CAT STEVENS, YOU BASTARD

I was trekking nostalgically through Youtube, as I occasionally do, last weekend and Cat, you made me cry three times.   “Tea for the Tillerman” was one of those iconic records I heard in my adolescence and your intense, yet gentle singing style really knocked me out.  I think it was my sister’s record, not mine, but I grew to really like it.

Now that I have a young son and daughter, there’s an added emotion for me to the songs “Father and Son” and “Wild World” (the latter is about a girlfriend, but it could almost be about a daughter) and as soon as I heard these two songs: instant tears.

It’s a good thing my kids didn’t see me blubbering at the computer—I don’t know what they would have thought.  My sentimental music tastes freak them out enough, already.

Then I decided to watch Yusuf Islam, a much older Cat Stevens, play “Father and Son” to a gathering of Muslims, and that, too, made me cry.  Maybe because he was older and singing the same song, maybe because he was singing it to a different people who were enjoying the same song in the same way, but it really got to me.

Cat Stevens, you bastard.

But, unfortunately, the pedant in me would like to say a little more.  The lyrics of “Wild World” and “Father and  Son” have parental, moral, and sentimental strains which are the basis of all art—and all religion.

Every impulse in both art and religion has some kind of parental or authoritative guidance, and this is inescapable.

The poet who has no morals is still a moral lesson.  Art is trapped in morality; to be a poet is to be a priest: from this there is no escape.

In the lyrics to “Wild World,” the narration quickly moves from the painful Petrarchan trope  of the indifferent beloved (she’s leaving him) to tender, paternal guidance and concern; the poet escapes from the hell of disappointment into the heaven of care.  Amor’s resentments and regrets are quickly transformed into a kind of selfless agape.

Now that I’ve lost everything to you
You say you wanna start something new
And it’s breakin’ my heart you’re leavin’
Baby, I’m grievin’
But if you wanna leave, take good care
Hope you have a lot of nice things to wear
But then a lot of nice things turn bad out there

CHORUS:
Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile
Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world
and I’ll always remember you like a child, girl

You know I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do
And it’s breakin’ my heart in two
Because I never wanna see you sad, girl
Don’t be a bad girl
But if you wanna leave, take good care
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware

Imagine if such passionate advice-giving took this form:

So much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

This little poem seems a radically different address; and yet, would equals speak to each other like this?   No.   If your friend turned to you and said, “So much depends upon a red wheel barrow…” you would laugh in his face. The power, if it has any, of this poem is in its moral guidance.  There is an implicit authoritative voice (religious, if not poetic) speaking to a child or devotee or follower:  here is my wisdom.

The “Wheel Barrow” wisdom is not the wisdom of “Wild World:” be a good girl, beware of a__holes, but rather: be attentive, don’t forget mere things are important, too.

Even though “Wild World” and “Wheel Barrow” seem to be very different, they are not.  Both rely on:  the advice of some kind of authority. They are both highly moral.

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