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May 10, 2010 8:34 PM   Subscribe

Father and Son Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam
posted by HuronBob (85 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
So... for many of you, this might not be especially meaningful. But, to those of us that have been around for a year or two, there is a depth of significance.

In the early 70's Cat Stevens represented the spiritual side of the alternative culture... those of us who had children felt a connection to this song...we looked down a road we had traveled and tried to imagine how it would be for our children..

Cat became Yusuf, we didn't know what to make of that...this was well before the concept of Islam was connected to terrorism.....

Somehow, in this era, having Yusuf sing this same song, to his son, connects the pieces... we aren't that different, not at the core.
posted by HuronBob at 8:48 PM on May 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


That was really nice, thanks.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:57 PM on May 10, 2010


Thanks, never heard this song!

It's sad to the see youtube comment bickering on the Yusuf link. He's singing like he still believes it decades later, that should legitimate the concept you mention HuronBob more than any other factor.
posted by skepticallypleased at 8:59 PM on May 10, 2010


I wasn't a MeFite back in 2001, but I remember the general acrimony on the net toward Yusuf, even (if not especially) once he returned to music. Made me terribly sad.

Thanks for this.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:02 PM on May 10, 2010


Yusuf Islam singing Peace Train at the the Nobel prize.

I grew up listening to Cat Stevens on vinyl. Some of my favorite songs to this day.
posted by lilywing13 at 9:22 PM on May 10, 2010


Curious, is that the same guy doing the guitar solo in both?
posted by gubo at 9:23 PM on May 10, 2010


You've just given me a really nice twenty minutes, listening to these songs, reading about this fine artist -- quite a life he's led.

Thanx for posting.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:26 PM on May 10, 2010


Thank you. Always have been and always will be a Cat Stevens/Yusaf fan. Very meaningful.
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:28 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I met Cat Stevens when I was about 9 or so when he was a guest at our mosque near DC. I had no idea who he was other than the dude who sang a preschool alphabet song called "A is for Allah." That is all.
posted by MXJ1983 at 9:33 PM on May 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


HuronBob: I think you really might be that different. Cat Stevens is very serious about his religion and believes that people who blaspheme it should die. So when he sings about peace it's not necessarily peace for people like you and me.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:35 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm glad some of you have found this meaningful.

I think what prompted me to post this was when I listened to Yusaf sing "I'm old, but I'm happy.." having listened to that same line sung by him when he wasn't old. Sometimes it pays to be older than dirt... there's a perspective that you can't have otherwise, it only took waiting about 35 years for these pieces to come together.
posted by HuronBob at 9:35 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yusuf Islam singing Peace Train at the the Nobel prize.

Nice cause and all, but to my ears Cat (the infidel) had something in the 70s that Yusuf (the elder) can't match. Maybe it's just youth. But dubious intro aside, this 1976 version of Peace Train soars.
posted by philip-random at 9:42 PM on May 10, 2010


Joe, I'm aware of his religious fervor, I'm aware of his politics... but, putting that aside, because almost all of us have that kind of passion for what we believe in... this song, about fathers and sons, it ties us together....

As I posted this, I also spent some time listening to an old Jim Croce song, "I've got a name", another song that connects fathers and sons.

This wasn't a post to tear us apart, it was about tying us together...

Earlier today I was listening to an NPR piece about Iraq, about a son exposed to his father being killed.. the politics didn't matter, the religion didn't matter... it wasn't about that.

peace...
posted by HuronBob at 9:43 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Cat Stevens is very serious about his religion and believes that people who blaspheme it should die.

Actually, his feelings about the subject are complex and contradictory, as the Wikipedia article makes clear. His comments about the Fatwa were disappointing, but do benefit from some contextualization, and they were made 20 years ago.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:44 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, for a moment I thought "My God, Yusaf Islam looks like a younger, bearded Chevy Chase."

And now I can't stop seeing him as Chevy Chase.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:47 PM on May 10, 2010


Cat became Yusuf, we didn't know what to make of that...

Well, the simple fact that he quit making music after his Islamic conversion I took as a rejection of all he had sung about before. When he re-emerged musically, I was glad to hear his first new release was a new version of "Peace Train", but I still liked the original better. I was rather delighted that I didn't hear any difference (except for an older voice) between the two performances of "Father and Son". I haven't heard much of any of Yusef's new songs, but I still have many of Cat's original recordings in my (I don't do 'shuffle') listening queue.

Oh very young
What will you leave us this time
There'll never be a better chance to change your mind
And if you want this world to see a better day
Will you carry the words of love with you
Will you ride the great white bird into heaven
And though you want to last forever you know you never will
(You know you never will)
And the goodbye makes the journey harder still.

posted by oneswellfoop at 9:49 PM on May 10, 2010


Thanks for this. His music means a great deal to me.
posted by missmary6 at 9:52 PM on May 10, 2010


@AstroZombie

And he's had 20 years to clarify them. Yet he hasn't. Indeed, he made a smirking joke about it on some BBC talk show.
posted by RavinDave at 9:52 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


I love MetaFilter! Thanks, philip-random for that version of PeaceTrain... nice... And to those of you who, as usual, have a deeper understanding of every post I make, make insightful statements, and expand my world...
posted by HuronBob at 9:52 PM on May 10, 2010


I am moved beyond bits to see him sing his old songs, and in such, such fine voice, too, only barely scuffed by age.

My daycamp counselors sang Cat Stevens to me when I was a wee girl of 4 or so in the mid-late 70s. I've always held his voice and songs very fondly in my head; they made a huge impact on me. I imagined the man behind that voice to be beautiful and kind. It fit neatly into the ideal "love your neighbor and this is all that is important" version of the faith in which I grew up. Cat Stevens is all bound up with church for me, really, I grew up in a great church that was very focused on fellowship and community, and this voice seemed like Jesus to me as a young child.

I moved away from a church and religion, but there's an idealism that I learned then that keeps me connected, and made me a devout agnostic who keeps defending Christians and Muslims and all devout peoples who are striving for goodness. If you're with us or against us, I'm on the side of beauty and hope, dammit.

I was chagrined to hear the stridency of his tone upon his conversion; I was happy to hear that he had started performing his secular songs again. And I'm a little weepy at this post overall.

I'm still having a hard time calling him Yusef and not Cat, but if he's going to be a beacon and and all, I'll respect his wishes to be called what he likes.
posted by desuetude at 10:02 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


but, putting that aside, because almost all of us have that kind of passion for what we believe in... this song, about fathers and sons, it ties us together....

Reminds me of a Bob Dylan interview I read way back. I think it came with the Biograph box set. He was asked about his Christian phase and replied that the only religion that he ever really cared about was the kind that he found directly through music. It's one of those ideas that's stuck with me. That is, we get all hung up on a certain artist's personal shit (good or bad, sublime or ridiculous) which ultimately has nothing to do with what drew us to him/her in the first place, which is the work itself, the magic in it, the strange and beautiful place from whence it came.
posted by philip-random at 10:02 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yusuf Islam said some stupid, vile things about an author under a very real threat of death, got burned by bad PR and has been making lame excuses for himself ever since. His attempt to justify it by saying he was some naive innocent 'just quoting scripture' is particularly odious to me, first because he made statements that go well above and beyond a simple statement of what the Koran says about blasphemy. And second because the suggestion that he was innocently suckered into all this is laughable on it's face. Are we all supposed to go "oh well how would a world famous celebrity entertainer be expected to have any savvy in dealing with the media?".

If he had actually apologized, or even had just said "I was a new convert and said some stupid things that I regret in the heat of a controversy" then fine let's all move on. Until he gives up this pathetic fiction that he was the wronged party in all of this though, I see no reason why it shouldn't continue to be brought up.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:06 PM on May 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


Huh, I guess the Flaming Lips did totally rip that off.
posted by anazgnos at 10:54 PM on May 10, 2010


His original version of "Morning Has Broken" is probably a good contender for my list of top five favorite songs of all time.

Thanks for the post.
posted by darkstar at 11:46 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jim Croce's "I've Got a Name" was mostly about fathers and sons connecting by running 'shine and racing stockcars, and though I've no objection to that, I somehow doubt it'd go over too well with old Yusuf.
posted by MarchHare at 12:11 AM on May 11, 2010


Son sings back:
I'm still young and that's my fault?
What the fuck, I didn't make me.
Look at you, you're the guy
Who had me so late.
posted by pracowity at 12:13 AM on May 11, 2010


I've got a deep soft spot for this song. I have this memory back from almost 15 years ago, weeks after my first real breakup, coming home after school and walking through the door hearing my brothers in the middle of playing this song toghether. And it's funny, before I'd even really processed the words of the song -- which I'd never heard before then -- I'd gotten the larger sense of the themes of arcs and patterns in life. And it simultaneously pulled my perspective wider, out of some of the sharper misery of heartbreak, and narrower, into the blessings of music and family there in the moment. And that was before I discovered the highly resonant themes of the tension between youth and age, restlessness and settledness that have been playing out for me since.

Watching him sing it again from this place in his life, where "I was once like you are now" and "I am old but I'm happy" probably mean something different, at this point makes me feel a bit like I'm touching that moment where I first heard my brothers sing it. So, thanks HuronBob.

As for the Rushdie stuff... yeah, I don't think his remarks or the Islamic position on blasphemy are OK. I think it's unfortunate that such a brilliant artist has fallen at least partially underneath the spell of a philosophy that would endorse the violent punishment or death of someone for expression of an idea and hasn't seemed to know how to confront that when it's come up in discussion (I'd prefer rejection). But it's been a long time since I started the process of coming to terms with reality that most people -- even people who do fantastic things -- are mixed bags of good and bad, correct thinking and muddled thinking, a lesson I think more of us could stand to absorb.
posted by weston at 12:22 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


My favorite Cat/Yusef song is Moonshadow. My father was a big "road trip" kind of guy who preferred driving through the night to our destinations rather than wasting time and money on motels. His favorite road trip musical accompaniment was a Roger Whittaker cassette that included Whittaker's cover of Moonshadow (which I can't find on YouTube, damn). I heard that song so many times as a child, riding shotgun with my dad, pouring his coffee from a Thermos, while we made our way through parts unknown in the dark, followed by countless real moonshadows. I later discovered that it was a Cat Stevens song, and Cat's version has been my favorite ever since (great for conjuring good childhood memories, which unfortunately are few and far between).
posted by amyms at 12:53 AM on May 11, 2010


Yusuf Islam's affront goes beyond being a mixed bag. I'd say buying his music is immoral. We all fund much worse of course, but it's easy to not buy his music.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:58 AM on May 11, 2010


philip-random
That version you posted is indeed fantastic. I was just happy to see the more recent version done with a lot of true enthusiasm for a fellow his age and, yes, in the context.

Thank you, HuronBob, for this post. I so love that older music of his, and a his newer work is showing that he's still quite the songwriter/performer, and am glad that he's performing a good number of the tunes from the "old days."

My absolute favorite song of his is Into White. Found this version from '09 that sounds almost just the same, but the hint of age in the voice.
posted by lilywing13 at 1:06 AM on May 11, 2010


From the Wikipedia article: Although his father was Greek Orthodox and his mother a Swedish Lutheran Protestant, Georgiou was sent to a Catholic school.

Clearly the man switched to Islam in furious pursuit of religion's Grand Slam.
posted by chavenet at 3:17 AM on May 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


That was great, thanks!

Also, there's an awesome restaurant in Damascus that looks EXACTLY like that set.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:34 AM on May 11, 2010


Actually, Joe in Australia... that's not exactly what happened, or representative of how Yusuf Islam feels about things today:

"In 1989, during the heat and height of the Satanic Verses controversy, I was silly enough to accept appearing on a program called 'Hypotheticals' which posed imaginary scenarios by a well-versed (what if…?) barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC. I foolishly made light of certain provocative questions. When asked what I’d do if Salman Rushdie entered a restaurant in which I was eating, I said, “I would probably call up Ayatollah Khomeini”; and, rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author, I jokingly said I would have preferred that it'd be the “real thing”.

Criticize me for my bad taste, in hindsight, I agree. But these comments were part of a well-known British national trait; a touch of dry humor on my part. Just watch British comedy programs like "Have I Got News For You" or “Extras”, they are full of occasionally grotesque and sardonic jokes if you want them! On one particular broadcast of “Have I got News…” Ian Hislop, the editor of British satirical magazine Private Eye, personally called me “a Shi’ite” (doesn’t take too long to work out with a twist of an English accent what he meant by that).

Certainly I regret giving those sorts of responses now. However, it must be noted that the final edit of the program was made to look extremely serious; hardly any laughs were left in and much common sense was savagely cut out. Most of the Muslim participants in the program wrote in and complained about the narrow and selective use of their comments, surreptitiously selected out of the 3-hour long recording of the debate. But the edit was not in our hands. Balanced arguments were cut out and the most sensational quotes, preserved.

Providentially, they kept in one important response to a final question posed directly to me by Geoffrey Robertson QC. At the end of the debate he asked me to imagine if Salman Rushdie was taken to court in Britain and the Jury found him ‘not guilty’ of any crime - Blasphemy or otherwise - and dismissed the case, what I would do. I clearly stated that I would have to accept the decision and fully abide by the law! And that was no joke."


A few years back, I read an article of his in which he said that in the period of time after his conversion to Islam, he felt obligated to be somewhat unnecessarily strict about a number of things, including singing and playing instruments. He was actually somewhat intimidated about how some Muslims would respond to him, as a musician and foreigner. Would they accept him, or treat *him* as a blasphemer? (He had actually been criticized by a minor religious figure in his community, if I remember right, and didn't know how this would play out if/when he went to Mecca.)

He has since made it clear that he no longer feels that he no longer feels this level of threat or intimidation. That said, some of the fears he had were a very real issue until quite recently in some places.
posted by markkraft at 4:41 AM on May 11, 2010 [18 favorites]


In the early 70's Cat Stevens represented the spiritual side of the alternative culture... those of us who had children felt a connection to this song...we looked down a road we had traveled and tried to imagine how it would be for our children.

Cat Stevens was huge in the 1970s: Wild World, Morning Has Broken, Peace Train, Moonshadow, Father and Son. Great songs. And what a voice.

I remember being completely uninterested when I learned he converted to Islam. It's none of my business. For an ex-hippie artist, it's every bit as cool as blowing your brains out, OD'ing on smack, or choking on your own vomit which is where a lot of his peers ended-up.
posted by three blind mice at 4:41 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The fact of the matter is, the Islamic world has changed greatly since the whole Salmon Rushdie brouhaha 16 years ago.

Let's face it... People are intentionally -- and increasingly -- trying to push the buttons and mock the beliefs of the Islamic community, which is under attack in some countries for merely wanting to have the right for their people to dress in accordance with their religion... but when mocked, we simply aren't seeing fatwas from credible, well-established religious leaders anymore... only the occasional veiled threats from cowardly cranks.

Are these threats unfortunate? Sure. Are the lack of serious, established threats progress? Definitely. Quite a bit of it... in a historically very short period of time.

Those who ignore these obvious changes in the Islamic community and still rail against them, intentionally trying to provoke anger or block them from their neighborhoods, are basically doing something shameful, ignorant, dishonest, and fundamentally unamerican, reminiscent of an equally ugly and regrettable past.
posted by markkraft at 5:10 AM on May 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


If you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
'Cause there's a million things to be
You know that there are.....


Cat Stevens was certainly an influence on me in my early teens. I've always been attracted to artists who dig a little deeper into the human condition, and Cat seemed to have a underlying spirituality that really spoke to me in the turbulent seventies. (Father and Son was kind of a personal theme song of mine for a while.)

He has aged amazingly well. His voice is a little thinner, but that's to be expected. It's great to see him performing again.

Thanks for the post.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:26 AM on May 11, 2010


The fact of the matter is, the Islamic world has changed greatly since the whole Salmon Rushdie brouhaha 16 years ago.

Let's face it... People are intentionally -- and increasingly -- trying to push the buttons and mock the beliefs of the Islamic community, which is under attack in some countries for merely wanting to have the right for their people to dress in accordance with their religion...


Yes, because the "Ayatollah Assaholla" (depicting an imam in crosshairs) and "Looks Like I Steped In Some Shi'ite" (complete with a boot smashing a beturbaned head) tee shirts of the 1980s were such gentle ribbing, not meant to push any buttons.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:27 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes, because the "Ayatollah Assaholla" (depicting an imam in crosshairs) and "Looks Like I Steped In Some Shi'ite" (complete with a boot smashing a beturbaned head) tee shirts of the 1980s were such gentle ribbing, not meant to push any buttons.

1980s? My memory puts those back in the late seventies, right after Iran had kidnapped an entire embassy. Seems to me that rude tee shirts were a pretty mild reaction, given the circs.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:50 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Yes, because the "Ayatollah Assaholla" (depicting an imam in crosshairs) and "Looks Like I Steped In Some Shi'ite" (complete with a boot smashing a beturbaned head) tee shirts of the 1980s were such gentle ribbing, not meant to push any buttons."

But *who's* buttons?! Islam as a whole?! Hardly.

Those were attacks on an Iranian religious (and arguably also secular) leader... one who was basically feared and distrusted by all of the neighboring countries, for rocking the boat and threatening the largely pro American -- and usually pro-Sunni -- dictatorship status quo that existed beforehand. It's hard to underestimate how much Khomeini rocked the boat. The oil "sheik" dictators of the gulf were afraid of Khomeini becoming a hero to their Shi'a population, leading to popular uprisings. Saddam feared his influence in the south of Iraq. The Soviets and their proxies in Afghanistan? Same thing.

I believe he was essentially justified in overthrowing the Shah of Iran, who was a dictator and a murderer of his own people. That said, the Iraq invasion of Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan very well might not have happened if not for his rise to power.

So, when you say that we criticized and mocked a regional religious leader, you have to figure... who would complain? His neighbors were already doing all they could do to marginalize him.

That, frankly, is a LOT different than directly mocking Muhammad. Had the US done that extensively at the time, it might've helped to unify the Islamic world against us / behind Khomeini, so it is fortunate we didn't go down that road.
posted by markkraft at 6:00 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suppose he had a bit of convertitis, which is unfortunate. During his time also there wasn't an international/English-language Islamic music scene. Now thanks in part to the internet and the growth of muslim communities in the west, there are internationally known (amongst muslims) pop groups singing Islamic music, like Sami Yusuf (UK), Zain Bikha (South Africa), Raihan (Malaysia), and Debu (US/Indonesia). When the next Western celebrity converts, it is unlikely s/he will feel the same pressure to walk away from music entirely.

(only the occasional veiled threats from cowardly cranks.

Tangent: Just how lunatic fringe are the guys behind the South Park threat? The head loon in charge was an Israeli settler and Shas party member shortly before founding Revolution Muslim.)

posted by BinGregory at 6:34 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Father and Son was the first song that I learned to strum my way through on the guitar. I never tried to sing it because I can't hold a candle to his voice.

Now this song has really improved with age, so bittersweet.
posted by peeedro at 6:46 AM on May 11, 2010


Thank you for posting/pasting in that interview, markkraft.

I had heard comments that he felt he had been misrepresented or taken out of context with those initial remarks, but didn't know the source and had to categorize it as heresay, in my head. Which has been difficult because there is so much meaning for me in so many of his songs.

Oh, and HuronBob, I'm a daughter, not a son, but I've lost my father recently enough that I am still prone to tears when things remind me of him and this song always has. So thanks...for a little more catharsis.
posted by squasha at 7:01 AM on May 11, 2010


Great post.
posted by timshel at 7:30 AM on May 11, 2010


I've just never dug Cat Stevens at all. I had a roommate who played Matthew and Son and all that early stuff over and over. I think I have Catch Bull at Four in the collection somewhere, and I think I've given most of his classic stuff a fair shot. I just don't really like his voice or his songwriting.
posted by anazgnos at 7:39 AM on May 11, 2010


I first heard the melody as Fight Test and think both songs are wonderful.
posted by LSK at 7:41 AM on May 11, 2010


You know, people should "push the buttons and mock the beliefs" of every religious community, especially the big evangelical ones like Islam, Scientology, Catholics, Southern Baptists, etc. That's not just a right, that's a social obligation.

Artists are often make christian reactions part of the art, and rightly so. Afaik, Atheists liked the south park episode where people were shitting out of their mouths. etc. Anybody who goes around threatening cartoonists, authors, etc. has excluded themselves from civilized society.

Btw, I've seen an entirely different and incompatible accounting for those statements by Cat Stevens, which greatly weakens his credibility.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:44 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Israeli-American Joseph Cohen wants a jihad against Trey Parker?! I knew these people were loons, but Israeli agent provocateurs?! Sheesh.

When people talk about the cardboard stereotypes of the Islamic community, it really makes me wonder just how uninformed -- or worse... ideologically motivated towards hatred and deceit -- they are. It is not a slur on Jewish Americans to admit that that there are rabid, amoral, godforsaken Zionists in our country, who will stop at nothing -- not even God's laws -- to dishonestly incite anger, distrust, and discord in order to provoke longstanding animosities.

Indeed, we all need to remember they are out there, and do our best to make sure they can't get away with such antisocial, un-American behavior without being called on it, stopping them from dragging down the good names of others as a result of their lies. They deserve to be publicly scorned and ridiculed, every bit as much as Charles Lindbergh was.
posted by markkraft at 7:58 AM on May 11, 2010


Thanks for this. (I believe I'm about to cry...)
posted by MarshallPoe at 8:03 AM on May 11, 2010


I've been wanting to dig old Cat Stevens records out of the crates ever since Gervais's "Extras" started using him on the closing credits. I grew up listening to much harder edged music so I was a Stevens nay-sayer at first. I had friends (and especially a girl friend) who played the Tea for the Tillerman a. o. until I became a fan.

When the US media played the Yusuf Islam conversion story in the 80s, with his retreat from music & performance, I thought that it was a drag that someone so talented could understand the concept of God as one that would put an absolute ban on secular music. Then when the fatwa brouhaha hit (fatwaha?), I thought, well, ol' Yusuf has been completely around the bend now.

I read this remarks clarifying the whole dust-up & I thought then and I think now, that his apology or explanation, or whatever you want to call it made a lot of sense--and I remember seeing a longer interview with him, maybe on the Beeb, maybe online, and thought that Yusuf Islam was and is a thoughtful and reflective person. Like all of us he's made mistakes, and unlike some of us, he's learned lessons from the mistakes & reflection.

So, sorry h8trrz, Yusuf still has a kick-ass voice, and you'll have to go a long way to convince me that this is a man of intolerance and hate. I just don't see it.

Thanks for the post, HuronBob.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:04 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Btw, I've seen an entirely different and incompatible accounting for those statements by Cat Stevens, which greatly weakens his credibility.

I, too, have vague memories of hearing and seeing things that support and reinforce my personal biases and beliefs.

Care to offer a cite or two, jeffburdges?

Doesn't really matter to me either way, though. I will always find Cat Stevens/Yusef Islam's music beautiful and transcendent. And you can't take that away from me, bitches, no matter how black your heart is. Thanks for this post!
posted by saulgoodman at 8:06 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Btw, I've seen an entirely different and incompatible accounting for those statements by Cat Stevens, which greatly weakens his credibility."

References? With actual in-context, supporting links?!
posted by markkraft at 8:12 AM on May 11, 2010


I just hope, after his conversion to Islam, he continued to love his dog.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:15 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


While no question it is absurdly extreme to execute someone for blasphemy, let there also be no question that is a terribly rude thing to do, and ought not to be tolerated in polite society.

Mefites love their hipstery evangelical atheism with their LOLZ Christians, but really, that's the internet, and by definition, not really "polite society". No doubt some even take it out of the net and into the real world. Those are what enlightened individuals call "assholes". Where it with pride, or STFU.

HuronBob, THANKS! I'm an old fan from way back. So he converted to Islam. He found something there that meant something to him. Until I have the chance to sit at the opposite end of the proverbial log, and listen to what he has to say, I can't possibly sit in judgement of either him or his view of Islam. I can only judge his music, and I find it none the worse for the passage of time.
posted by Goofyy at 8:21 AM on May 11, 2010


You know, people should "push the buttons and mock the beliefs" of every religious community, especially the big evangelical ones like Islam, Scientology, Catholics, Southern Baptists, etc. That's not just a right, that's a social obligation.

I take it that you haven't included your own ideology in there.
posted by goethean at 8:35 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cat Stevens is very serious about his religion and believes that people who blaspheme it should die. So when he sings about peace it's not necessarily peace for people like you and me.

Well I call bullshit on this. First of all, contrary to what some people say, he's explained his comments fairly well. But my point of view is judged by his actions. Not only did he speak out against what was going on in Bosnia when much of the world didn't care, he put his money where his mouth was by supporting a number of charities (nearly all of them dealing with offering "relief" in the sense of food and medical shipments and secular educational materials.

There were Serbs who did the same - but usually only for other Serbs. The were Catholic groups who did the same - but mostly for the (Croatian) Catholic people in Serbia. There were Jewish groups who helped Jews in Sarajevo and had many Jews evacuated to Israel. And there were Muslim groups, whose aid often came with an unhealthy dollop of Wahhabism attached, and whose aid was intended for Muslims.

But, aside from a few big NGOs with no overt bias, Yusuf Islam was one of the few who helped everyone; his aid may have been motivated by the disproportionate slaughter of Muslims, but his aid was given with the specification that anyone in need should benefit, and that the children (much of his aid was geared to kids) who received his assistance should not even be asked their ethnicity / religion. This is much more than most groups did; we Sarajevans (of all religions) appreciated it greatly, because it exemplified what we believed was the all-inclusive, cosmopolitan nature of a multi-ethnic city. Yusuf Islam got that. Kudos to him. Like many young people in Sarajevo, I benefitted from his personal generosity.

Yusuf Islam has also stated very plainly that he does *not* believe that people who blaspheme Islam should die, only that such a thing is written in the Koran. Which it is - just like similar pasages in other holy books. I'm not saying that he's always beeen the best spokesperson, but his personal generosity and his actual actions speak more forcefully to his groovy nature than his words could. He saved many lives without regard to the religion of those he saved, maybe even mine. What have you done lately?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:37 AM on May 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


Two more gems from back in the day.

Did we lose something when Cat converted and, for a healthy while, turned his back on his songbook? Probably. But 1977, the year of his conversion, was also the year PUNK broke. Cat's sound was doomed toward some kind of obsolescence anyway. Speaking of which ...
posted by philip-random at 9:03 AM on May 11, 2010


You know, people should "push the buttons and mock the beliefs"

I can certainly support being honestly critical and viewing any and all belief (and lack of belief) systems with a skeptical mind, but to actively push buttons and mock seems like just assholish behavior for the sake of being an asshole. Kind of like those who burn flags simply because you have the right to burn flags, yeah I'm absolutely in favor of maintaining that right but keep your sanctimonious posturing amongst you and your friends.
posted by edgeways at 9:05 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always made a valiant attempt to separate the artist and their art. We all know how much stupid shit comes out of celebrities' mouths. Therefore, I've never gotten too caught up in the Cat/Yusef controversy. He'll always be Cat in 1967 to me.

Personally, the album that's always had a special place for me is Matthew and Son. I love that record and the memories it brings back to me so much that I'm tearing up just writing about it.

I also sing "I love my dog" to my pup at least once a week, and mean every word of it every time.

All he asks from me is the food to give him strength
All he ever needs is love and that he knows he'll get

posted by brand-gnu at 9:09 AM on May 11, 2010


Thanks, HuronBob. This is a lovely post. I was raised on Cat Stevens, and when he converted, it hardly registered to me beyond "Oh no, he's not singing any more?" I was young, and didn't know much about Islam, and life still had the drama of my teenage years. So to me it was a terrible thing - to intentionally deprive the world of his music seemed so very wrong.

As far as Islamic beliefs and whether Yusuf is in favor of fatwas - well, the only way any of us will ever know for sure what he believes is to sit down with him and interview him ourselves. Religion is such a deeply personal thing, and I refuse to judge someone based on the scriptures of the religion they choose. If I did that, I would cut off all contact with people of all religion. I prefer to just cut off contact with people who are doing things I find abhorrent. That interview - which could have been taken out of context (and happened 20 years ago - there are things *I* did 20 years ago that would make some people cut off contact with me!) - does not erase everything else I have heard about him. But who knows, maybe someday I will meet him, or see hard evidence that he's committed atrocious acts, or learn something about him that makes me feel differently.

In the meantime, I'm more than happy to carry on associating his songs with joy and peace, as I always have, and when I listen to Father & Son (or Fight Test - which I heard many many years later), I will still sing along. His music makes me want to love, and be happy, and celebrate life, which sounds incredibly cheesy (a feat in itself for someone like me - Love people? Bleah!). How music that makes people want to celebrate life can be considered immoral is beyond me. Maybe I just don't know how to properly inject prejudices and deep personal beliefs into every song I enjoy.
posted by routergirl at 10:20 AM on May 11, 2010


I've always made a valiant attempt to separate the artist and their art. We all know how much stupid shit comes out of celebrities' mouths. Therefore, I've never gotten too caught up in the Cat/Yusef controversy. He'll always be Cat in 1967 to me.

Brand-gnu - you said it much better than I did. I should have refreshed before posting.
posted by routergirl at 10:24 AM on May 11, 2010


My memory puts those back in the late seventies, right after Iran had kidnapped an entire embassy. Seems to me that rude tee shirts were a pretty mild reaction, given the circs.

Remember, much of Iran (if not most) sat as helpless as the rest of us as a pack of assholes (Ahmadinejad being one of them) stormed the embassy. Also, the tee shirts in question usually pictured "camel jockey" stereotypes of Arab Bedoins than Iranians as most of the bigots that wore them didn't know or care about the difference.

Had the US done that extensively at the time, it might've helped to unify the Islamic world against us / behind Khomeini, so it is fortunate we didn't go down that road.

Yeah, we were a rousing success on that front.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:30 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


3 best Cat Stevens songs:

I Want to Live in a Wigwam
If You Want to Sing Out
Portobello Road

(his cover of (Sam Cooke's) Another Saturday Night gets an honorable mention)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:59 PM on May 11, 2010


Remember, much of Iran (if not most) sat as helpless as the rest of us as a pack of assholes (Ahmadinejad being one of them) stormed the embassy.

True enough - as did initially the clerics and the revolutionary government.

Until they started aiding and abetting the "students". I expect if the Iranian government had come down like a ton of bricks, cleared the embassy and returned it quickly to its owners, the tee shirt thing would not have happened. Who knows? Perhaps a whole lot of other crap might not have happened. But they didn't, so we will never know.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:13 PM on May 11, 2010


That interview - which could have been taken out of context (and happened 20 years ago - there are things *I* did 20 years ago that would make some people cut off contact with me!) - does not erase everything else I have heard about him.

Some serious contortionism going on to rationalize abhorrent comments from the fellow...

Determining someone's behavior or beliefs to be immoral or "wrong" doesn't mean you have to cut off all contact with them. Do we not have racist or homophobic friends or relatives?

I love Cat Stevens's music. Honest, I do. His vile comments didn't affect my love for his music at all. But I can still find his comments vile.

I refuse to judge someone based on the scriptures of the religion they choose.

Weird. Not even if they joined a cult religion with scriptures that demanded blood sacrifices from unwilling participants? (perhaps not that bad an analogy ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:14 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


RE: those "vile" things that Mr. Islam did (or didn't) say, I think markkraft clarified that rather well here.

The nut of it:

Certainly I regret giving those sorts of responses now. However, it must be noted that the final edit of the program was made to look extremely serious; hardly any laughs were left in and much common sense was savagely cut out. Most of the Muslim participants in the program wrote in and complained about the narrow and selective use of their comments, surreptitiously selected out of the 3-hour long recording of the debate. But the edit was not in our hands. Balanced arguments were cut out and the most sensational quotes, preserved.

Providentially, they kept in one important response to a final question posed directly to me by Geoffrey Robertson QC. At the end of the debate he asked me to imagine if Salman Rushdie was taken to court in Britain and the Jury found him ‘not guilty’ of any crime - Blasphemy or otherwise - and dismissed the case, what I would do. I clearly stated that I would have to accept the decision and fully abide by the law! And that was no joke."

posted by philip-random at 1:54 PM on May 11, 2010


The inconsistent explication I had in mind was from the Rolling Stone magazine interview in 2000 :

I'm very sad that this seems to be the No. 1 question people want to discuss. I had nothing to do with the issue other than what the media created. I was innocently drawn into the whole controversy. So, after many years, I'm glad at least now that I have been given the opportunity to explain to the public and fans my side of the story in my own words. At a lecture, back in 1989, I was asked a question about blasphemy according to Islamic Law, I simply repeated the legal view according to my limited knowledge of the Scriptural texts, based directly on historical commentaries of the Qur'an. The next day the newspaper headlines read, "Cat Says, Kill Rushdie." I was abhorred, but what could I do? I was a new Muslim. If you ask a Bible student to quote the legal punishment of a person who commits blasphemy in the Bible, he would be dishonest if he didn't mention Leviticus 24:16. --Yusuf Islam

Apparently his own personal website reinforces this position over the media miss-representation story :

When asked about my opinion regarding blasphemy, I could not tell a lie and confirmed that--like both the Torah and the Gospel--the Qur’an considers it, without repentance, as a capital offense. The Bible is full of similar harsh laws if you’re looking for them. However, the application of such Biblical and Qur’anic injunctions is not to be outside of due process of law, in a place or land where such law is accepted and applied by the society as a whole.

I'd say that pretty well closes the case against him, in that the media's quotes were not actually taken out of context.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:37 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, if we're going to blockquote interested parties, how about one from the person who has the biggest single interest in the entire affair: Salman Rushdie, winner of the Booker of Bookers Prize, amongst other prestigious awards, who has and does live in real fear for his life, in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph, posted in 2007.
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
Semi-obligatory note: I've read the "Satanic Verses" long ago, and I don't remember much of it, but I do remember that it didn't strike me as terribly controversial in content. You want to borrow a book that blasphemes right out the gate, let me loan you my sci-fi novel "The Jehovah Contract".
posted by mdevore at 3:51 PM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


My mother once described racism to me as not believing people who are different than us can even love their children in the same way.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 3:58 PM on May 11, 2010


my sci-fi novel meaning I own it, not that I wrote it, in case there is any confusion since there are several writers here.

As an addendum, I note that the YouTube video of a Yusuf interview was removed with the message from YouTube "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Yusuf Islam. "

Copyright claim on an interview to remove it? Really? That doesn't really fill me with warm feelings about Yusuf's dedication to the historical record of what he did and didn't say or mean.
posted by mdevore at 4:01 PM on May 11, 2010


"The Jehovah Contract"

Damn. I remember reading that. I liked it a lot.

As for Cat/Yusuf, no comment.
posted by Splunge at 4:37 PM on May 11, 2010


I think you really might be that different. Cat Stevens is very serious about his religion and believes that people who blaspheme it should die. So when he sings about peace it's not necessarily peace for people like you and me.

But if you scroll further down on THE EXACT SAME LINK that Huronbob posted above, you will find a detailed clarification of the things he said that Huronbob quotes to slag him.

And if that's still not good enough for you -- have none of you ever met someone that only just recently converted to a faith? They generally go through an uber-zealous phase for a few years and then get over themselves and realize they were being kind of extreme.

So did he.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:15 PM on May 11, 2010


mdevore, jeffburdges - thanks for the substantive stuff. The plot thins.

This is still a great cover of a great tune.
posted by philip-random at 5:17 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


....Um. It wasn't Huronbob who posted the above link to WikiQuotes. My apologies.

Especially to HuronBob, who did make a lovely post.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:17 PM on May 11, 2010


Joe, I'm aware of his religious fervor, I'm aware of his politics... but, putting that aside, because almost all of us have that kind of passion for what we believe in...

HuronBob, for the record: I am passionate about many things in my life, yet somehow, I do not feel the urge to threaten to kill those who mock my interests.

I guess I'm just weird that way.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:44 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I guess I'm just weird that way."

I'll take your word on that..thanks for clearing that up.
posted by HuronBob at 5:39 AM on May 12, 2010


So, Salman Rushdie does not have a Sarcast-O-Meter? The very remarks he disparages Yusuf with are the onew that Yusuf did explain. It is the other remarks posted upthread attributed to Yusuf that I have trouble with (the Rolling Stone excerpt), because they seem to represent a legalistic tap-dancing. "Oh noes, we would not do that because it is against the law of the country we are in" carries the subtext, whether Yusuf Islam recognizes it or not, that if the "we" in that phrase could change the laws to be in accordance with Islamic (or Judeo-Christian for that matter) tradition, then we would start eye-for-an-eye-ing, or levy capital punishment against those who utter blasphemy.

I can think of quite a few crimes that I would put in the category of "victimless," but blaspheming has to be at the tippity-top of that list.

That said, I gave up expecting artists to have fully thought out philosophies a loooooong time ago, about the time I read the Miles Davis Playboy interview by Alex Haley. I consider Miles to be one of the greatest musicians EVAR, but good lord, the man had some serious flaws. That goes for Allen Ginsberg, too. My only meeting with him left me shaking my head in (saddened) amazement.

If I had to do a personality evaluation of artists (visual, musical, whatever-ical) in order to appreciate their art, I guess I'd be somewhere in the depths of Plato's cave.
posted by beelzbubba at 3:35 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Arriving late to the thread, but here's another perspective on his life beyond music, for anyone who's still interested.

Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam enjoyed a reputation for a certain kind of fundamentalism in NW London during the 80's, particularly among the educational community, who found his work with faith-based schools challengingly radical at the time. I'm not sure if this is still the case (I've moved away from the area, and it doesn't seem so controversial any more) but he has some strong opinions about the causes of radicalization among Britain's young Muslims, and an interview with the man from last year is illuminating.

But, whatever. People seem to be unable to put aside what they think of his beliefs and enjoy the beauty of the music for what it is. It seems very odd that we'll put up with all sorts of eccentric or reprehensible behavior from other artists, but we're drawing the line at religious radicalism. Judging from this thread, the rehabilitation of Yusuf Islam is by no means complete.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 3:39 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, Salman Rushdie does not have a Sarcast-O-Meter?

Hmm, I wonder why Salman might take the remarks a bit more seriously, considering he had to hide from the public with armed guards for a decade, and still lives with an unrevoked death sentence. That might have affected his appreciation for that fine sarcasm. And, frankly, I think anyone who believes that Yusuf was simply being sarcastic given his subsequent remarks and actions needs to recalibrate their Naïveté and their Rationalization Meters.

Should anyone think this is all an old brouhaha that merely resulted in a scared upper-class writer, I'll remind them of this: people -- the Wikipedia article The Satanic Verses controversy list several -- died or were seriously hurt as result of the fatwa, including several translators of the book. The phrase "an attack on our freedoms" is grossly overused by the right, the left, the politicians, and the scoundrels, but I think an international call by country leaders to kill a person for what they have written in a fictional story, an on-going call to this very day, still qualifies for the term attack amidst all the noise.

You know, that "beauty of the music" thing is all fine and well, but I'm sorry, humans don't work that way. We are affected by the artists who create the works and their actions, and probably always will be, else there would be no fame and fans for songwriters and performers, only their songs. I avoided getting into a personal story here, but it's possibly appropriate now.

I, too, remember Yusuf as Cat Stevens. He was one of my favorite singers when I was young -- I clearly remember discovering "Morning Has Broken", "Moonshadow", and others a few years after their original release, then being asked soon thereafter by a friend about my favorite singer. I answered Cat Stevens, for "Morning Has Broken". His was Ted Nugent for "Cat Scratch Fever". Que sera.

Well, that was a period in time and even had Yusuf not changed, he would no longer be among my favorite singers. Singers and their songs must be placed in the world's music and social timeline to appreciate why they were so popular at a particular time and place. Anyway, I really liked Cat Stevens then.

He later converted to Islam and stopped producing popular music. I wasn't much into him then, but still thought it was kind of sad: organized religion gets another one. Later came the controversy, and Yusuf's remarks. As a one-time fan, I also remember those well. The remarks were nothing less than a complete repudiation of his image and the songs for which he had become famous and loved. This is the man who wrote and had a big hit with "Peace Train". Yet there he was calling for the death of a person because of a fictional story which was interpreted as poking fun at Yusuf's beliefs. Based on some goofy old men's opinions.

If there is a secular version of the unforgivable sin, the wilful rejection of your beliefs, then Yusuf committed that sin. This wasn't Joe Off-The-Street spouting about kill the unbelievers. Yusuf used his fame and presence to further that fatwa, he endorsed it and he helped spread its impact. Don't think so? Then why did the international media cover then, and why are we still debating it to this day, over 20 years later?

By acting in that manner, Yusuf made a short list. A list of artists who I once really liked, but who I will no longer support with money or any attention that redounds to their benefit. Orson Scott Card is the other name on that list. Yeah, big deal, I withhold my not-so-precious attention, but maybe other people feel and act the same way.

So, it does matter if you live through the controversy. It does affect the music experience. For example, I enjoy Wagner's music, even though he was quite publicly a strong anti-Semite. Well, he's been dead for over 100 years and I'm not Jewish, I have no personal connection or experience there. But you know, playing Wagner's music is still controversial.

Yusuf has helped out orphans and he's done good works. Good on Yusuf, I applaud the effort. But as far as his "rehabilitation", we know what people should do when they've committed a horrible public wrong, we learned it as kids. People who have helped with a terrible thing own it, and they take steps to repair the damage they helped do. Where is Yusuf calling for the fatwa to be revoked, where is his heartfelt apology to Salman, where is he using his public image to try and right the terrible wrong? That should be his number one public performance, the one before he sings to his kid to milk an audience.

tl;dr: In spite all this, I still like Yusuf's old music. I own a Cat Stevens album purchased before I stopped supporting him. Every once in a while I'll listen to a song or two and remember Cat Stevens as the man he was, and not the man he became.
posted by mdevore at 5:17 PM on May 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Where is Yusuf calling for the fatwa to be revoked

Oddly, I just watched a BBC documentary about this whole kerfuffle. And the problem is, the fatwa can NEVER be revoked, because Khomeini died without lifting it, and only he can withdraw it.

At least, that is how it was presented in that documentary. Only the man who spoke it can call it off, he died, and so Rushdie continues to live with a fatwa upon his head, and will until he, too, dies. At this point, it's more likely than not that will come from causes other than the fatwa, thank the Universe.
posted by hippybear at 7:46 PM on May 12, 2010


The Wikipedia story has a cited reference (which isn't definitive, of course) that "On February 14, 2006, the Iranian state news agency reported that the fatwa will remain in place permanently." That seems to indicate that the fatwa is open to revocation after the issuers death.

The idea is that Yusuf should be promoting for the fatwa to be called off, not that he can call if off himself. He clearly cannot. It is not inconceivable that a staunch, and still popular, supporter of Islam such as Yusuf would have an effect, if only at a grass-roots level. Opinions can trickle up, even in the hardest-core theocracy.

And though it may do nothing to change the minds of those in Iran, the act would be an important gesture to the rest of the world, including Salman, and Yusuf himself.
posted by mdevore at 8:06 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


mdevore: I'm pretty much with you on this much: I've never really enjoyed his music as much as I did before he started wearing a beard and a hat, and spouting stuff that, frankly, sounds like it comes from the Middle Ages. But much as I would like to hear him apologize for what he said about Salman Rushdie, the chances of his ever doing or saying anything to revoke the fatwa are vanishingly small.

It may be worth trying to embed his actions in the context of the creed he's taken on. At the time of the fatwa, Muslims in Britain were even more marginalized than they are today. The book-burning and the violence that accompanied them were frightening and divisive, and expressed many other frustrations people were facing back then. Yusuf Islam made the mistake of adding his public voice to an ugly and extreme movement that nevertheless found huge popular support. Even now, revoking it would probably undermine his position in his adopted community, who would not have seen it as a "horrible public wrong", but as a vindication.

This in no way excuses him, but likewise I wonder if it's helpful to hold him personally to account for something which has found much more dangerous support elsewhere, particularly when since then, he appears to have done a lot of work towards Muslim emancipation in Britain. He may indeed have flirted with it in the past, and very stupidly at that, but his present work appears to reject rather than embrace the kind of radicalism disseminated at Finsbury Park Mosque.

Islam as a faith is not going away anytime soon, and unless steps are taken to educate and empower its young people, we won't see an end to the violence. To his credit, Yusuf Islam gives all appearances of working with dedication towards a more inclusive society. It's probably worth considering this before heaping judgement on his position on The Satanic Verses.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 4:25 AM on May 13, 2010


Seriously, read the timeline. At least nineteen people died during anti-Rushdie riots and bookstores were bombed, all before Yusuf Islam's comments supporting the fatwa, and he has remained unrepentant, attempts at whitewashing with sarcasm or whatever not-withstanding. Did you miss the bit where he mentions abiding by the law? Yusuf seemingly believes that if Rushdie lived in a country like Iran his execution would be called for.

This isn't some light matter. People died. Yusuf once made beautiful music and he may have done good in Sarajevo. That doesn't mean he should get a free pass on his support of the evil that is the fatwa.
posted by 6550 at 9:54 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fwiw, I think the fatwa also broke up Rushdie's marriage and may have resulted (as an offshoot of his knighthood ceremony) in the 2007 London car bombs.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:49 PM on May 13, 2010


I think the fatwa also broke up Rushdie's marriage

Which one of his four do you mean? I always thought it was his penchant for supermodels that was the downfall of all of his marriages.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:17 AM on May 17, 2010


Which one of his four do you mean?

Marianne Wiggins
posted by mrgrimm at 11:40 AM on May 17, 2010


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