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Jan 10

“Katmandu”: Cat Stevens

Two 2014 inductees to the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame appear on this beautiful song, and neither one of them is Kiss.

Cat Stevens was an aspiring teen heartthrob in England in the late 1960s before tuberculosis and a long convalescence became the crucible from which he would emerge the bearded troubador of idylls we know today.

"Katmandu" is Marty's Song of the Day for January 10, 2014

Cat Stevens with Patti D’Arbanville

Stevens recorded much of 1970’s “Mona Bone Jakon” album for former girlfriend Patti D’Arbanville, and several songs wound up on the soundtrack to Hal Ashby’s 1971 film “Harold And Maude,” including “Trouble,” which I can’t crash a hearse without thinking of.

The whole album seems autumnal to me for two reasons. First, because “Harold And Maude” had that lovely overcast Bay Area light throughout it, and second because Cat Stevens and Squeeze were the greatest hits albums owned by every girl in the women’s dorm of my first college.

It was uncanny. Each woman was dropped off at school with the following:

  • Gund bears
  • tri-corner cervical pillows
  • a Ouija board
  • a box of assorted teas (I’d say the whole women’s dorm was a Box of Assorted Tease with the occasional Squeeze)
  • a bottle of some DeKuyper’s product
  • Cat Stevens

This was 1987, so our musical taste was broader; radio formats were more expansive, we bought CDs and albums, and listened to the whole thing. #shakesfist

Of all “Mona Bone Jakon”‘s exemplary songs, it’s “Katmandu” that sticks with me most. It’s an early morning song that paints a picture of a cabin on a lake. Not a “Friday the 13th” lake or a “Synchronicity II” lake with an advancing monster, but a place to be alone with someone who is actively “nice to know.” I imagine there’s a bee-loud glade somewhere nearby.

Not only that, but there’s Peter Gabriel playing flute!

This song should absolutely not be confused with Bob Seger’s “Katmandu.” I am on record as loving Bob Seger (see Radio Edit (Short Stories for America)), but his “Katmandu” is just an awful travelogue filled with forced rhymes that didn’t need to be recorded since there was already a “California Girls.”

Katmandu” as performed by Cat Stevens
Year: 1970
Composer: Cat Stevens

Lyrics

I sit beside the dark
Beneath the mire
Cold gray dusty day
The morning lake
Drinks up the sky

Katmandu, I’ll soon be seeing you
And your strange bewildering time
Will hold me down

Chop me some broken wood
We’ll start a fire
White warm light the dawn
And help me see
Old Satan’s tree

Katmandu, I’ll soon be touching you
And your strange bewildering time
Will hold me down

Pass me my hat and coat
Lock up the cabin
Slow night treat me right
Until I go
Be nice to know

Katmandu, I’ll soon be seeing you
And your strange bewildering time
Will keep me home

4 comments

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  1. Old 'n' cranky

    Some time around 1988, after listening to “Tea for the Tillerman” steadily for several months, I decided that I was gonna quit my band, quit college, and go across the country to Alaska, “on the road to find out.”

    Luckily, my friend Steve–who was supposed to come with me (we were gonna start out by camping on his uncle’s land in Utah, or some damned thing)–flaked out and didn’t show up at the appointed morning of our departure. I ended up just pacing my apartment living room, unlit pipe full of cherry cavendish clenched in my teeth, big floppy green felt hat on, kicking at my packed knapsack, and periodically looking down at the street and checking my watch.

    Were it not for his wussing out, in all likelihood I would have ended up as a dessicated Christopher McCandless-style cadaver in some distant corner of the American wilderness. (Hah…while McCandless was still in high school, I might add.)

    My point is, young people: beware of Cat Stevens. The man is a genius, but he GETS to ya.

  2. Marty Barrett

    So what was Steve’s story? Why didn’t he show up? Do you still have the felt hat? Did he ever tell anyone about the druggist? Did he marry the girl?

  3. T

    Marty,
    That’s Carly Simon, not Patti D’Arbanville.

    T.

    1. Marty Barrett

      That is horrifying.

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