I went to church on Easter morning. I was looking forward to the music because church choirs generally put on the dog for Christmas and Easter. I was especially looking forward to hearing the huge choir and orchestra perform one of the most important and beloved hymns in Christianity, for Catholic and Protestant alike – “Christ the Lord is Risen Today/Jesus Christ is Risen Today”, written in the 17oo’s by John Arnold and Charles Wesley. A sacred song; steeped in history and tradition and profound with deep biblical doctrine.
So excited was I about hearing it performed in a mighty way that I annoyed my daughter by singing it the whole time I was putting on my make-up, fixing my hair, and driving to the church. Anyway, to cut to the chase – they slaughtered it. I don’t mean that as in “they killed it, man”, I mean it as in “they utterly ruined it”. They took the words, or some of them, and put them to some nondescript, inane “modern” tune. I was so shocked and disappointed and downright angry that I had to excuse myself to the restroom to get myself straightened out before I could go back in the sanctuary. Apparently, this is what churches around here do now. They destroy sacred, centuries-old songs in the name of being “hip and with it” or something.
Purple Clematis Vine
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Case in point – the simple, lovely children’s hymn known as “A Morning Song (For the First Day of Spring)”. Cat Stevens was delighted by this beautiful song and wanted to record it – trouble was, though, it wasn’t long enough. It needed to be around three minutes long, and it was only about 45 seconds. He had heard a piece by the great Rick Wakeman from his masterpiece, The Six Wives of Henry VIII and asked Rick if he could write a piano part for a new version of this song. Naturally, Rick being the spiritually-minded man that he is, he agreed to do so. The end result of their collaboration was the well-known and much loved “Morning Has Broken”. Far from ruining this song, it became even more beautiful and moving. Unfortunately, Rick was not originally given credit for his contribution to the song, nor was he paid, but Cat/Yusuf later attributed this to confusion/errors on the part of the label and made it right when he returned to performing in the early 2000s.
Lady Banks Rose
Also unfortunate was the fact that apparently many churches refused to play this song any longer after Cat’s conversion. But that hadn’t happened yet back when I was singing this song, almost every Sunday night, in Youth Choir, so I learned all the words. Thus, what it’s all come down to, after all those years of hard rock and such, is me wandering around the garden at the crack of dawn in my robe and slippers, coffee mug in hand, singing Cat Stevens songs to my pack of adoring dogs. Who’d ‘a thought?
All of these pictures were taken in my little garden. The bench swing you see in this picture is where a lot of my writing is done – in my head, early in the morning with coffee, or at dusk with tea. Then I eventually go back inside and get it down on paper. I mean screen. Oh, and just so you know – I feel the need to make some explanation – that’s new growth monkey grass used as edging. It’s not just regular tall grass that needs to be mowed. I swear. Really! Why do you question me?
Vaguely Goth Fountain and Swing
And here’s the loveliness, appropriately accompanied by scenes of nature. Mine is the sunlight; mine is the morning…
Here’s Rick Wakeman’s “Catherine Howard”, which was the inspiration for the sublime piano arrangement in “Morning Has Broken”. You may recognize some similarities, particularly at the beginning.
And that reminds me – Yes is touring North America again this summer! They are going to perform Fragile and Close to the Edge in their entirety, along with some new material and other of their most loved songs. See you all in Nashville, then, right?! Right!
Now back to Cat/Yusuf. What sets his music apart is the deep lyrics, along with the intensely beautiful melodies. The delicate “Oh Very Young” – if only I had a dollar for every time I’ve stood in front of a lecture hall, looked into a sea of bright young faces and thought of the opening line to that song! The stirring “Wild World” and “Peace Train” – brilliant! Being creeped out by Lady d’Arbanville – wonderful! But I think the two songs below are my absolute Cat favorites. Looking back at his body of work, it really shouldn’t have surprised us that he ditched it all – the fame and the popular music. He gave us hints all along of what was coming down the pike, really. You can hear it clearly in both these songs.
I think almost anyone that ever had a father, or ever had to make a tough, unpopular decision can relate at least a little to this song. “I know I have to go away; I know I have to go…”
And I think this one reveals a lot about Cat’s inner dissatisfaction with his “pop star” life, and his quest for something more meaningful. This is one of my favorite lines in any song…”I know a lot of fancy dancers; people who can glide you on the floor; they move so smooth, but have no answers…”
You know, speaking of “fancy dancers”, and I’m using that phrase figuratively, you understand, in looking at these pictures of Cat/Yusuf, it dawns upon me that he was darn near the spitting image of the C.G., and not so dissimilar from the Moody Blues Guy either. Weird. Or not.
And going back to the ruined hymn, in case you are interested, this is what it is supposed to sound like. So c’mon, churches. Quit trying to be hip. You’re not meant to be, and you never will be. Face it. But I can’t think of anything that’s more deeply marvelous than this, really.
And by the way, I guess I lied about only crying at Springsteen songs. No wonder you didn’t believe me about the monkey grass.
Some Scroungy Azaleas
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