There’s an article in the September 15, 2017 New Yorker entitled The Unlikely Return of Cat Stevens. That’s the truth.

“In the years since he formally retired from the popular music world, in 1978, his name has popped up in the media from time to time… It was difficult to… reconcile this cold, humorless, unhappy, and severe-looking man with the joyful, understanding, goofy, wise songwriter whose music we’d known and loved.

“For a long time, the man who’d changed his name to Yusuf Islam had completely disowned his artistic output as Cat Stevens—a confusing, dispiriting slap in the face to those it once meant a great deal to.”

A GREAT deal.

Steven Demetre Georgiou, born on 21 July 1948 in the Marylebone area of London, was the youngest child of a Greek Cypriot father, Stavros Georgiou (1900–1978), and a Swedish mother, Ingrid Wickman (1915-1989). “They lived above the family’s restaurant, Moulin Rouge, and everyone, including the children, helped out with the business.”

His interest in music began as a young teen, playing piano and guitar by 15, inspired by the Beatles, folk music, and show tunes such as West Side Story. He also took up drawing, “a skill later displayed in the purposely naive paintings that adorned the covers of his best-known albums.

“By 1966 he had chosen the stage name Cat Stevens because… his girlfriend said his eyes had a feline shape and allure.”

He had some early success on his first two albums. But he made a major change in both his music and his philosophy after contracting tuberculosis, which nearly killed him.

Tea for the Tillerman, which became a Top 10 Billboard hit, sold over 500,000 copies within six months of its release. Teaser and the Firecat (1971) was equally successful.
“Many more hits followed, in an increasingly broad range of styles and arrangements…

“By that time, the singer had already started his religious sojourn… Stevens almost drowned off the coast of Malibu, California [in 1975]. The trauma sharpened his quest for a more spiritually focused life. He found his way into Islam, changing his name to Yusuf Islam in July 1978. The singer’s next album, Back to Earth (1978), would be his last pop record for decades.”

He was embroiled in a long-running controversy “regarding comments which he made in 1989 about the death fatwa on author Salman Rushdie.” He believes he was misunderstood, but 10,000 Maniacs removed his Peace Train from one of their albums. In perhaps a confusion over a similar name, he was on a No-Fly list into the United States in 2004.

He started making music again in the 1990s, “though, at first, it was of an entirely religious nature… He didn’t start exploring secular music again until the new millennium, leading to the release of An Other Cup in 2006, by which point he was again allowed to fly into the US.

Listen to:

The First Cut Is the Deepest from Mona Bone Jakon

Tea for the Tillerman
Where Do the Children Play?
Hard Headed Woman
Wild World
Sad Lisa
Father and Son

Teaser and the Firecat
The Wind; a great description of this song on his Rock and Hall Hall of Fame 2014 induction page
Morning Has Broken
Peace Train

Oh Very Young from Buddha and the Chocolate Box (1974)

Boots and Sand, about his 2004 exclusion from the US, recorded in 2008, featuring Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, and Terry Sylvester

Yusuf / Cat Stevens – CBS Sunday Morning Interview, 2014

Saturday Sessions (CBS)- His most recent album re-covers some of his earliest music (2017)

Coverville: 599: The Cat Stevens Cover Story (August 5, 2009) and 1179: Scrambled Cover Stories for Don Henley, Carlos Santana and Cat Stevens (July 19, 2017)

United_planeDuring the second week of July, I flew from Albany, NY to San Diego, CA and back. I had not been on a plane since May 2009, when my daughter and I took round-trip flights to Charlotte, NC, via LaGuardia, NYC to attend my niece Alex’s high school graduation. This time, I went to help out my sister Leslie after her bicycle accident on June 4. This will be a transportation report; I’ll write about the medical situation soon.

Because my understanding the flying landscape is nil, I got to the ALB airport a couple hours early. I paid for a checked bag (why was it $35 out, but $25 back?) because I don’t know how to pack for five or six days with carry-on bags.

I was surprised to discover that I was designated for TSA PreCheck line for the flights in both direction, which is “a U.S. government program that allows travelers deemed low-risk… to pass through an expedited security screening at certain U.S. airports. Qualifying travelers don’t have to remove their belts, shoes or lightweight jackets.”

How that this happen? I didn’t sign up for it, and I’m hardly a frequent flyer. They must have determined I’m no longer a likely terrorist.

It turned out that the plane to Newark was about 75 minutes late. I had some cushion, but I was starting to think I was going to have to run through the next airport. Some guy flying from Newark to Minneapolis was apoplectic, giving the United representative grief continually.

In both legs of the flight out, and my return trip from San Diego, I had a window seat in rows 25 to 35. My shin was right up against the seat in front of me. And the toilet was tinier than I recalled.

Children flying in the middle of the night are cranky, based on one boy deplaning in Chicago wanting his mommy though she was right there, and one girl at O’Hare who couldn’t get her tablet (which was the size of her head) to work, so her mother took it away and the girl wailed so loudly she could be heard four gates away, no exaggeration.

Odd thing about the flight from Chicago to Albany. I was in row 10, on the left aisle, two rows behind first class, and my knees didn’t reach the seat in front of me. Joy, seriously! On the opposite side, some tall guy, definitely over six and a half feet tall, stuck in the middle seat, had an app that told him that there was an aisle seat in row 35 of that plane that was available.

But the flight attendant said he’d have be even less legroom. Do the legroom is less the further back you’re seated?

Then the guy on the right aisle got bumped up to first class, allowing the tall guy to move to the aisle seat. Did the flight attendant facilitate that? Je ne sais pas, but the lucky passenger in first class seemed pleasantly surprised, and tall guy was relieved.

The worst thing about flying east is that it took me three or four days to catch up on my sleep. It’s almost never a problem flying west three time zones, but it’s almost always an issue on the return flight.

I was in an email discussion with someone – OK, it was Alan David Doane – about his piece The Entomological Song, which started off “​All I really ever wanted to be was a writer.” He wrote: “For a week, this essay existed only as three sentences in a draft in my Gmail.”

I commented: “ALL my blog posts are gmail emails.” In my case, this is to say, like Joe E. Ross in Car 54, where Are You?, I might get a blog idea while doing something else. I immediately email myself and mark as USE IT.

I do the same with articles I get or I see on Facebook; email them to myself; a lot of those end up in those fortnightly Rambling pieces, because I don’t have time to write about everything that crosses my mind.

One evening recently, I get an email from Chris in New Jersey: “I have nothing to add to your 2015 post and discussion about the word origins of Gallo’s (‘urp’) Apothic wines, but I greatly enjoyed the commentary.”

I was pleased but bemused. I wrote back: “Glad you enjoyed it! That is one of a half dozen posts over the past dozen years that generates comment well past the date I posted.” To which Chris inquired, “Do you see a theme among your long-lived posts?”

“Spaulding Krullers, the late Raoul Vezina, my late grandfather and the radio station he worked at, my old k-9 school. Apothic is actually the outlier.” And it’s true.

If you Google Spaulding Krullers, my post shows up near the top. The first time I wrote about Raoul Vezina, who died in 1983, and this blog didn’t even start until 2005, I became the sad reporter of his passing to at least three people.

McKinley Green, a janitor at WNBF-TV and radio is well remembered, still, as are the stations. Daniel Dickinson was razed in the 1970s, but is recalled fondly.

Speaking of recall, or the lack thereof, Arthur noted: “I am, as Roger Green calls himself, a magpie blogger, that is, I write about what interests me at that moment.” I had forgotten the term, which I stole from Dustbury.

This is what gets written when the LOW temperature for the evening is 76F. It’s sort of like drunk tweeting, only in a longer form. And without the alcohol, but WITH sleep deprivation.

I heard one of my young nieces would be starring in a David Mamet play, and that it was clean! You mean, the guy who wrote Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo, and Sexual Perversity in Chicago, all of which I’ve seen in some form, had written a divinely silly, family-friendly, retro-sci-fi romp called “The Revenge of the Space Pandas or Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock”?

Yup, back in 1978. The Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, about 45 minutes south of Albany, is presenting eight performances of the play: “Binky Rudich, his friend Viv, and his almost human sheep Bob tinker with a two-speed clock…” They end up in “Crestview, Fourth World in the Goolagong System, ruled by George Topax and guarded by the Great Space Pandas.”

The theater is small with about 100 seats. My family drove down on Sunday, though I was severely jet-lagged. The last folks seated were a couple with four kids, in my row. I got up so they could sit down and the woman did, but the guy went into the previous row and lifted the kids over the chairs and then climbed over himself.

I liked The Revenge of the Space Pandas and its various actors quite a lot. The story was silly and absurd and quite possibly newly relevant. There was a point during a transitional scene where we heard a truly intentionally awful version of the initial fanfare from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Some boy in the audience asked, “Why is this funny?”, which generated its own laughter.

Here’s Steve Barnes’ review in the Albany Times Union. He rightly praises Wil Anderson as Binky, who “has the right cool-geek persona.” Also, “David Smilow is amusingly mercurial as the feckless ruler of the space-panda planet, whose punishment of choice is dropping an enormous pumpkin onto the heads of the doomed… Special kudos to Natalie Parker for her deadpan turn as the ukulele-strumming court jester. (Parker also wrote the jester’s songs.)”

Oh, that couple with the kids? She was Mary Stuart Masterson, star of Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) and Benny & Joon (1993) and a bunch of other stuff. She looked familiar, but I didn’t place her at the time. Her husband Jeremy Davidson is also an actor. They stayed afterward to praise the cast.

For the last decade or so, for the Pride parade in June, the pastors’ van has strewn with helium balloons and other garlands. The junior and senior high kids, along with some adults, arrange the decorations before getting into parade position with some other local Presbyterians.

Someone who watched the festivities noted that the faith community was particularly very well represented this year. I marched, and the Daughter was one of the folks holding the denominational banner.

The route goes from Washington Park; down State Street, past a massive contingent from our church waving us on; across Lark Street, where you can really see the panorama of participants and supporters; bypassing the one guy with a sign and bullhorn telling us we’re all going to hell; up Madison Avenue; then back into Washington Park.

Oddly, the pastors do not drive around regularly with balloons on their vehicle. So once we’ve parked, it becomes incumbent on us to undecorate.

I see one of our number popping the balloons, as she was instructed. I do get why:
All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as “biodegradable latex,” return to Earth as ugly litter. Moreover, once they get loose, they can pose a threat to many animals.

Still, do you know what else balloons facilitate? Making people happy. Two competing schools of thought. I took groups of two or three balloons and offered them to passersby, most of whose faces lit up when I handed them the small bouquets.

I was operating on the slightly irrational theory that people who are savvy about LGBTQ+ rights would be likewise “woke” about environmental issues.

The Daughter took a dozen or so home herself, on a CDTA bus, no less, and the balloons died on the living room floor of natural causes, not stuck inside some bird or tangled in a power line.

For ABC Wednesday

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