Say It’s Your Birthday: Cat Stevens

Before Cat Stevens became a fundamentalist Muslim and
chimed in his support for the death sentence imposed on Salman Rushdie by Iran,
he was one of the most successful, “feel good,” singer-songwriters of the ’70s;
indeed, if he was making music today he would probably be known as a sensitive
new-age kind of guy. Hits like “Peace Train” and “Wild World” made him an
international star in the early ’70s. Stevens was born Steven Demetri Georgiou
in 1947 to a Greek father and a Swedish mother. When he has a child, he became
enthralled with both traditional Greek folk-music and rock ’n’ roll; by the
’60s, he was writing and performing his own songs. In the late ’60s he released
a series of mildly successful, and personally unsatisfying, singles, and his
music career almost came to a halt in 1968 when he contracted tuberculosis and
spent the better part of a year in a hospital. It wasn’t until Stevens’ sixth
album, 1971’s Tea for the Tillerman, that he broke through into a wider
audience. By this time, Stevens was performing the introspective,
spiritually-tinged songs that would mark his career and had become a leading
concert attraction. The two albums Stevens released in 1971 (the other was
Teaser and the Firecat) contained all of his biggest hits: “Wild World,”
“Morning Has Broken,” “Peace Train,” and “Moon Shadow.” Very Young and Early
and Catch Bull at Four, both released in 1972, sold fairly
well but contained no major hits, and ’73’s Buddha and the Chocolate Box
and ’75’s Numbers signaled the beginning of the end.
Nineteen-seventy-five was also the year Stevens became a Moslem, auctioned off
his “earthly possessions,” and began eschewing the rock ’n’ roll world. In
1988, following the 10,000 Maniacs recording of “Peace Train,” it seemed as if
a small-time Stevens revival was about to occur; his condemnation of Rushdie
took care of that, and since then American radio stations have upheld an
unspoken ban on Stevens’ music. Last reported news had it that Stevens, married
to Fouzia Ali, had five children and was running a Moslem school outside of
London. Other birthdays: Ditch Croaker’s Floyd, Faith No More’s Jim Martin, and
the Blessed Union of Souls’ Eliot Sloan. –Seth Mnookin