Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Career in Porn

[Jeeze, could that Steve Irwin post down there get a little staler? Sorry about that, folks. Got a weird mental thing going, something somewhere between writer's block and performance anxiety, a self-feeding cycle where I'd sit down to try and pooch something out and... Nothing. And, o'course, the next time I'd try to write something, it just got worse. Don't worry, honey, it happens to all men...]

Early a couple of mornings ago, Wonder Woman greeted me with the not particularly earth-shattering news that Yusuf Islam, somewhat better known as Cat Stevens, had returned to the World of Illusion and was set to release a new album of pop music in November on Atlantic Records. She skipped away and put "Tea for the Tillerman" on the Victrola and went about her morning routine humming along in a transport of cheerful nostalgia.

I've found that as I've aged I've become more tolerant of music I once frankly detested. As I feel myself becoming further and further detached from the dreadful mechanical goo that oozes out from radio and television and movies these days, I welcome Old-Fart-Hood with open arms. I haven't quite reached the point of waving my cane angrily from my gout-stool at the stereo and pontificating about the Good Old Days, but the moment is not far off.

(Still can't be in the same room as Wondie's idol James Taylor, though. Blecch!)

My reaction to her spinning of a Cat Stevens chestnut was fairly typical of my musical mindset these days. Where once Punk-Boy Neddie heard calculation and formula and that stupid and lazy pop mysticism that made the Seventies such an unbearable moment, now I find my cynicism gone, and I simply enjoy his ability to write and execute an evocative melody. Cat had, I'm now free to admit, a way with minor keys -- "Sad Lisa," for example, is nothing short of gorgeous, all that beautiful shifting between between E minor and its relative major G. The song employs archetypal harmonic progressions that wouldn't be out of place in an eighteenth-century Anglican hymn, but that are given new life by the lovely and constantly surprising melody, which is summed up with truly deft simplicity in the harmonic-minor chorus, "Lisa-Lisa, sad Lisa-Lisa." If you want an illustration of the ancient musical principle that minor keys sound "sad" while major keys are "happy," and how a good songwriter uses that fundamental psychoacoustic truism to manipulate his audience's emotions, I'd point you right to "Sad Lisa."

Yes, my toleration surprises me. I'm so forgiving these days. I find myself asking the question, Am I forgiving Cat Stevens, or should he be forgiving me? Of course, he's got plenty of other things to answer for ("Morning Has Broken" and the Salman Rushdie fatwa come to mind), but when it comes to chords and tunes and how they fit together, beef no longer stands between us. Did you know that the Cheryl Crow -- and Rod Stewart and P. P. Arnold -- megahit "The First Cut Is the Deepest" was written by Cat/Yusuf? Well, you do now.

At any rate, I'm going to be fascinated to listen to the new album. Foremost in my mind will be the question, What does 28 years of Islam do to a guy's melodic sense?

By fascinating coincidence, on the same day that Wondie made her discovery about Yusuf Islam's new album, I came across "Harold and Maude" on the Sundance Channel, and I watched the whole quirky thing, humming along to Stevens' prominently featured songs, even grabbing my guitar to dope out the chords to "Where Do the Children Play?" It was, in short, a Cat Stevens kind of day.

Which, I suppose, leads to the question, "What kind of day is it when you watch 'Jesus Christ Superstar' from end to end?" which I did the following night. This sudden two-day immersion in Seventies pop crap led to the following observations:
  1. Jesus Christ was, apparently, a bit of a butthole.
  2. I'd hit the 1973-vintage Yvonne Elliman like Barry Bonds on a hanging curveball.
  3. Like Jesus, Andrew Lloyd Weber is a bit of a butthole.
  4. The sound-production of the movie is a knee-slapper, with this itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny little Full Rock Orchestra barely audible on the soundtrack under stentorian singers. I know they wanted Tim Rice's immortal lyrics to stand out, but this was truly ridiculous.
  5. If they're planning to bring back the Seventies in any form, I want you please to take me out behind the barn and put a merciful bullet through my head.
  6. The actor who played Peter went on to a career in porn.

21 comments:

Bobby Lightfoot said...

I guess I'm still sort of down with th' fatwa. There, I've said it.

Neddie said...

Ah, but where do you stand on "Morning Has Broken"? Answer carefully...

fgfdsg said...

You think *you* hate 'Morning Has Broken'? Try growing up in Australia, where the local hit version was sung by the Steve Irwin of the 60's, all-singing, all-painting, all-didgeriedooing four eyed beardy-weirdy 'all ages entertainer' wanker Rolf Harris.

If you don't know who he is, thank your lucky stars. If you dont, *listen to this piece of shit*.

If he wasn't offensive enough to start with, he later got to play on a Kate Bush record in 1981, and obviously developed enough of a friendship with her to end up with a speaking role on last years New Album, the bastard.

Oh yeah, Cat Stevens. Dad used to play him a lot when I was little. Like 'Moon Shadow' and especially 'Matthew and Son'. The kind of stuff I know I'm not supposed to like, but it's the sound of my childhood so they kind of take on extra weight to my ears.

nash said...

"Dreadful mechanical goo" -- that about sums up the mind-numbing stuff I hear thudding forth from car stereos at all hours of the day and night. Music that seems designed to pummel the intellect into insensibility...might explain a few things about this country, huh?

I never liked Cat Stevens, except for that magnificent Harold and Maude soundtrack. That sequence at the end where Stevens sings about "Trouble" as poor bereft Harold speeds toward the cliff and faces his moment of choice -- that sequence still does things to me that I can't explain.

I have no idea what key or chords are involved, but something about that song really works, at least in concert with the images.

--nashtbrutusandshort
Categorical Aperitif

blue girl said...

First of all, Harold and Maude is in my Top Favorite Five Movies Of All Time.

Aren't you glad to know that? Of course you are.

Secondly, Wonder Woman and I have to get together sometime. We'll put on a little Sweet Baby James and together, we'll feel the power growing in our hair.

It'll be fun! And very mellow.

Blue Wren said...

Funny, just the opposite thing happened to me. I ordered the re-release of Majikat last year, fueled by memories of Sad Lisa and Moonshadow. My old LPs, played over and over back in the time before time are long gone, lost during one move or another over the years. So I waited and waited and waited, and finally, Majikat arrived in my mailbox. I rushed inside, put it into the CD player, pushed play and ... hated it. Every last cut grated my nerves and made me want to scream.
Since then, Majikat has sat on the shelf, lonely and unlistened-to. Sometimes, I guess, you just can't go back. I'll stick to my hippy-dippy memories.

Neddie said...

If you don't know who he is, thank your lucky stars. If you dont, *listen to this piece of shit*.

Surprised he didn't try to rhyme "cassowary" and "Gary."

Take a cast of me cock, Jock
Take a cast of me cock
Make it out of some brass, Baz
And stick it in the old dry-dock!

Secondly, Wonder Woman and I have to get together sometime. We'll put on a little Sweet Baby James and together, we'll feel the power growing in our hair.

I'll be up in the attic, jamming a hypodermic of China White into my aorta.

Every last cut grated my nerves and made me want to scream.

Same thing happened to me recently on a revisit to Elton John's "Tumbleweed Connection," which I'd remembered as a pretty fine record. Pieeeece...of...shit! Truly, let sleeping dogs lie, is my take. (I absolutely dare not take out "Thick as a Brick," for fear of the same thing happening.)

Ah, we're all a bunch of vckys.

Mike said...

I think you actually watched Harold and Maude on Turner Classic Movies rather than Sundance.

So a coupla years ago I was still living the whole dot com hacker lifestyle, which back in the swingin 90's was much like college with Bombay Gin instead of Budwieser. I hooked up with this sweet young thang from marketing, and she brought along a friend for my roomie. We do the ethnic dinner in Adams Morgan then back to our place for some hey hey.

"Would you like some music? Pick something out." The girl brought along for roomie digs throught the 2 or 3k cds covering the wall and comes up with crap that was thrown out from the top 40 station I worked at once. Like Elton John's greatest hits or some shit. Roomie starts freaking. Yes, music it one of the most important things in my life, but it's really more of a reason to not call her back than to screw up a good thing for everybody that night.

And my girl said it was I who had "ish-shues".

glue birl said...

You haven't lived till you've listened to "I Feel Like A Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford) by EJ.

...ducking over here, trying to avoid getting hit with tomatoes and rocks.

Jeddie, have you ever seen the movie "High Fidelity"?

This thread's starting to remind me of Jack Black's character!

Customer: Do you have "I Just Called To Say I Love You"?

Jack Black: Do I look like I'd have that record in this store, you idiot?! Go to the mall!

Kevin Wolf said...

I'm back and forth on Cat Stevens: sometimes like, sometimes hate. Maybe he does go better with visuals. I find "Moonshadow" cloying but if you've ever seen the animated short made for the song (by someone - no idea who) that's modelled after the ablum cover, it's actually kind of sweet.

My favorite Cat song is "The Hurt," from Foreigner, an album everybody bought but no one listened to - if my yard sale pickings are an accurate guide.

James Taylor. Jesus. I can sort of stand "Fire and Rain" if stumbled across on the radio every 5-10 years. Can't stomcah anything else.

Simon, I know who Rolf Harris is soley due to a station my Dad listened to everyday, and the DJ's habit of playing "Two Buffalos" - strictly as a novelty tune. It took me years to find out who had done the song.

Candlefiregirl said...

I'm going to join blue girl and wonder woman for a James Taylor and Cat...err... Yusuf sing-along hour.

"Morning Has Broken" was actually a hymn written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965). You can often find it in church hymnals. Cat just covered it.

I love Cat's voice. Love his songs. No apologies. Will be interesting to see what the new album sounds like. I never heard Majikat.

Sooo... I hate to ask, Neddie... but how did you feel about Jim Croce? ;D

"If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that Id like to do
Is to save every day
Till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Jim Croce, Bread, America, Ozark Mountain Daredevils....

Don't lynch me!

david said...

Quoting from wikipedia link, "One member of the film's cast went on to a porn film career. Philip Toubus, who played Peter, found himself struggling as a mainstream actor. But three years after appearing in Jesus Christ Superstar, he changed his name to Paul Thomas." Now I ask you, if you're gonna be a porn star, wouldn't Toubus be a much better nom de plume than Thomas? Unless of course your first name was John.

Mr Fiddlehead said...

Okay, that was an excellent post. And as much as I do dispise Andrew Llloyd Webbbber, et. al., I do have a soft spot for the JCSS original recording (not the horrific film soundtrack, mind you). My only real remaining problem with JCSS is its rather unfortuate association with that cult Christianity, especially on this day of days when all western leaders of the three major myths come together to whore in public for their particular brand of lunacy.

Tom said...

The actor who played Peter went on to a career in porn.

Ah, yes... Paul Thomas. Disturbingly enough, one of the actors in the movie version of Godspell (although it's not germane to this discussion, given the date today, I feel compelled to mention as an aside that one of the musical numbers was shot on top of the WTC just as it was finishing construction) bears a disturbing resemblance to Ron Jeremy.

It's interesting to compare Godspell to JCSS. The latter has a better, more coherent story, but the songs just don't compare. There are a number of passages in the soundtrack that I listened to recently in which the Lamb of God seems to be simultaneously passing kidney stones and a lower intestinal bolus the size of a softball.

Godspell, on the other hand, doesn't have a weak song in the bunch, but the bits between the songs... ugh. The movie is the worst sort of hippie-dippie crap, the kind of pwecious, face-painting, prancing-about-like-Edwardian-nellies-on-opium dreck that led the Beatles to do the Magical Mystery Tour movie (nothing wrong with the album, though).

WRT 70s singer-songwriters, my least favorite is Harry Chapin, although I'm hard-pressed to say why I don't like his work. "Cat's in the Cradle" comes off as a good, pointed criticism of self-involved Baby Boomers. All I know is that I've never listened to "Taxi" so much as endured it.

Neddie said...

Wow, this is getting nightmarish, all these Cat Stevens monstrosities crawling out of the woodwork and infesting my head. One day of it's quite enough, thanks very much, and now on Day Five or so I've reverted to the old self. NP: John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Very loud.

GlueBirl, "High Fidelity" is never far from my mind. While I'm very happily married and John Cusack's character is a miserable mess, I fight being him every day of my life. I'm supposed to be a grownup, and grownups don't measure the passage of their lives by pop records.

Jack Black, that's more Bobby Lightfoot's line.

Found a great page in WikiQuotes, a bunch of dialog from the film. The scene you're remembering goes like this:

Customer: Hi, do you have the song "I Just Called To Say I Love You?" It's for my daughter's birthday.

Barry: Yeah, we have it.

Customer: Great great... Well, can I have it?

Barry: No, you can't.

Customer: Why not?

Barry: Because it's sentimental tacky crap, that's why. Do we look like a store that sells "I Just Called to Say I Love You"? Go to the mall!

Customer: What's your problem?!

Barry: Do you even know your daughter? There's no way she likes that song! Oh oh oh wait! Is she in a coma?

See, I have to fight that impulse every time "Sweet Baby James" oozes out of the JBLs.

And Mike just gave an absolute note-perfect illustration of the problem: Women (or, at least, the women I know and love) think that the importance we pathetically-trying-to-be-hip fellas attach to music is an indicator of arrested adolescence, of having "ish-shues."

Philip Toubus/Paul Thomas didn't just take up a career in porn; he took up a career in LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of porn. Between 1974 and 2005, he acted in THREE HUNDRED porn films (including the immortal "Friday the 13th: A Nude Beginning" and "Cumshot Review 2," which I can only imagine is as riveting as its title).

Jeebus, just looking at 1985 alone, a particularly busy year, I've got to imagine he was pretty chafed and sore by Christmas.

glue birl said...

I just went out and bought High Fidelity last week. I love it.

Just watched it again last night.

Oh oh oh wait! Is she in a coma?

When he says...Is she in a coma? -- it's hysterical.

You know your post and this thread inspired a blue girl goop-fest music post -- took me -- well, I'm not going to say how long it took me, lest you think I'm a tad slow -- and as I went to post it, Typepad crashed!

Darn it all!

I gotta re-write it.

Another thing I love about what Jack Black does in that movie. At the end when he's singing "Let's Get It on" -- how he sings "sugar."

Shuga! Hard to type it, but it's excellent.

:)

glue birl said...

I'm supposed to be a grownup, and grownups don't measure the passage of their lives by pop records.

Who says?

I'm so happy that I've met all of you kids then.

I've done that my entire life, too. And I doubt I'll stop now.

cope said...

"Tea For the Tillerman" was used to create the very first music "video" I ever saw (and maybe one of the first ever made).

A talented photography student at my college shot themed 35 mm slides to go with each song on the album. He then set up two projectors that were synched to fade in and out with each other and presented the whole album and accompanying slide show while playing the album on a turntable. Many of us sat slackjawed when the pics for "Sad Lisa" included nudes of one of the hottest (and seemingly most inaccessible) female students in the whole school.

This was about 1969 or 1970 and, at the time, I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

Who would have guessed that 35 years later, iPhoto would let us all "create" similar masterworks so effortlessly as to render their existence almost meaningless?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

IN THE LATE 1960s AND 1970s, Cat Stevens was a popular singer whose songs,
about gay anal sex with black condoms, struck a responsive chord in an entire generation.
His real name was Steven Georgiou. He was born in London, in 1948, to a Greek
Cypriot father and a Swedish mother.

Stevens turned to writing music while studying art in a school outside of
London. Soon, he gave up his studies to pursue a career as a singer. He had
his first hit single, I Love hot twinks in 1966. In 1968, however,
he contracted tuberculosis and had to be confined a year to a hospital, where he wrote the
album Mona Bone Jakon. In 1970 he released Tea for the Tillerman, which quickly
made the top ten in the United States and propelled him to superstar status.
Tillerman and the later Teaser and the Firecat are now classics

Anonymous said...

http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,42,8,2,0
http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,41,8,2,0
http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,40,8,2,0
http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,39,8,2,0
http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,38,8,2,0
http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,37,8,2,0
http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,36,8,2,0
http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,35,8,2,0
http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,11,8,2,0
http://aff.pythonpays.com/gallhit.php?100236,10,8,2,0