10,000 Words From The Exit Wound (Sedona #6)

(Note: Click on any image for full-size view)

PRIOR ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

What Are 10,000 Words For? (Sedona #5)

10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box (Sedona #4)

10,000 Words (Bless The Lord) (Sedona #3)

Brighter Than 10,000 Words (Sedona #2)

10,000 Words (Sedona #1)

Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #28: Public Enemy

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: One of the longest-running and most highly-acclaimed/respected acts in modern American hip-hop/rap culture. Lyrical prophet Chuck D and hype-man Flavor Flav are the sole permanent members and most visible faces/names in the group, though there have been a variety of core/key collaborators in their posse across the years, including DJ/turntable masters Terminator X and DJ Lord, guitarist Khari Wynn, singers/philosophers/media assassins Harry Allen, Professor Griff and Sister Souljah, The Bomb Squad production team (Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler and Gary G-Wiz), and the “Security of the First World” (S1W) dance/support/security team. Public Enemy have always been a strongly political group, merging hard, trenchant messages with some of the most incredible beats ever laid down on wax (or encoded into bits and bytes). Since emerging from their Long Island homes in 1985, they’ve taken their messages, their styles, and their sounds to a global audience, with varying degrees of commercial and critical success, but without ever compromising their commitment to their causes and their communities. Their most recent album, 2020’s What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?, was an unexpected gem, one of the finest releases of their long and illustrious career, after a period of churn and turmoil when Flav was allegedly kicked out of the group and their future seemed uncertain, though they’ve since claimed that the announcement of Flav’s firing was an April Fools stunt designed to measure and demonstrate the ways in which the media market and mismanage their stories.

When I First Heard Them: Soon after their debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, dropped in 1987. They received a lot of attention in the music press of the era, and they made me rethink what it meant to be a member of a musical group when I first read about and listened to them, as most of the people who appeared in their press shots of the era didn’t actually sing or play any instruments, in the traditional uses of those verbs. They really cemented their standing as one of my favorite acts a couple of years later, when Marcia and I went to see Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (one of my all-time favorite films) in Washington DC on or very near to its release date. That great film opens with Rosie Perez dancing and boxing on the big screen with Public Enemy’s most lasting anthem, “Fight the Power,”  just absolutely kicking!!! It remains the only time I can ever recall an audience clapping, standing and whooping for an opening credit segment. (You should watch it now). As provocative and inspirational as the song was in and out of its original context, it’s dismaying to think that it’s been 32 years (“1989, a number . . .”) since Spike released that great film, in which the climactic scenes hinge upon a black man being choked to death by a police officer. I guess I hoped, dreamed, maybe even believed in 1989 that things would have changed by 2021 in ways that such acts would be inconceivable, not commonplace. Nope. We’ve still got a ways to go on that front, alas. Public Enemy issued an updated version of “Fight The Power” in 2020, and included it on the aforementioned fantastic Grid album. The core riffs, beats and rhymes of the song are just so iconic all these years on, and I am most pleased that P.E. returned to that classic with a topical and timely update, involving some of the many talented folk they have inspired over the years. I didn’t think the original version of the song could be topped or improved. I was wrong. The new version is absolutely astounding, and you’ll get to see/hear it in my favorite PE songs list below.

Why I Love Them: Public Enemy hit all the marks for me. Their music has always been ground-breaking from a creative and critical standpoint, Chuck and Flav are charismatic and distinctive front-men who have helped to shape the ways that modern hip-hop music looks and sounds, and their lyrics are cleverly crafted and drop-dead timely on cultural, social and political fronts, year after year after year. Their influence is huge, but rather than just sitting back and reaping the acclaim that their historic stature and status accord them, they have continued to issue albums and singles at a fairly steady pace, pushing themselves to share their important sounds and messages, even in years (or decades) when it has seemed like the record-buying, political science, and/or critical arts communities weren’t necessarily interested in receiving them. Not much more to say than this, at bottom line: they make me think, and they make me groove, and I’ll always love anybody who can push both of those buttons as well as Chuck, Flav and compatriots do and have done for so many years, in so many ways.

#10. “Son of a Bush,” from Revolverlution (2002)

#9. “Bring The Noise,” from It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)

#8. “He Got Game,” from He Got Game (Original Soundtrack Recording) (1998)

#7. “Harder Than You Think,” from How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? (2007)

#6. “R.I.P. Blackat,” from What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? (2020)

#5. “Shut ‘Em Down,” from Apocalypse ’91 . . . The Enemy Strikes Black (1991)

#4. “Burn Hollywood Burn,” from Fear of a Black Planet (1990)

#3. “WTF,” from Most Of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp (2012)

#2. “Fear of a Black Planet,” from Fear of a Black Planet (1990)

#1. “Fight The Power (2020 Remix),” from What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? (2020)

A Quick Trip: Northeastern Arizona

Marcia and I decided to do a little road trip this weekend, to tease ourselves a bit about the prospects of some semblance of post-COVID normality returning at some point in the year ahead. We drove up to the Northeastern part of Arizona, making stops at Meteor Crater, Homolovi State Park, and Petrified Forest National Park.

We spent a night in Winslow, Arizona (just a couple of blocks from that famous corner upon which one stands, hoping for a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford) at the lovely and historic La Posada, and had dinner in their Turquoise Room, which was wonderful. They’re taking health precautions seriously there, still, for which we are grateful. It was the first meal we have eaten indoors in a restaurant in 13 months, as best we can recall. Well-spaced tables, staff in masks, temperature checks before admission reduced the anxiety reactions to acceptable levels, and we enjoyed being reminded about why dining out can be a nice thing. Well, except for when the asshole at the table behind us decided he needed to have a shouted business conversation into his cell phone while awaiting his entree. Hell is other people, still, I guess. But not all of them, thankfully.

We came back over the mountains and enjoyed the cool pine forests at high elevations. From the summit near Payson to the point where we got back on the highway in Camp Verde, there was a 23 degree temperature differential, which we experienced in less than a 30 minute drive. We also experienced radically different geologies and biomes over the course of fairly limited drive, all things relative and considered. Arizona continues to blow my mind at the breadth of natural experiences one can have here. And we’ve still not made it to the southwestern part of the state, so we have lots more to see, and expect it to look different from anything we’ve seen to date, which has been par for the course on any trip we’ve taken here.

We’re sketching out other travel plans for later in the summer, and will report on them here, as always. I snapped away this weekend, per usual, so if you’d like to see some views, click on the image of the Blue Mesa Badlands below, deep in the heart of the Petrified Forest Park. It’s an incredible place!

Thoughts on the Death of Thoughts on the Dead (Without Research)

  • This post has to be written in bullet points. Because of course it does.
  • If you have to ask, you’ll never know . . .
  • Well, unless I explain it to you.
  • Or, unless you were a regular reader of that most special website that today’s post honors, in which case you know the rules, and the requirements, and the structures and meta-structures that made the whole thing work.
  • Suffice to say that me writing this post in bullet points, under the tenets of “without research,” means that you can’t interrupt me, and that I can’t Google things.

But . . .

  • No. I love you, I really do. But no. No. Bullet points are here. And bullet points must be respected. No interruptions.

Yeah, understood. Okay. Carry on.

  • Thanks. Seriously, I do love you. And I wonder where you are, and where you’ll go now. I hope Bold Guy is there too, I think, to keep you company. I suspect you two get along better than we all might appreciate here on the receiving end of your various wisdoms.
  • Say “Yo!” to Precarious for us all, ‘aight? ‘Aight??

I said “Carry on” . . .

  • You did. My bad. Here I go . . .
  • I am a terrible sleeper, due to a combination of psychological and physiological factors, which combined to force me into an arising at 4am, Arizona Time, this morning.
  • I nabbed my phone from my bedside table as I left the bedroom to make myself more comfortable, and as I do at the start of most days, no matter how early, I clicked on my saved link to Thoughts on the Dead.
  • And I saw this terrible, terrible news. Posted by Brother of the Dead (BotD), father of Nephew of the Dead (NotD), both of whom were dearly and publicly loved by my online friend, Thoughts on the Dead (TotD).
  • Who has died. Of a terrible cancer. At the age of 46. Which is too young!
  • I’m reading a book that’s about, in part, the Neolithic Period. TotD might have been an elder statesman/shaman type by making it to the age of 46 in those days.
  • Then again, maybe he would not have been. Our accepted modern understandings of the short life spans of our forebears are not necessarily correct, per this from another of my favorite online resources.
  • In any event, we live in neither Neolithic nor Medieval times, so 46 is too young, in the reality which we all inhabit, more or less.
  • And while TotD clearly did his best to keep his public persona going to the best of his ability without groveling and complaining (much) over the 10 months since his cancer diagnosis, it was pretty clear that he was suffering, and that was a hard thing to read, and hard to know, and hard to accept, and hard to comprehend.
  • And that’s just awful. And terribly, terribly sad.
  • And if I, among many, who knew TotD only through his anonymous online postings feel as sad as I do right now, then it’s beyond comprehension how bad BotD and the rest of his family and their “real world” friends and colleagues must be feeling now.
  • I extend my love and respect and compassion and care toward them all, for what that’s worth. May they find some small peace in the weeks and months and years ahead, and may they find joy in the incredible body of work that TotD left behind for all of us.
  • Because, Holy Moly, what a body of work that was!!
  • He was my favorite living, working writer, right up until the point when he wasn’t.
  • He’s now one of my favorite non-living, non-working writers. There’s a wealth of brilliance to be had among the work he left behind, novel-length and story-length tales that challenge the very best of anything I’ve read by anybody else, ever.
  • That’s not hyperbole. I’ve written about TotD numerous times on this site, sharing such accolades in real time, and not just as memorials. Here’s the list of pages here that reference him, in one way or another.
  • I loved his writing, dearly.
  • And I am something of an arrogant tool when it comes to writing, since I fancy myself as something of a fine writer, too.
  • (That’s a key part of my self-identity and self-worth, so if you disagree, you’ll hurt my feelings by doing so publicly, so why do that, right? Thanks for your restraint.)
  • As a writer, I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I have a fairly finely attuned sense of what makes for good writing, and what makes for bad writing, or “blah” writing, and I can tell you without any doubt or hesitation that TotD was a truly great, once-in-a-generation caliber writer.
  • A genius, on that front. And I do not throw that word around lightly.
  • Which may sound or seem weird, given the premise of his website, where all of his public work (to the best of my knowledge) resided and resides.
  • Here’s how he described what he did. Note that putting a quote box in here is going to break the flow of bullet points, because that’s what WordPress does. That does not mean that you get to interrupt before I return to the bullet points.

But . . .

  • No. I love you. But no.

Right.

  • Right. So here’s how TotD described his enterprise . . .

My thesis is that the Grateful Dead were the Silliest Band in the World. I will attempt to prove this through misquotes, malicious lies, and just plumb crazy talk; everything in these pages is, of course, satire. Except for the stuff about Bobby: Bobby actually thought he was a fucking cowboy. He was also a terrorist, but we’ll get to that. Bob Weir is a fucking prince.

This is my first time making blog. If you enjoy what I’ve done, then that’s entirely your decision. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them, along with your choice for #16 Mississippi Half-Step OF ALL TIME.

  • It seems slight, doesn’t it?
  • Nonsensical, even. Soft. Half-baked. Not much depth there. How could this one-skit SNL-caliber concept run for days, much less months, much less years?
  • In any other writer’s hands, I don’t think it could have.
  • But TotD used that modest, humble,  soft launching point to embark upon one of the most astounding bits of world-building that I’ve ever experienced.
  • To cite but one of many examples: The Dead’s on-stage set-ups over the years could often look haphazard and amateurish.
  • That’s a fact.
  • But why was it a fact?
  • TotD created a character named Precarious Lee, who was a Dead roadie, and who took great glee in building the most structurally ridiculous stage plots possible, ideally involving low effort by the crew, disinterest from the band, and high risk to audiences, players, other crew members, the environment, the equipment, and quite possibly Precarious himself.
  • Ha ha ha! There’s a joke! Good for a solid post of chuckles, right?
  • Except . . . in the hands of a master like TotD, Precarious became a character of unexpected depth, with an incredible before- and after-story adjacent to his time with the Dead.
  • Precarious took us out on the Interstitial Highway, which was mind-blowing.
  • Precarious took us to the place where he settled (sort of), which was called Little Aleppo, and which was a neighborhood, in America.
  • And which spawned a book-length series of stories, one of which remains one of my all-time favorite reads ever.
  • Especially when it was rolling out, chapter by chapter, in real time.
  • I read it all on my morning train commute with my coffee, gleeful every day that a new installment arrived.
  • It was like being a Charles Dickens fan in the late 1800s.
  • When it was all done, I named that first Little Aleppo novel My Best Book of the 21st Century.
  • Even if it never saw the printed page. Even if it never made TotD a dime. Even if it never had to claw through the publishing industry’s maw to see to the light of day.
  • It remains brilliant, and you can still click the link above to read it, and then to read the stories that followed it at TotD’s site.
  • I strongly encourage you to do so.
  • So many great tales. So many great characters. Such incredibly refined writing, where words and phrases routinely pop from the page and shine, craftsman-like example of the ways that our language can become sublime, even when discussing the mundane.
  • A lot of it is really funny, as are a lot of other parts of the TotD semi-fictional universe, where real-world personages (living and dead) interact with created characters in ways sweet and sublime and subtle and soaring.
  • (Another Grateful Dead connection in the Little Aleppo stories: the group’s famed Wall of Sound PA/speaker system became sentient, and is now providing sound for an historic movie theater in Little Aleppo).
  • (The Wall is another great character, a fascinating exploration into the ways that an artificial intelligence might interact with the humans who surround it, often to its despair).
  • (But don’t call him WALLY).
  • But deeply integrated with all of the laughs into the weft and woof of the the TotD semi-fictional universe were moments of deep, haunting, soul-moving pathos and compassion and love.
  • And you never knew when a sad story was going to get funny, or when a funny story was going to get sad, and that’s pretty much the way real life happens, and that’s pretty much what made this little escape from real life so very, very magical.
  • There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of TotD’s excellence on such fronts on his website, so if you just head over there and plow through the archives, you will be richly rewarded.
  • (Expert tip: find a subject/topic you particularly enjoy, then use the categories and tags to dig deeper into the story lines associated with said topic).
  • Among that plethora of fine choices, one piece springs to mind today, and I encourage you to go read it.
  • But first: consider what’s happened in Arkansas over the past couple of days with regard to the rights, health and well-being of transgender young people.
  • And then: consider all of the other States in our country that are seriously considering similarly hateful and harmful laws.
  • And then then: read this.
  • That’s extraordinary story-telling. A short piece, that quickly introduces you to places and people who are remarkable and not, in equal measure, and makes you care about them, deeply, quickly, wholly.
  • And there’s a lesson in there, too.
  • You might learn something.
  • Or at least re-consider some other things.
  • And that makes it art, to these eyes, and to this mind.
  • Great art. Fine art. Serious art.
  • With chuckles.
  • I look at the very best things I’ve ever written, and they pale in comparison to that piece, or hundreds of other similar pieces scattered throughout TotD’s canon.
  • Wow, was he good.
  • Wow, will I miss his work.
  • And wow, will I miss him.
  • Even though I never met him.
  • Even though I have no idea what he looked like.
  • Even though I only learned his first name within the past year when Bob Weir outed him on a David Lemieux podcast.
  • Even though I only learned his last name when his brother told us all that he died this morning.
  • He was truly a Ninja Jedi when it came to online stealth and protecting his anonymity, while living fully in the public domain.
  • Hats off on that front. Well played, you.
  • So when I miss him, my brain will miss him as TotD, not as Rick Harris.
  • Though I wish I had had the chance to get to know Rick Harris, too.
  • I think we would have gotten along well.
  • Common interests and suchlike, you know?
  • Because online connections and friendships are real, for reals.
  • Truly.
  • Meaningfully.
  • Deeply.
  • I have met and gotten to know (virtually-speaking) a lot of other folks in the “Comment Section” at TotD’s site over the years.
  • A couple of them have already reached out to me this morning to make sure I knew the news and that I was doing okay with it.
  • I did know.
  • But I’m not doing okay with it.
  • I do look forward to keeping in touch over the months and years ahead with the community that TotD built.
  • Good folks. Funny. Freaky. Fine company.
  • Enthusiasts.
  • Weirdos and squares in equal measure.
  • You decide who fits in which bucket.
  • Or not. We’ll be here all the same.

All of us?

  • Yes, all of us.
  • We love you.

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #27: Uriah Heep

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: Named after an odious, unctuous character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Uriah Heep are an English hard rock band that have been doing what they do since 1969, through myriad line-up changes, with guitarist/songwriter Mick Box as the sole constant in their long and convoluted history. Despite all of their many personnel configurations, there is an identifiable Heep sound to which each and every one of the group’s incarnations have hewed, more or less. Box’s wah-heavy guitar stylings are a key part of that, as are heavy organ riffs, massed male vocals, driving rhythm section work, and song structures that are punchy and progressive in equal measure. I’m not quite sure exactly why it’s the case, but the Heep sound has made them super-stars in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and parts of Asia, while the English and American fan bases are smaller, but deeply devoted. Me among that posse, of course. The modern core of the group, since 1986, features Box, his primary songwriting partner and keyboardist Phil Lanzon, and vocalist Bernie Shaw. Drummer Russell Gilbrook has been pounding the skins with aplomb since 2007 (replacing the late, great Lee Kerslake), and bassist Dave Rimmer joined in 2013, after long-time bassist-composer-singer Trevor Bolder (once one of David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars) succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I last caught the current five-piece live in March 2018 at the great Arcada Theater in the Chicago suburbs and they were just utter dynamite, delivering the classic tunes that the audience expected, mixed with new material that (to these ears) stood and stands up as well as anything they’ve ever done. The group had a deep history with Chicago, as one of the first markets where they broke big in the United States, and as an act of respect for the venue’s management, who had been involved with promoting the group regionally in the early 1970s, and the fans in attendance, the group members did a wonderful impromptu Q&A session before the show, making the evening even more memorable. Here’s what that looked like, from the cheap seats (left to right: Gilbrook, Shaw, Box, Lanzon, Rimmer; click to enlarge this and all subsequent images):

When I First Heard Them: Not exactly sure, honestly. I must have heard their AOR hits from the ’70s on the types of radio stations that I listened to in that era, but I think I actually started tuning into them a bit more when I got into King Crimson and started exploring that group’s convoluted family tree, which connected to the Heep via bassist-vocalist John Wetton. (Wetton’s peripatetic career also introduced me to Wishbone Ash, Roxy Music and Family, three other great bands in which he served short, but memorable, stints). As a “Rock Family Trees” nerd and avid liner-note reader, I loved the fact that the Heep’s first U.S. Best Of collection from 1975 included a way cool back cover image that charted the group’s membership changes and band members’ earlier projects. I learned about The Gods and Toe Fat (more on them below) from that chart, happily. For the record, that sleeve, which I pored over a lot in various record stores and libraries before actually buying the thing, looked like this (it might be hard to read, I can’t find a higher resolution image, alas):

I scored that Best Of record and the 1973 Uriah Heep Live double album sometime in the latter half of the ’70s, and those were my stalwart delivery vehicles for their classic-era material for a good number of years. The first non-compilation Uriah Heep studio album I purchased was Abominog in 1982. It was a re-boot for the band, of sorts, as the first disc released after long-time songwriter-keyboardist-guitarist-singer Ken Hensley left the group. It was a big hit for them, critically and commercially, laying out a glide-path for the Mick Box-helmed incarnation of the group that continues to this day. Plus, Abominog had a truly heinous title and album cover image if you wanted something to rub your religious parents the wrong way, which I did. Check this out:

Why I Love Them: I guess I must have some sort of Eastern European-Scandinavian-Russian thing working deep within my critical consciousness, as I hear and perceive of the Heep as a charismatic arena-caliber rock band, which they are in those territories. Years and years ago, I wrote a piece here about Heavy Organ Music, a self-named genre that I particularly enjoyed then and continue to enjoy, and which Uriah Heep embody as well as anybody. Their back-story bands also fit that idiom perfectly: I’m quite fond of The Gods and Toe Fat, which featured Hensley and Kerslake as members in their pre-Heep days, and I listen to their small catalogs of great albums regularly to this day. Look ’em up, along with other things recommended in that prior link, if you like this sort of music. You’ll be glad you did, I promise! I do deeply appreciate the fact that Uriah Heep have released some of the finest music of their 50+ year history on their most recent albums, and that those songs fit and sit soundly alongside the classics of their canon. They’re not a nostalgia act, at bottom line, though their body of work would certainly allow them to rest on their laurels and profiteer on the path of least creative resistance were they so inclined. The years have been tough on the group, it must be noted: Mick Box is the only surviving member of the “classic” Uriah Heep era, as Kerslake and Hensley recently flew away, singer David Byron and bassist Gary Thain were early rock-lifestyle casualties in 1985 and 1975 respectively, and bassists Bolder (died in 2013) and Wetton (2017) are also no longer anchoring things on this mortal coil. I’m certainly hopeful that Box can continue on for years to come, as he is an utter delight, wonderfully fun to watch and hear onstage (he’s got a very distinctive visual style and flair in his playing, in the ways that he uses his hands and body to emphasize what he’s doing with his guitar), and equally enjoyable in video and printed interviews, a real gentleman who seems pleased and proud to have made his way all these years doing exactly what he loves to do the most. Bravo, Mick! While it’s not directly related to their musical output, as a creative person who has been highly active online since the very dawn of the World Wide Web, I also have to share my appreciation for the fact that Uriah Heep have had a vibrant and useful presence in virtual space since ~1996, long before most bands arrived in this our virtual play-space. Hats off to long-time webmaster Dave White for that fine feat!

#10. “T-Bird Angel,” from Into the Wild (2011)

#9. “Sweet Lorraine,” from The Magician’s Birthday (1972)

#8. “Lady in Black,” from Salisbury (1971)

#7. “Rocks in the Road,” from Living the Dream (2018)

#6. “Poet’s Justice,” from Demons and Wizards (1972)

#5. “Nail on the Head,” from Into the Wild (2011)

#4. “Easy Livin’,” from Demons and Wizards (1972)

#3. “Stealin’,” from Sweet Freedom (1973)

#2. “One Way Or Another,” from High and Mighty (1976)

#1. “Waters Flowin’,” from Living the Dream (2018)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #26: Cat Stevens

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who He Is: A man of multiple names and career phases, born in England of Greek Cypriot and Swedish ancestry, and christened Steven Giorgiou by his parents. In the mid-1960s, he began performing as Cat Stevens, recognizing (probably correctly) that his “ethnic” name was not going to be a draw or a grab in the venues and idioms that he wished to play. He quickly rose to (UK) chart-topping prominence as a prototypical and stereotypical Carnaby Street pop star, with multiple successful singles culled from a pair of fine, richly-orchestrated (bordering on over-wrought) albums. In 1969, Stevens contracted tuberculosis and spent over a year in convalescence and spiritual reflection. His career re-launched in 1970 with the Mona Bone Jakon album, a stripped-down folk record that put the focus squarely on Stevens’ voice and songs. It also marked his first collaboration with guitarist Alun Davies (more on him below), and featured a young Peter Gabriel playing flute on one track. Over the next eight years, Stevens issued eight studio albums, one live record, and a hugely-successful Greatest Hits collection, cementing his commercial and critical reputation as one of the era’s finest singer-songwriters. In the late 1970s, Stevens converted to the Muslim faith, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and retired from the music industry. He sadly became something of a cultural pariah in the the early 1990s based on reported comments about the fatwa imposed on author Salman Rushdie. Many years later, he stated that his remarks at the time were the result of leading questions posed by a journalist to a man young and naive in his new faith, and that he regretted and rebuked any interpretations of his words that supported a bounty on the head of the (in)famous author of The Satanic Verses. His public life, on a macro basis, has included so much goodness and so much charity that I accepted and continue to accept his explanation and apology in good faith. In 2006, Yusuf returned to the pop music world with the release of his An Other Cup album; he has since released four additional studio albums, and (pre-COVID) had returned to touring in secular venues, after decades of only recording and performing in religious settings.

When I First Heard Him: Probably on AM radio in the early 1970s, though my deepest connection to him came a bit later. As was the case with Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Bee Gees (among others), my father’s cassette tape collection served to get me obsessed with the artist in question, in this case through Stevens’ 1975 Greatest Hits collection. I loved it to pieces, and I know that the first one of his albums that I bought (as a vinyl record, not as a tape) with my own money was Buddha and the Chocolate Box (1974), which probably remains my favorite of his classic-era albums to this day. I also scored the guitar/vocal music book for that Greatest Hits album, and spent a lot of time playing and singing those songs, both for myself and for others. One Cat-related incident sticks to mind above all others: I was asked by my church’s youth pastor to offer a solo acoustic version of Stevens’ arrangement of “Morning Has Broken” at a sunrise Easter service in a town park on Long Island, some time in the late ’70s. I did so, and it went down gangbusters, if I say so myself. After my opening performance before the rising sun and the church’s large congregation, the grown-ups got down with getting their faith on, while I slipped into the nearby woods with my girlfriend of the time, where we made out in the chilly morning dew. Who says the spiritual and the physical can’t occupy the same times and spaces, if we really want them to?

Why I Love Him: Steven/Cat/Yusuf has a great, emotive voice, generally deployed in the service of deeply-melodic, thematically-sensitive songs with ear-worm caliber hooks and smart lyrics. His AM radio hits are mostly great, but some of the deep-cut tracks on his classic-era albums offer the greatest return on listening investment. I must note that the very best Cat Stevens albums and songs are the ones that he recorded with his core ’70s band/team: guitarist Alun Davies, drummer Gerry Conway, keyboardist Jean Roussel, bassist Bruce Lynch, and producer Paul Samwell-Smith. Lots of solo artists (David Bowie comes to mind, for example, with his Davis-Murray-Alomar-Visconti team) have long and fulfilling careers working with an evolving cast of supporting players, though one era clearly rises above all others in terms of recording and concert quality, because the typically-anonymous musicians who work on behalf of their marquee-named group leaders make collective and collaborative magic together, without ever receiving the critical credit they are due. Cat Stevens’ 1970s band was a killer ensemble of that variety, and every one of my Top Ten Cat Tracks below features some combination of that team, hitting it out of the park, over and over again.

#10. “Peace Train” from Teaser and the Firecat (1971)

#9. “On the Road to Find Out” from Tea for the Tillerman (1970)

#8. “Lady D’Arbanville” from Mona Bone Jakon (1970)

#7. “Where Do The Children Play” from Tea for the Tillerman (1970)

#6. “Trouble” from Mona Bone Jakon (1970)

#5. “Majik of Majiks” from Numbers: A Pythagorean Theory Tale (1975)

#4. “Music” from Buddha and the Chocolate Box (1974)

#3. “Longer Boats” from Tea for the Tillerman (1970)

#2. “Sitting” from Catch Bull at Four (1972)

#1. “Sun/C79” from Buddha and the Chocolate Box (1974)

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