm
by Russell
I am a fan of the music of Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam and of the writing of Salman Rushdie, who's work I've complemented a couple of times on this board. They are artists and I enjoy their art. but I look to neither for political or spiritual guidance, and that's a good thing because one (Rushdie) has made political statements with which I disagree and the other (Stevens) has made religious statements with which I disagree. That's also why I can enjoy the art of John Steinbeck without being concerned by the arguments of many that he supported the Vietnam War and can appreciate the thoughts of Joseph Campbell in spite of the arguments of those that believe he was anti-Semitic. Perhaps all that is because I've said and done plenty of stupid things in my life and perhaps there are some people who don't like me because of one or more of those things. But if I were ever to create something worthy of being called art, I would hope that the ability of others to enjoy my art would not be ruined by someone feeling a need to bring the attention of the others to one or more of those stupid things or to point out that they don't like me.

PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 8:53 pm
by keith from ny
Thanks Russell -- Tea for the Tillerman was one of my favorite albums back in the day and I'm very interested to hear what Yusuf comes up with at this point in his life.

PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 9:51 pm
by Rob
Like I said, Russell, I usually don't apply politics to music or art. But for me, this was beyond the pale of normal stupidity. Cat Stevens insinuated in no uncertain terms that it was permissible for Rushdie to be killed, even implying that he would help facilitate it given the chance. Whether he meant it seriously or not, it was a genuinely nauseating view to express.

At that point, his art was overshadowed by his conspicuous disdain for Rushdie's art. After all, freedom of expression forms the foundation upon which art is conceived. Cat was attacking that in a very frightening manner. He could have spoken out forcefully against the fatwa when asked, but he chose to fuel the flames.

Aside from being extremely disturbed, I was extremely disappointed. And that has not abated. For me, it's very hard to look at Cat Stevens today and not have that enter the discussion.

And I don't mean to belabor the point, but Theo Van Gogh was murdered in Holland for expressing his 'controversial' views on Islam. When you have zealots willing to murder artists, that's a problem. And anyone expressing support for such action should, in my opinion, be taken to task.

PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 5:07 am
by keith from ny
Rob, you're talking as if he hasn't already been taken to task or that those of us who are able to separate his art from his actions 20 years ago are somehow supporting his deplorable endorsement of the fatwa by listening to his music. I'm not defending the man's statements about Rushdie or the beliefs that spawned them, as far as I'm concerned they're just one more example of the stupidity and intolerance that often results from religious fundamentalism of any stripe. I really hope he's moved beyond that perspective, but regardless, I regard his art as a separate matter.

PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 6:53 am
by Russell
I suppose that I might feel the same way as Rob if I tended to believe that Stevens/Islam continued to harbor whatever religious thinking it was that lead him to make his comments about the fatwa. I also suppose that his decision to return to, and even acceptance of, the music of his past, even to the extent of using the name Cat Stevens in conjunction with his current name, gives me comfort that he no longer harbors that thinking. His music has always had the feel of warmth with all the usual cliches - peace, love, harmony, etc. It makes me wonder whether his abandonment of his music left him in a condition for his own thinking to be more easily corrupted - or maybe it's just one of those chicken or the egg things. At any rate, I can't help but feel good about his return to his music, particularly since it can have a positive influence in a part of the world that could use such influence. As he says in the promotional video, "You can argue with philosophy, you can't argue with a good song, and I think I've got a few good songs". With people like Dolly Parton and Paul McCartney joining him on the album, it seems that others agree.

Here's a telling excerpt from an article on Islam/Stevens in the current edition of Newsweek:

By the close of the [1970's], Islam donated all his guitars to charity and then turned his back on music. He also ceased watching television or listening to the radio. "I just stopped being influenced by worldly chaos and commercialism," he says. One marriage and five kids later, Islam became a philanthropist who raised money for various charities, including his own Small Kindness. He also began recording benefit songs for English-speaking Muslims in the form of children's music. A song about the Arabic alphabet in 2000 was his first real step back in, and it was a hit. "I can't believe no one ever thought of the title 'A Is for Allah'," says Islam. "I thought, this is a find." The song is now a staple in Muslim households across the Western world.

The warm acceptance of his new music made Islam question some of these more rigid Muslim ideals that he had adopted. He converted at a time when conservative strains of Islam were on the rise, and he says now that in his search for a Muslim identity, he perhaps misinterpreted the teachings of the Qur'an and pulled away from singing and songwriting too abruptly. "When you look at Baghdad in its golden age, there were musicians, poets, scientists—and there was law as well," he says. "There was a balance. It was all one fantastic civilization, and that got lost somewhere in the reprocessing of the religion."

The entire article is here.

So, in all those senses, I will repeat what I said at the beginning of this string: He's baaaack and how sweet it is. Particularly since we can get songs like this (I'll answer here the question asked repeatedly in the song - Where do you go? You go to the greatest church of all - music; and, by the way Yusuf/Cat, don't ever abandon that church again):

by Yusuf Islam

Roadsinger came to town, long cape and hat,
people stood and stared then closed their doors, as he passed,
he strolled the empty street, kids banged on tin cans,
then the panting dogs began to bark, as the Roadsinger sang

Where do you go, where do you go,
when hearts are closed,
when a friend becomes a stranger,
nobody wants to know

Where do you go, where do you go,
when the world turns dark,
and the light of truth is blown out,
and the roads are blocked

He stopped by a stall, between the barrels and sacks,
a child's face peeped out and gave a smile, and ran back,
behind a misty glass, on a windowpane,
a little finger drew a perfect heart, and a name

Where do you go, where do you go,
in a world filled with fright,
only a song to warm you, through the night
Where do you go, where do you go,
after lies are told,
and the light of truth is blown out,
and the night is cold

Mmm.... Mmmm.... Mmmm.... Mmmm....

Roadsinger rode on, to another land,
though the people spoke a different tongue, it understand,
they showed him how to share, and took him by the hand,
showed him the path to Heaven, through the desert sand

Where do you go, where do you go,
to find happiness,
in a world filled with hatred,
where do you go, where do you go,
if no one cares,
and everybody's lost, looking for theirs

PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 8:48 am
by Rob
Let me be clear Russell (and I think I was), it's all my my opinion. I don't think for a second that you or anyone else here supports that fatwa or any other ugly aspect of intolerance.

Where we separate is that despite all his awards and charity work and celebrity collaborations, he's never forcefully disavowed what he said. When it's brought up in interviews, he simply says he was joking or was misinterpreted. He chalks it up to being rather young and naive. But he was 29. I'd feel a whole lot more comfortable if he'd just come out and admit that what he conveyed on more than one occasion was just plain dumb and wrong.

And if he keeps wondering why it's always brought up, he should put himself in Salman Rushdie's shoes and ask himself how he would have felt about having a fellow artist all but condone his murder based on what he wrote. Although not a personal threat, based on realities, it was obviously not an idle one.

Honestly, I think he was, in a sense, young and naive in the multi-faceted world of Islam. But there are core principles you simply don't betray and he trampled them in his rush to find spiritual meaning in his life. And I'm still discomfited by that.

How about this, Russell: I can forgive but I can't forget. And lord knows that album sounds really refreshing and it is good to hear his voice again. Dolly doing Peace Train was a bit much even for me. And I have that Dolly album.

PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 9:12 am
by sfboy
I just have to chime in here, and I'm with Rob on this one. I have no problem with other people liking his return to music, and of course I don't equate that with any agreement on anyone's part that his statements were anything less than reprehensible.

But when a public figure of any stripe publicly calls for the death of someone because they wrote a novel, well, for me that crosses a line. And, as Rob said, if he'd made a public statement saying he was wrong, then that might make me a little more charitable.

I guess I've very intolerant of intolerance, however twisted that may be. But religious fundamentalism of any type is number one on my personal list of evils. So again, this is just me, but there is no way I'd ever listen to his music again. I'm happy that you guys are able to get past it, because it's probably the better way to deal with the situation emotionally, but I'm not that evolved, and to be honest, I don't really want to be.


PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 10:25 am
by Arlene
Rob wrote:I can forgive but I can't forget.

That's actually the position I take in regard to one of my greatest heroes-- Pete Seeger. I'm still troubled by his failure until 1993 to publically condemn Stalin and the murder of well over 3 million Russians during Stalin's reign of tyranny. I've long understood Pete's embrace of the ideals of Communism in the 20s, but his willful refusal to acknowledge the abuses that took place in the 30s until well over 40 years after they had become common knowledge in the West is, in my view, shameful. It's hard to deny that he served as an apologist for decades. Nonetheless, I tremdously admire so many things about him and the life he's led.

PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 11:24 am
by Rob
I didn't know that about Pete. But it's not surprising. He's always been such an idealist that I could see him mentally recoiling from that ugly truth. My aunt's mother never did. It's probably fair to say she simply couldn't admit that her lifelong beliefs and ideals clashed with the horrific realities of Stalin's rule. But she would never have killed or advocated killing anyone. She was a great lady who grew up in Soviet Russia, adopted the ideals, and left before any of the atrocities began.

I remember when Pete marched with Sharpton over the Tawana Brawley case. It was just another case of misguided idealism. He'd seen so much evil during the civil rights era that he jumped on that case before all the facts were known. I can't really blame him. But with Pete, all the good he's accomplished overwhelms his personal foibles. And let's face it, we all have those.

There is one thing we can be sure of, though: if a journalist ever asked Pete Seeger how he would "cope with the idea of killing a writer for writing a book," he would emphatically condemn the notion, no matter the subject. And that's exactly why people are still disturbed by Cat Stevens' statements. Like Kevin said, he crossed a line.

PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 11:31 am
by marybeth
For me it has been a little offputting how Yusaf/Cat now wants to turn on the publicity machine, which he clearly has done, and act a little as if the past 20 years didn't happen. It's going to be a little harder for me to warm up to him than it would have been had he not dropped out of music and recanted his music and all that his fans cherished in him (not to mention the Rushdie issue). I'll give him a chance, but as I said, I'm going to be kind of wary.

PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 1:53 pm
by Russell
Well, I'll bow out of this discussion. I've been accused of being a Pollyanna and I suppose that accusation has a lot of merit. :wink:

PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 3:10 pm
by marybeth
Look at it this way Russell, at least you got a discussion going on this board! :)

PostPosted: Wed May 13, 2009 5:12 pm
by Rob
marybeth wrote:Look at it this way Russell, at least you got a discussion going on this board! :)

My sentiments exactly about Pollyann(a). :wink: :lol: