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Super Seventies RockSite! presents

 Cat Stevens - In His Own Words

Blacklight Bar

One of the most successful singer/songwriters of the first half of the Seventies, Cat Stevens converted to Islam in the latter part of the decade after a near-drowning and changed his name to Yusef Islam. In this 2000 interview, he discusses his reasons for doing so and the controversy that followed.

Cat Stevensn the late '70s, I didn't know what to smile about. I was confused. I don't know where my humor came from, but it arrived one day. That was one of the shocks that I experienced when I read the Koran. Up until that point, I'd felt like, well, nothing is as perfect as I am.

You know, Greek ego. But when I started reading those words, I realized that... hey, there is something perfect and that's God. And he knows how weak we are, and we just have to submit. That's when I began to realize that I could look back and laugh at myself.

Cat Stevens' Seventies
Billboard Top 40 Singles

"Wild World"  3/71  #11
"Moon Shadow"  7/71  #30
"Peace Train"  10/71  #7
"Morning Has Broken"  4/72  #6
"Sitting"  12/72  #16
"The Hurt"  8/73  #31
"Oh Very Young"  4/74  #10
"Another Saturday Night"  8/74  #6
"Ready"  1/75  #26
"Two Fine People"  8/75  #33
"(Remember The Days Of The) Old Schoolyard"  7/77  #33

A lot of people felt when I became Muslim that I'd turned my back. But what I was trying to do was live up to the moral objectives which I'd set for myself, which a lot of my songs were about. You can't keep on singing. At some point you've got to do it. My big mistake was not being able to communicate clearly my reasons and my rationale. I was floating on a cloud and didn't know how to get people to float on the cloud with me.

I went through various attitudes toward my music. The first was almost nonchalance; I'd found something much more precious. Then, later, I was being advised that some things which I'd done in the past were to be forgotten and sort of buried. But after studying the issue, I found there's no explicit statement in the Koran which tells you one way or the other about music. It does talk about the condition of a man's life, so you have to measure what music does to a person.

Recently I heard of someone who was on the point of suicide, and they started playing my music and became optimistic again. If you take a song like "Moonshadow," there's a strong message that says, no matter what condition you're in, there's a bright side to it. Many of the old songs, in a way, are mini-predictions of my ultimate path. Looking back at my words, I saw I was actually a Muslim even before I embraced Islam -- I just had to be uncovered.

But I'm not saying all my songs are like that. There's a song called "Boy With the Moon & Star on His Head," about a guy who's just about to get married, has an affair on the way, and then finds a baby left on his doorstep. I can't whitewash them all.

Cat Stevens

"Looking back at my words, I saw I was actually a Muslim even before I embraced Islam -- I just had to be uncovered."

A psychologist could look at the separation of my mother and father in the '60s and say, 'Well, his mother and father were apart, therefore he needed safeguard in his life.' For sure, I was looking for parents. And spiritual parents are not that easy to find.

Cat Stevens' Seventies
Billboard Top 10 Albums

Tea For The Tillerman  11/70  #8
Teaser And The Firecat  10/71  #2
Catch Bull At Four  10/72  #1
Foreigner  8/73  #3
Buddha And The Chocolate Box  4/74  #2
Greatest Hits  6/75  #6
Izitso  5/77  #7

My 1967 album Mona Bone Jakon had a more acoustic, organic setting -- and that's when I started growing my beard. Because only organic people grew beards, you know. Tea For the Tillerman represented a simplistic, minimalist era, which I admit is very attractive. But as a musician, you tend to give more credence to those things you spend more time on, and I spent a lot of time on those last albums. I did "Father and Son" in two takes, but this one took me a year.

Cat Stevens Lyrics
Cat Stevens Videos

The Koran makes it clear, if someone defames the Prophet, then he must die. The backlash over reports that I'd supposedly endorsed the death sentence that Islamic fundamentalists had levied against Salmon Rushdie for the alleged blasphemy of The Satanic Verses hurt quite a lot because that whole episode was taken out of context. But it was merely a reiteration of scriptural principle, not a literal call to action. And there are elements within the press who really have no loyalty to anybody except a good headline. If you were to ask somebody, 'What does the Bible say about adultery?' they would have to quote chapter and verse -- that's the honest thing to do. And you'd find bits in the Bible that say you should stone the person. Now, that means the President of the United States is eligible for stoning. That doesn't mean anybody's gonna do that!

Things which are very important are not discussed, and other things are sensationalized. Let's face it, we believe in angels. We're serious! And that, I would say, is more important than anything to do with those sensational headlines. But how many people are interested to talk about angels? I'm willing to if you are, but not many are.

In "Wild World," I once sang "It's hard to get by just upon a smile," but I've changed my opinion about smiles. I think smiles are very important. 

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