It was a ping pong match to do with, on one side, reaching early puberty, and the realities of life at the other end. This was when something like a caterpillar started growing on my upper lip.
No amount of talcum powder was going to hide it, nor being teased at school.
Trying to shave it off with Dad’s razor only made things worse. Cuts and bruises only drew more attention to what was now a swollen caterpillar.
Mum, well, Mum, she did what most mothers did at the time- cry and worry that her 11-12 year old boy had become a hippie and was lost to drugs.
I had perhaps taken an Aspro. This was when a fly somehow ended up living inside my ear for a few days when a kid in Ceylon until the servant who looked after me poured some warm water down my eardrum and boiled it. I still think about that fly...
Life carried on in school until time when it was acceptable to have facial hair, especially as Rock music had arrived at the doorstep of many like Jerry Garcia on acid.
Of course, there were other Rock stars who sported facial hair, but it was Cat Stevens, who wasn’t a Rock guy, but who, as for myself, made growing a moustache AND a beard really cool. Man.
I figured that with some work, I could look like him. So began my journey and mission into being a chick magnet like the Cat with aspirations to be a sensitive singer-songwriter.
Yes, it was shallow as hell, but sometimes one has to cross this bridge to get to the other side.
During his days when signed to Deram, Cat Stevens looked like a young and frothy fop which, perhaps, was the right image for the stuff he was recording at the time- “I Love My Dog”, “Matthew And Son” etc.
Then, when he reappeared on Chris Blackwell’s Island Records imprint, not only had his music changed, but here was someone who was dark and brooding and looked the part of the sensitive troubadour.
I remember seeing him in concert in London and his Chick Pulling Power was well on the rise.
This was who I wanted to look like and get all those chicks with English accents who were like Jean Shrimpton...
Many years later, while having dinner with the great Chris Blackwell, the music company boss mentioned how he had advised Steven- Cat’s real name- Steven Giorgiou- that if he wanted to leave Deram and the bombastic Pop he was making, he needed to get out of his recording contract.
His advice was for the artist to not wash his hair, grow a moustache and beard, not bathe, go see the label after a few months and tell them he wanted to make a “concept” album, which was always taboo to the profits of a music company. It also usually meant that an artist had flipped a Syd Barrett morning switch.
As expected Deram dropped the artist. He signed with Island, was somehow able to own all his Publishing Rights, which, I believe Chris Blackwell regrets to this day, and released the underrated gem called “Mona Bone Jakon”.
The lead-off single was the beautiful “Lady D’Arbanville”- model and actress Patti D’Arbanville, the artist’s muse at the time. I had to get myself a muse...and I did. She’s still my muse.
The photo on his album “Catch Bull At Four” sealed it for me with Cat Stevens.
I bought myself a black velveteen jacket from Carnaby Street, unbuttoned my paisley shirts, wore bracelets, snakeskin boots, a hat and took to wearing a fake tiger tooth necklace around my neck.
Meanwhile, though Cat Stevens was still around, he was about to give up the pop star lifestyle and disappear for a while whereas I was going through changes of my own following the accidental death of my best friend.
I was searching for something, she arrived into my life, we moved in together, and one of the first things she did was throw out the snakeskin boots, and tell me that I looked ridiculous with that tiger tooth necklace hanging from my neck.
Meanwhile, there was George Harrison who was my favourite Beatle ever since watching him in that opening scene in “A Hard Day’s Night” where he stumbles and falls.
I also thought he wrote and recorded some very underrated fab tracks like “If I Needed Someone” and “Don’t Bother Me”.
Seeing him on the cover of his triple decker solo opus “All Things Must Pass” was a Personal Jesus moment.
On the sepia toned cover, he’s surrounded by garden gnomes and looks like something from another place in time and space.
I knew that here was the only person worthy of my efforts to try and resemble him- and happily follow his musical path.
A song like especially the title track resonated with me for all the right reasons as did “Isn’t It Pity” and “Beware Of Darkness”.
When George Harrison passed, it was something that I could understand and accept and turn into a learning experience.
Same with going back and listening to “Teaser And The Fire Cat”, the ambitious “Foreigner Suite” and “Tea For The Tillerman”.
It was rediscovering the songs and music and art of Yusuf/Cat Stevens without the Pop Star trappings.
The caterpillar had become a butterfly, it had taken wings and was flying off in a different direction.
After the last few months of more Personal Jesus moments, including one week in Hong Kong Quarantine Hotel Hell, which gave me the time to look at everything and everyone with very different eyes, there’s the realisation that many of our priorities have been turned upside down- and how people disappoint. But that’s okay...
Yes, sunrise doesn’t last all morning, all things must pass and it’s not about being a crowd pleaser.
It’s about being true to one’s self, dropping the time wasters and travelling with a new found confidence and sense of purpose never felt before.
A new light has been switched on.
By now, you know who are the carpetbaggers, the gold diggers, the time wasters, the Facebookers, the game players, those wanting a free ride, the pseudo intellectuals and the legends in their own lunchtime.
There’s no point calling them out because they really don’t matter. They’re not part of your journey. Never have been. They slow you down.
What matters is what your personal Jesus is saying to you.
Life. It’s a funny place to be in for however long. It’s about making the best of this time and finding inspiration in a song...and that muse.
It’s always been about her and you..
The rest are the others. And that’s okay.