When most people hear the name Yusuf Islam, they think of a man who inexplicably abandoned a successful music career and has since become better known for a few controversial events. This truly is a shame, because the music he created under his former identity, Cat Stevens, is some of the best and most moving folk music ever created. After a major hiatus following his conversation to Islam, he’s back to recording and performing, though under his new name. Cat Stevens fans can now purchase Yusuf Islam tickets to hear him play some of their old favorites from the ’60s and ’70s as well as his new material. As I discuss his older work, I’m going to refer to him as Stevens; recognize that Stevens and Islam are the same man.
Stevens had a way of saying things in a fashion that people mostly only thought. People don’t often convey their thoughts in the same language that they’d use when thinking about them, as there’s an honesty and a passion that are often lost in the translation. Stevens’ music came off as extremely heartfelt and sincere, saying the things that we all wish we could. He had a way with words, that is for sure, and he touched the hearts of so many and broke them when he decided to leave his profession.
People have difficulty expressing their true feelings in everyday conversation, and this trend only seems to worsen as time progresses. People have been conditioned to be embarrassed to express their feelings by a society that is drifting away from any kind of heartfelt expression. Stevens acknowledged this in his music, which was his way of releasing those feelings to the world.
“I love you,” he sings on the song “Two Fine Lovers.” “Though the stars may fade and mountains turn into sand/I love you/’Til my body changes into an old man/I love you/And the song that I sing is the only way that I can explain.” People often use artistic forms of expression to convey their deepest thoughts and feelings, whether it be song, poetry or painting. Stevens used his music and the emotions present in his songs make for some of the greatest music of his era.
Stevens’ song “Father and Son” is sung from two points of view, as that of a father imparting life lessons on his son trades verses with that of the son. It’s essentially an exchange that any father could have with his son if the two were willing to lay their feelings out on the table. “I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy/To be calm when you’ve found something going on/But take your time, think a lot/Why, think of everything you’ve got/For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not,” Stevens sings from the father’s point of view.
“How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again/It’s always been the same, same old story/From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen/Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away/I know I have to go,” comes the riposte from the son’s point of view. The song is a very interesting exchange between the two sides and Stevens even alters his vocal inflections to highlight the different parties’ verses.
It seems that the everyday person becomes less and less willing to let people into their mind, heart and soul. Many still express themselves through art of some kind, though few do it so honestly and so gracefully as Stevens did and is now again doing as Yusuf Islam.
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