Monday, October 17, 2016

My First Album: Tea For The Tillerman

Cat Stevens: Father And Son

Unlike my predecessors in this theme, I’m pretty confident that Cat Stevens’ Tea For The Tillerman was actually the first album I owned.

I’ve written before about how my interest in rock music started in the summer of 1969, listening to the AM radio on the way to day camp. And the following summer, I remember that the cool, sophisticated counselors (who were probably all of 16 or 17), were listening to Cat Stevens. I became a fan, and I asked someone (parents? grandparents?) for a copy of Tea For The Tillerman, which I received, and listened to repeatedly.

I remained a Cat Stevens fan for years—the first concert I went to without my parents was to see him at Madison Square Garden with my friend Laura in, it appears, 1976. I remember that we sat way up in what were then the “blue seats,” but it was still great (although not everyone agreed).

My wife is also a big fan, but by the time that we got together he had already converted to Islam, changed his name and stopped performing until his return in the mid-2000s. And a few years ago, I wrote a piece about him over at Cover Me.

Tea For The Tillerman is, undeniably, a great album. It was both a critical and commercial success, and pretty much every song is a winner. It was the record that made Stevens a household name around the world.

In some ways the most unusual song on the album is “Father And Son,” originally written for an abandoned musical theater project about the Russian Revolution (which sounds like it could have been Max Bialystock's second idea). It features a dialogue between a father, sung by Stevens in a lower register, and a son, sung in a higher register, in which the son expresses his desire for independence and the father argues in favor of a more traditional future. Despite its initial historical inspiration, the song captured the generational divide of its era in a way that showed both the conflict it caused in families without neglecting the love. By the way, in the Cover Me piece there is a great version of the song by Johnny Cash with Fiona Apple.

Stevens, shortly after the song was released, was quoted as saying that "I’ve never really understood my father, but he always let me do whatever I wanted—he let me go. 'Father And Son' is for those people who can’t break loose."

This was probably not the favorite song on the album of the 9-year old me, but the 55-year old me, who has two adult children, and recently lost a father he was very close to, has found it quite touching and perceptive. It’s probably a sign that it is a good song, when it resonates with you as a child and as an adult, right?

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