Sunday, October 04, 2015

  • Sunday, October 04, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon



Cat StevensThis is a photo of Steven Demetre Georgiou in 1972.

Handsome devil, isn't he?

He is also known by his stage name "Cat Stevens" and is currently known under his Muslim adopted name of Yusuf Islam, but he will always be Cat Stevens to me.

In fact, one of my favorite albums as a kid - we're talking vinyl - was Tea for the Tillerman and particularly the tune Where Do the Children Play?

The reason that I am putting this gentleman into your face - a face that is not very welcome within the Jewish community, or so I suspect - is because I think that he inadvertently raises a very interesting question.

Can we appreciate an artist's art in distinction from that artist's politics?

This is a question that goes to the beginnings of political history.

I do not know how many of you are familiar with Camille Paglia, but she is, from an ideological perspective, a 60s libertarian feminist who got her fifteen minutes from a terrific dissertation that she wrote and turned into a book published in 1990 entitled, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson.

As she gathered something of a cult following through the 1990s, she took to writing semi-popular cultural-critical analyses, some of which came together in a 1994 collection called Vamps and Tramps: New Essays.

It has been a long time since I have read that book, but as I recall there was a segment in one of the essays in which she discusses knock-down-drag-out-fights-to-the-death with other feminist graduate students at Yale toward the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s.

(I would love to have been a fly on the wall.}

She talks about being at a particular graduate student party in New Haven, at the time, in which someone made the insidious mistake of putting Mick Jagger's Under My Thumb on the turntable thus resulting in a lesbian-feminist-graduate-student brawl!  I do not know how much actual violence there was - we are talking about graduate students, after all - but there was plenty of yelling, screaming, and pulling of hair, you can be sure.

This is what Paglia's cohort at Yale objected to and, in my opinion, for perfectly good reasons:

The squirmin' dog who's just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways
It's down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she's told
Down to me, the change has come
She's under my thumb
Ah, ah, say it's alright
Under my thumb
A siamese cat of a girl
Under my thumb
She's the sweetest, hmmm, pet in the world
It's down to me
The way she talks when she's spoken to
Down to me, the change has come,
She's under my thumb.
You can hear that tune in your head, but the lyrics are vile.

Because these are Mick Jagger's lyrics, however, the misogynist - or former misogynist - gets a pass, which I take to be a very obvious example of politically correct left-leaning hypocrisy.

vampsI do not know that Paglia appreciated this song in particular, but what she argued is that any individual work of art must stand on its own integral virtues.  Whatever anyone might think of Mick Jagger's sexism in 1965 or 1966, when he wrote Under My Thumb, should it influence how we consider his other contributions?

Should we, for example, not enjoy Satisfaction because of Under My Thumb?

The same question, of course, goes to Cat Stevens.

Father and Son is, in my estimation, an absolutely terrific tune and one that I listened to many times long before Mr. Georgiou transmogrified himself from Cat Stevens to Yusuf Islam.  And, heck, it would not bother me in the least that he converted to Islam if he had not also justified the Iranian fatwa of death on the head of author Salman Rushdie.  In a conversation with students at Kingston University, London, in 1989, when asked about the Iranian Rushdie fatwa, Yusuf Islam said, "He must be killed. The Qur'an makes it clear – if someone defames the prophet, then he must die."

Really?  Well, OK, then.

I honestly do not give a rat's tushky about "the prophet."

But does Yusuf Islam's regressive immorality inherently detract from Father and Son?

That is the question.

The same question, of course, goes to Roger Waters of BDS fame and his hugely popular band, Pink Floyd.

The first album that I ever bought as a kid, besides a Beatles album, was Dark Side of the Moon.

For many years I adored Pink Floyd, so you can imagine how disheartening it was when I learned that lead singer and lyricist, Roger Waters, is an anti-Semitic anti-Zionist.  For so many years I had no idea, but there it is.

But does this mean that Wish You Were Here is not a great album or that Shine On You Crazy Diamond is not a great tune?

I ask these questions not because I have any particular interest in redeeming such people in your hearts, but because I want to know what you think.  I want to know what you think because, on this question, I am not certain what I think.

I do know, however, that I can never listen to such music in the same way again and that is a terrible shame.

The cliché is that you can never go home again... the cliché is true.


Michael Lumish is a blogger at the Israel Thrives blog as well as a regular contributor/blogger at Times of Israel and Jews Down Under.



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