Sunday, September 12, 2010

The artist versus the art

Cause out on the edge of darkness,
there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country,
come take me home again

—Cat Stevens, "Peace Train"

Salman Rushdie, indeed any writer who abuses the prophet or indeed any prophet under Islamic law, the sentence for that is actually death.
—Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens

Not long ago, a friend of mine proclaimed that he had no interest in listening to Sammy Hagar due to the man's abhorrent political beliefs. Apparently Hagar has stated something to the effect that he wouldn't kill someone who was threatening to murder his family, because nobody has the right to take anybody else's life under any circumstances.

(A Google search didn't turn up anything on this, so apologies to Hagar if I completely misrepresented whatever he actually believes.)

I thought back to that conversation today as I was choosing music to listen to while cooking. A scroll through the iPod brought me to Cake, Captain Beyond, Carole King, Cat Stevens ...

Cat Stevens. I hadn't heard him in a while. He'd fit my mood perfectly.


I hesitated. Pushed past the reservations. Selected a track from Mona Bone Jakon and pressed play.

Back in 1988, when Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam made his infamous remarks about Salman Rushdie, I decided not to boycott his music. After all, I argued, he wrote a lot of it before he even adopted those beliefs. Besides, his songs were innocent. His songs didn't advocate killing people who disagreed with you.

Nevertheless, ever since then, I've felt a small amount of guilt when listening to him. My reasons are logical enough, but my motives aren't pure. In the end, I listen because his music brings me pleasure. I don't want to give it up.

And now that I write songs myself, I have another selfish motive: I don't want people to lose interest in my work if they become disillusioned with me.

For instance. Of everything we've put out there, the song that's probably garnered the most appreciation is "Everybody Knows About Me," about someone living with undiagnosed ME/CFS. In particular, people who have the disease themselves are happy that somebody wanted to stand up for them. It offers comfort and vindication.

I'm proud that I wrote "Everybody Knows About Me." I'm proud that other people have found solace in it. But day to day, just going about my life, I could never live up to the promise of that song. I'm not full of understanding and empathy every second of every waking hour.

In a sense, though, that's one of the reasons I want to write. My songs are self-contained pieces of expression that never change when I say something stupid or let somebody down. Once crafted, they exist outside of me.

So, I continue to groove on Cat Stevens. I continue to write.

I try not to feel like too much of a hypocrite.


mac said...

Yeah, I can see that Sammy not wantin to kill anyone would really tun someone off ???

I kind of lost my Cat Stevens appreciation when all that nonsense came out. But, I feel that way about most religious ideas.... If you have to kill for your beliefs, it's time to re-examine those beliefs !

Jeff Shattuck said...

I think the real hypocrite is Cat Stevens. I mean, here's the thing: if I got to hang out with Yusuf and drew a picture of Muhammad that made Muhammad look like a fool, Yusuf would have to want me dead, right? But would he really? If I handed him a gun would he kill me? Doubtful. Either way, I just have no respect for dogma loving religious zealots, which Yusuf is, or was at the time of his quip. But, like you, I love his music.

DeppityBob said...

I seem to remember that he didn't actually wish harm on Rushdie and didn't agree with the fatwa, but was only stating that, according to Islamic law, that was the penalty. Didn't he make a statement that he was misquoted, or only partially quoted? He made a statement that Islam is a religion of peace, I think. Anyway, he's not one of the rabid hating Muslims that get all the attention.

Brett Ashton said...

First; I like Cat Stevens’ music and I don’t see that changing no matter what he says because I’m not paying attention. I like the “shut up and sing” viewpoint but I only enforce it on my end. If they say something silly, like we all do, I ignore it. Simple enough.

Second; when that whole issue broke out and the Ayatollah Khomeini put up the five million dollars for Rushdie’s head, I got curious enough about the issue to run out and buy Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Versus” to see what all of the ruckus was about. I read it and have to say that it is the most horribly written and worst book I’ve ever read. I almost put up twenty bucks of my own to have Rushdie killed for it. Not for religious reasons but really, I think it is that bad.

Third; one of my friends suggested that as a marketing technique for my book “Vengeance: Hatred and Honor” (yes, that is a shameless plug) I just go out and piss off a bunch of Muslim extremists so that they want to cut my head off. After all, if that hadn’t have happened about Rushdie’s book, I never would have heard of him. I’m thinking “not so much,” mostly because my book is better than his!

John Wenger said...

I don't understand your comment that you will listen to Cat Stevens because you don't want people to lose interest in you if they become disillusioned with you. How in the world can you compare yourself with Stevens (assuming he even called for Rushdie's death, because DeppityBob makes a good point)?

Not living up to one's ideals in not the same thing as having a reprehensible ideal. No one lives up to his aspirations completely, but that is a very different thing than desiring evil.

cinderkeys said...

Regarding whether Yusuf Islam really advocated anything that bad ... He says now that he was merely telling people what was in the Koran, much as someone of a different faith might point out some rule in Leviticus. So yeah, he probably wouldn't want to execute an unbeliever his own self, and he's probably not that enthusiastic about other people doing it either. Still, he didn't come out and say it was wrong, either.

I don't have a lot of patience for people who won't take responsibility for their own beliefs. If you want to think, for instance, that homosexuality is evil because the Bible says so, fine. But realize that you're breaking an awful lot of other rules in the Bible (check out The Year of Living Biblically for amusing examples). Which means that at some point you're deciding what to believe. You're not just taking your deity's word for everything.

Dad: So I'm guilt-prone, OK? ;)

John Wenger said...

Being guilt prone makes sense if you have done something to feel guilty about. Feeling guilty about not living up to your ideals is easy to understand. But comparing yourself to someone who believes in killing those who commit what he considers heresy to print is going way beyond being guilt-prone.

Perhaps what you meant to say is that you are comparing not always living up to your ideals to not denouncing evil speech. I suppose that makes more sense, but that wasn't what I got out of your original post.

Anyway, you are a good person, and you should take a lot of satisfaction in that. I know that your Mother and I do.

(Am I supposed to capitalize "mother" in that last sentence? What is the rule on that?)

cinderkeys said...

I didn't say I thought I was as bad as someone who advocates the death penalty for people who believe differently than I do. You're taking this analogy way too literally. :)

But on to more important matters. You only capitalize titles when you're using them in place of the person's name. So:

I'll talk to you next week, Mom.

but ...

Your mother will talk to you next week.

Everybody gets this wrong! Everybody needs to stop getting this wrong! Thank you for providing a teachable moment.