Listening to Cat Stevens – the sorrow of hope

End of the quarter breeds a high level of malaise – that feeling of wandering in a cloud and being damp with sadness. Is this merely due to reading too much Sarte, Camus and Heidegger ? Aucun je ne pense pas ainsi… that is, no, I don’t think so.

That said, the mood of ending the term, the drama of grades and the fear of seniors not knowing what comes next certainly adds to this mood. I was listening to Cat Steven’s Teaser and the Firecat on my way to work today – long before The Shins and Kings of Convenience there was Cat Stevens (nee Yusaf Islam). Teaser and the Firecat has one of the most malaise ridden songs I have ever heard – How Can I Tell You? It is a love song so filled with longing and loss that is pours out of your speakers. In some ways the song is so intimate that it can’t be listened to with earbuds – too closed and intimate – and has to breathe a bit. The song begins in silence and you sit for 4 painful seconds waiting for something, anything to fill the silence. Then the first strum of the guitar and the fingerpicking that is seeking for form of the narrative. Steven’s voice only stumbles into the song after 21 seconds – which for a 3 minute, 18 second song can feel like an eternity. He hums and tries to awaken his language around his longing and then begins with his question – “how can I tell you that I love you?” From there the song falls in and out of metaphors – seeing the face of his beloved in every face he tries to love, the liminality of the sea moving in and out of the shoreline, each one trying to give some grounding to this longing that is slowing drawing him into the distance. After 3 minutes a quiet wailing fills the background of the song and his voice falls off into the silence once again. It is jarring to listen to the song all the way into the next track – Tuesday’s Dead – which, while a great track, is abruptly upbeat in tone. I wonder why the many “greatest hits” collections never include this song (“Tuesday’s Dead” makes in on the A & M collection) but perhaps the reason is obvious – how can this level of raw transparency be something that folks want to return to?

On days like today… it is the only song…

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