Friday, September 08, 2006

Only One Thing to Say About Cat Stevens' (aka, Yusuf Islam) Return to Pop-Music Business . . . .

. . . . it's about time!

Yusuf Islam, AKA Cat Stevens, Releasing First Pop-Music Album in 28 Years:
Yusuf Islam, the singer who was known as Cat Stevens before he underwent a spiritual conversion, will release his first pop-music album in 28 years in November.

The recording, ``An Other Cup,'' will be distributed by Atlantic Records in North America in a venture with Islam's own label, Ya Records, Atlantic said today. New York-based Atlantic is owned by Warner Music Group Corp.

Islam, who as Cat Stevens wrote and performed such 1970s hit songs as ``Moonshadow'' and ``Morning Has Broken,'' became a Muslim and changed his name in 1978. His conversion came after he almost drowned in the ocean off Malibu, California. He was prevented from entering the U.S. in September 2004 after being placed on a terrorism watch list by the government.

``I feel right about making music and singing about life in this fragile world again,'' Islam, 59, said in a statement distributed by Atlantic. ``It is important for me to be able to help bridge the cultural gaps others are sometimes frightened to cross.''

A native of London, Islam released his first U.S. album, ``Tea for the Tillerman,'' in 1970. It has sold more than 3 million copies in the U.S.

After his religious conversion, he dropped out of the music business and worked in charities and educational development, including starting three Islamic schools in London, Atlantic said. More than 1.5 million copies of the songwriter's recordings are sold each year, according to the label.

After hearing that Islam was preparing a new record, Atlantic Chief Executive Officer Craig Kallman flew to London to meet with the musician.

Return to U.S.

``He was just beginning rehearsals for this album,'' Kallman said in an interview. ``It was a chilling experience sitting in a very tiny rehearsal room as he was working through all the new material.''

The new album ``speaks to the essence of all the great Cat Stevens albums of the past,'' Kallman said. Atlantic plans to have Islam come to the U.S. to help promote the album around the time of its release.

In 2004 Islam was denied entry into the U.S. when his plane from London was diverted to Maine and he was sent back to the U.K. Islam was placed on the watch list ``for activities potentially related to terrorism,'' Homeland Security spokesman Garrison Courtney said at the time.

``We don't anticipate any problems in the future when he arrives,'' Arsalan Iftikhar, national legal director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in an interview today.

One of the greatest musical talents the world has ever known has been away for far too long.

I use the word 'genius' rarely and sparingly. One of the few times I've used it to describe a modern artistic (literary) work was Stephen King's 'The Shining' ('Nightshift' and 'The Stand' came close). Cat Stevens' music was like the early works of Stephen King. Each transported the listener/reader to the artist's world to experience a shared truth. Genius walks a fine line between simplicity and sophistication.

Most Stevens' fans can tell you where they were when they first heard one of his songs, usually 'Father and Son', and what they were doing, or stopped doing once they heard the first few bars. I'm no different: I was eating my first-ever BigMac in my yellow convertible VW Bug late one night, driving down the Santa Monica freeway. I got off at the next exit, pulled off to the side of the road to listen and wait for the DJ to announce the artist's name. 'Harold and Maude', which hadn't yet opened, would elevate Stevens to cult icon.

`Father and Son,' (my 'first' of his songs and still a favorite, although not my only or most favorite) kicked off 3-years of record album releases by Stevens, each better than the last. Until 'Buddha and the Chocolate Box,' which was my last purchase of his music. 'Foreigner,' released immediately before 'Buddha,' had already disappointed me. Stevens had already written more, and out-produced most who are successful in the record industry. Although I didn't purchase any more of his albums (he continued recording another few albums), I kept an ear out, just in case.

Because what set Stevens' apart from others in the contemporary music business was his musicianship - his own and those with whom he collaborated on his recordings. Even if you didn't like or understand, or relate to the lyrics, his music sparkled. And if you were listening on a good sound system, it was transcendant.

In the years since Cat Stevens dropped out of western public life, we have all heard the controversies involving him. I would have hoped that we would have learned after so many years into the oppressive Republican-revolution that you can't always believe what you read or hear in the media. That's difficult for even me, the cynic-Queen, because my first and automatic reaction is to trust that it must be true "if it's printed in the news (or is on tv or radio)."

I was raised in a time of "truth in advertising," Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. When I have scratched the surface of some of these stories, I've learned that the truth was very different than what and how it had appeared in the media. Nobody should be surprised by this anymore, but we are. We need to remind ourselves that we must remain vigilant against spin, revisionism, and most importantly, when it looks like Bush-Cheney, Republicans, are recognizing the error of their ways and becoming reasonable (and start to make noises about working in a bipartisan manner), they're not. This Republican party offers nothing but empty gestures. It's only a ploy to lull both Democrats and the people of the U.S. into complacency. Until after the election, when (if Republicans manage to hold on to Congress, which would be through stealing the election, yet again), Bush-Cheney will announce that they have a mandate and are spending capitol on a fireworks display over Tehran.

We have allowed strangers to us, broadcasters in the media, to hold the keys to the gates of mass communication, to our public air waves. They characterize people in the news any way that serves them, or the power that pays them, to influence our perceptions. Positively and negatively, whether it's accurate or not. To manage us. To keep us from taking to the streets with torches, and marching on Congress and the White House. Corporate media have "dogs in this hunt", and they have powerful motives for fomenting conflict between different groups of people. It takes effort to remain vigilant against false messages.

In general, Muslims' lives don't get played out in front of western television cameras for us to know them unless it's amid the rubble of their bombed out homes or through the flap on a tent in a refugee camp. I can't recall any Arab-American celebrities, in the entertainment business, since M*A*S*H went off the air (Jamie Farr) and Danny Thomas died. No, James Zogby doesn't count.

That's how Americans come to know and, ultimately, accept and embrace the ethnic people who have emigrated to this country; through celebrity entertainers who become goodwill ambassadors. That's how we come to know the character of the people as a whole, that they're just like us. But in a vacuum, anyone with an agenda can provide context, and if you don't know any Muslims, personally or through a positive media image, who and what are you going to believe is true about "their heart" (Bush is such a schmuck) gets defined by those holding the microphone.

The media has done such a terrible job of stewarding our public air waves and performing their public service duty to inform that they can't be relied on for any accuracy. With Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens returning to the public stage, maybe we will begin to see a more responsible media giving us more balanced, honest images of one-quarter of the world's population. "Yusuf Islam, aka Cat Stevens," Prince of Peace - it could happen.

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