Magazine article The New Yorker

Nine Lives

Magazine article The New Yorker

Nine Lives

Article excerpt


--Tad Friend

The singer Steven Demetre Georgiou Adams has never maintained one identity long. As a teen-ager in sixties London, he took the stage name Cat Stevens--but his first hit, contra his new feline brand, was "I Love My Dog." Next, after a near-fatal bout of tuberculosis, he transformed from a pop heartthrob into a soulful superstar. Albums such as "Tea for the Tillerman" became the soundtrack of the early seventies; every passing VW bus blasted Stevens's staccato vocal rhythms and scratchy, joyful acoustic guitar.

By decade's end, he'd grown disenchanted with a business that craved his hits but rejected his quest. After forays into Zen Buddhism and numerology, he became a Muslim named Yusuf Islam and forswore music. He went on to found Islamic schools in Britain and to work for peace in the Balkans, but he also became embroiled in the Salman Rushdie controversy, was questioned about whether he had inadvertently donated money to Hamas, and in 2004 was denied entry to the United States. Though Yusuf insisted he was a man of peace, a casual observer might have thought that he'd come to embody his own lyrics to "Wild World": "A lot of nice things turn bad out there."

Last Thursday, at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, Cat Stevens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Beforehand, his current, sixty-five-year-old iteration sat cross-legged on a couch in a room at the Essex Hotel, drinking tea and looking out on Central Park. Of the impending ceremony, he said, "It seems like a very nice rapprochement --would you say that? Something that heals?"

Aside from Peter Gabriel, he didn't view the other artists in his Hall of Fame class as fellow-travellers. "Kiss?" he wondered, in a soft London lilt. "I have no feelings for Kiss. I admire the way they look"--a reference to the band's face paint. He laughed and added, "But maybe it's just a way of hiding yourself behind makeup."

First, Art Garfunkel would introduce him: "If he says anything wrong, I'll say, 'Where's the other guy?' " He mimed looking for Paul Simon. Then Yusuf planned to thank his lodestars, from Beethoven to the Beatles. "Before I came around to seeing the prophets as my models, the Beatles represented the kind of people I wanted to be with, be one of. But when I met John and George, in David Bailey's photographic studio, about '69, I was completely tongue-tied. …

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