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Like most people in the modern world, the Urban Man is always trying to recapture lost innocence.
Fortunately, despite the apparent cynicism of the age, innocence has never been easier to recapture. Nowadays, even while waiting in line at the checkout of the most rapacious grocery store, I can pick up an old Jimmy Stewart DVD. Even while doing my taxes, I can download the joyous youth of Simon & Garfunkel in MP3 format.
And lo, there it is, lost innocence, rediscovered like sweet water in the desert or honeyed nectar in the hive.
So naturally, back in November, I was intrigued to hear that Cat Stevens had returned. Well, not exactly returned--though the man now known as Yusuf Islam did leave his anti-Western seclusion to release a fresh album.
Like most, I wasn't ready to offer him my heart right away. I mean, yes, once upon a time, Cat Stevens was the man followed by moonshadows. And surely, he remains on everyone's lost innocence playlist.
I read the reviews, which were kind, if standoffish. I listened with some suspicion to the KCRW interview in which Yusuf Islam tried not to embody the global clash of civilizations, in which he tried hard to maintain an apolitical naïveté.
And I held back.
It's not that I begrudged Cat Stevens' departure from the record industry nearly three decades ago. And not that I begrudged his departure from my culture to look for religion in another. I mean sometimes, now and then, when it really wants to, religion can provide innocence. And given the way things are, I understand that a man may have to change his name two or three times to maintain the purity of his soul.
But I did begrudge Yusuf Islam those years when he publicly denied the value of Tea for the Tillerman and Morning Has Broken; when he unsuccessfully asked the record companies to stop distributing them. I didn't want him ruining part of my little store of innocence. After all, I depend on a pretty meagre supply.
Of course it was only a matter of time before I broke down. And today I was driving along the once charming, but now ugly Westwood Boulevard when suddenly I felt a deep need for openhearted candor. Immediately, I pulled into one of those cheerful cafés with blond wood and strong overhead lighting. I ordered a green tea latté, connected to wi fi, and downloaded Yusuf Islam to my laptop.
And lo, there was the familiar voice, now 59. He sang:
Open up a world and let me in.
Then there'll be a new path to begin.
Why...these were nearly the same kind of lyrics he wrote at age 20. The same harmless rebellion, albeit with a Muslim twist. And I thought, surely at the age of 59, naïveté may either recede completely or return like a forgotten tide.
But as the songs progressed, I caught a heavy undercurrent of very adult...preachiness. And try as I might, behind the sweetness of every note I could hear the clash of civilizations sounding like dark tympani. In fact, by the time I'd finished my second green tea latté, I grew angry that after denying me for 28 years, this man could try to win my affection by imitating all that once wide-eyed longing.
Still, if a tear came into the eye of the Urban Man as he sat there listening in the bright blond wood café, it was not grief for the past, or even grief for a world filled with pointless conflict. No, it was grief for a world in which appparently, just like you and me, Yusuf Islam can only recapture lost innocence by downloading Cat Stevens.
Copyright © 2007 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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