Just read that Cat Stevens is going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it made me think of my first ever concert experience. By the time I hit age 13 in 1973, my friends and I started to collect records of our chosing, rather than only listening to the radio. That same year, my 7th grade Social Studies teacher brought into class the album Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens, reading us the thoughtful lyrics and talking about the impact of music and poetry on society. I’ve always wanted to look up that teacher and thank her profusely. As it turned out, Cat Stevens, born Stephen Georgiou in London 1948, wrote a series of records that seemed to be the soundtrack of a long search for peace and spiritual truth in life. I found something beautiful about his work, as did so many of the class who received a great gift at school that day – a deeper understanding of the meaningful impact music could have on their lives. I began collecting Cat’s albums starting with Mona Bone Jakon (1970) up through Numbers (1975).
At the time Numbers came out, I had not yet been allowed to go to concerts. However, my older sister had gone to a few shows and she arranged for us to see Cat Stevens, at the Los Angeles Forum, February 6, 1976. This was to be my first rock concert, and it took place in a location I would frequent regularly in the following years. The show did not disappoint, and in fact set a sort of bar for me in terms of the level of performance and showmanship I would regard as most fitting to meaningful rock music.
Cat Stevens had arranged the Numbers tour to begin with a magic show that ended with the appearance of a live tiger. It was dubbed The Majikat tour. After the opening bit, Cat appeared in a puff of smoke to quietly begin the show with acoustic tracks, “The Wind,” and “Moonshadow”, followed by “Where Do The Children Play.” When he hit the lyric:
Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
But will you keep on building higher
‘Till there’s no more room up there?
the rest of the band lit up and joined in the dramatic conclusion. Then ensued the core show, that included a couple of tracks from Numbers, which played along with projections from Cat’s artwork, his best yet, that helped tell the story of Novim on his planet of Numerologist humanoids. The show was fabulous, and as hoped, Cat had a way of presenting himself, of moving when he sang these touching spiritual lyrics, so that the impact of his work was enhanced by the live experience. I’ve sought this kind of heartfelt delivery from every performer in every show since that night, as being a patron of the rock arts has been my lifelong hobby. I was so inspired by the album and concert with it’s Majikat theme, that I embroidered the logo on a jean shirt – how ’70’s was that!
We were so pleased in 2004 when footage of this Numbers tour was uncovered and released on DVD. Titled Cat Stevens: Majikat Special Edition the disc includes the full concert, along with a few early live appearances culled from television reels. This is an excellent document of the show, and highly recommended for music lovers whose taste includes 1970’s era singer songwriters. I along with so many fans was heartbroken when Cat became Yusuf Islam not long after this show was recorded, and for more than 20 years did not perform. Having this document helps at least a bit!
And, in 2014, Cat will finally be recognized in the states by an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sure we complain about this hall of fame, and how frequently the best musicians and bands are either chosen for induction so late, or are not included at all. But this year seems special, as Cat Stevens will take this honor alongside Peter Gabriel – a fitting pair of musical geniuses. Whatever his later beliefs have become, the searching was the thing I remember, and seeing Yusuf today, his journey seems to have come to a peaceful place, and he remains special in my heart.