Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Me and Cat

Apropos of the post below, somewhere - either packed away in some unremembered box or possibly lost in one of our periodic basement floods - is my Chadwick high school yearbook, where there should be at least one picture of a young Fred in full imitative Cat Stevens wannabe mode.

Chadwick didn't allow facial hair on students, of course. Back in that day they didn't even allow jeans on students, but they had a tradition of inviting back the previous year's seniors in the late summer for one last get-together and year book addendum photo session before we went to wherever we were going. By that point my mustache and beard, always threatening to blossom while I was in school, had gone into full bloom, and I'm fairly sure I remember a photo, my arm around a couple of buddies, all of us sprawled against a chopper bike. Probably not the graduate image Chadwick wanted us to project, but what the hell, it was the early `70s, and if you lived through that period, you knew it was still really the late `60s.

My hair was already shoulder-length in school, although the Chadwick administration had complained several times to my parents about it. My father finally growled in a face-to-face meeting that given the tuition he was paying the school for me and my two brothers to attend, I should be allowed to paint myself blue and run buck-naked there if I wanted to. My Dad was less of a fan of my hair than they were, but that was the last I heard about it from anyone.

My girlfriend, Maggie, became a huge fan of Cat Stevens when Tea for the Tillerman came out in 1970. Nearly everyone did. The FM band was alive with "Where do the Children Play?" "Hard-Headed Woman," and "Wild World." It was a time of soft rock, with CSN&Y, Joni Mitchell, The Carpenters, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel all at the height of popularity, and "Tea" was the distilled essence of that style. That album played literally every afternoon in my bedroom where Maggie and I were, ah, doing homework. And when:

Bring Tea for the Tillerman;
Steak for the Sun
Wine for the women who make the rain come
Seagulls sing your hearts away
'Cause while the sinners sin the children play
O Lord, how they play and play
For that happy day, for that...

happy day.

played out and the chorus faded away, the children in my room stopped playing for a moment, and I would get up, move the needle back to the beginning, and then we would all shine on.

Stevens was coming to the Troubadour, one of L.A.'s oldest clubs. Maggie and I had been to the Troub before, as it was also one of the few L.A. clubs that had an all-ages policy, a bit ironic since Hollywood had a curfew at the time to get us troubled yutes off the street, and you had to be very wary of cops when you left the Troub if you were underage, as the two of us were. The last time we had been to the Troub was to see one of my favorite bands, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, where, if you care, we became part of the live crowd noise recorded on their classic "Where's the Money?"

So, Maggie and Fred, young hippie prince and princess, put on their beads and finery and hustled off to West Hollywood one night to see Cat Stevens. We probably had dinner at Zap's, a long-departed Hollywood vegetarian restaurant that Maggie loved, although it's possible I talked her into breaking training and getting a burger at Barney's Beanery, a then-dive since become iconic that I loved because Janis Joplin used to drink there. One or the other, dependent on which of us had the more engaging argument that night.

You couldn't sit at the bar area in the Troubadour if you were underage, and you definitely could not sit upstairs on the couches in the loft with the glitterati of the day, and we were obviously very young and very inexperienced with night clubbing and it was the last show of the night of Stevens first appearance in L.A. since the release of "Tea" and all the hoi polloi were all there. All leading up to explain why Maggie and I secured the worse seats in the house, so far out that we would have been back on the boulevard if we leaned too far back in our seats, right next to the performers' entrance. But we were there.

Opening for Stevens was a then-unknown and very nervous Carly Simon, whose self-titled debut album was yet to be released. As we were listening to Simon sing "That's the Way I Always Heard it Should Be," Maggie started poking me - hard - in the ribs.

"Look, look," she hissed. And I turned to see Cat Stevens standing next to Maggie, having emerged from the performers' entrance to listen to Simon. "It's him!" Maggie hissed even louder. Stevens turned and smiled at her. "Like her?" he whispered to Maggie about Simon. "Very much," she whisperered back. "Almost as much as you."

He smiled again, maybe at the innocent double entendre. We didn't know it, but he and Simon were an item at the time. "Anticipation," a song that before becoming known as a ketchup flogging commercial, was written by Simon while she was waiting for Stevens to pick her up for a date. In any case, he said, "She's going to be really big."

The song ended, and Cat asked, "What's your name?" He told Maggie to enjoy the show and disappeared back into the performers' alley. And later came out and performed, and midway through his set said, "This is for pretty Maggie in back," and then played "Wild World."

I had to stop her from rushing the stage at the "ooooh, baby, baby" part.

Stevens would have a few more hits, notably "Peace Train," and "Moon Dancer," but never again anything as massive an album as "Tea." As you probably know, he'd eventually convert to Islam and turn his back on commercial music. It was the last time Maggie and I went to the Troubadour together; my last time at the Troub altogether. In a year I'd be in the Army, and on the road that would eventually lead here, in my kitchen in New Hampshire, looking out the window at golden Fall light, writing, in the year of our Lord, 2005.

It was such a long time ago, in what sometimes seems like another country now. But I can still go back any time I want.


Maudie said...

Far out. Soooo jealous, dood.

(hope you find that picture - would love to see it, heh)

Anonymous said...

Very nicely done, fhb. You may be the only blogger ever to use "polloi" in a sentence, too.

This was a good one.