Father and Son – Cat Stevens

An iconical song which perfectly captures the different impulses of older and younger generations of any time.

Father and Son is a popular song written and performed by English singer-songwriter Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam, after his conversion to Islam in 1977) on his 1970 album Tea for the Tillerman.

As the title suggests, the song frames an exchange between a father not understanding a son’s desire to break away and shape a new life, and the son who cannot really explain himself but knows that it is time for him to seek his own destiny. The song contains a lyrical trick of verse and chorus sung by the two different characters (the father and the son) with different perspectives on the situation. To further differentiate the two characters, Stevens sings in a deeper register for the father’s lines, while using a higher one for those of the son.

Most of people think that this is a conversation between a father and his son. But if we carefully look at the lyrics, this is not a conversation. While the father is clearly talking to the son, or at him (You’re still young, that’s your fault/There’s so much you have to know), the son is not speaking to his father. He is talking to a third party or, most likely, to himself (How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again).

Many asked Stevens if this song has also an autobiographic meaning.

When he appeared on The Chris Isaak Hour in 2009, Stevens said:

“He was running a restaurant and I was a Pop Star, so I wasn’t following the path that he laid out. But we certainly didn’t have any antagonism between us. I loved him and he loved me.”

Responding to the interviewer from Disc, he said:

“I’ve never really understood my father, but he always let me do whatever I wanted—he let me go. ‘Father And Son’ is for those people who can’t break loose.”

Speaking to Rolling Stone, Stevens has said he is aware that “Father And Son” and several other songs mean a great deal to a large number of fans:

“Some people think that I was taking the son’s side. But how could I have sung the father’s side if I couldn’t have understood it, too? I was listening to that song recently and I heard one line and realized that that was my father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father speaking.”

Few know that Cat Stevens originally wrote “Father and Son” as part of a proposed musical project with actor Nigel Hawthorne called Revolussia, that was set during the Russian Revolution. Notably, this song was born about a Russian family where the son wants to join the revolution but his father wants him to stay home and work on the farm. While the musical project faded away, with the onset of more than a year-long period of recovery after a sudden bout of tuberculosis and a collapsed lung (the result of too much fast living after first achieving fame), “Father and Son” remained, now in a broader context that reflected not just the societal conflict of Stevens’ time but also captured the impulses of older and younger generations in general.

It’s not time to make a change
Just relax, take it easy
You’re still young, that’s your fault
There’s so much you have to know
Find a girl, settle down
If you want you can marry
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy

I was once like you are now
And I know that it’s not easy
To be calm when you’ve found
Something going on
But take your time, think a lot
Think of everything you’ve got
For you will still be here tomorrow
But your dreams may not

How can I try to explain?
When I do he turns away again
It’s always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen
Now there’s a way
And I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

It’s not time to make a change
Just sit down, take it slowly
You’re still young, that’s your fault
There’s so much you have to go through
Find a girl, settle down
If you want you can marry
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy

All the times that I’ve cried
Keeping all the things I knew inside
It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it
If they were right I’d agree
But it’s them they know, not me
Now there’s a way
And I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

 

Categories
Sounds from the Bucket
Marco Principia

Born in Rome, his beloved city. Graduated with honors in Political Science and International Relations at Università degli Studi “Roma Tre”. Expert of current affairs and United Nations. Recently attended a course in Humanitarian Emergency at INTERSOS. Currently employed at CIES – ONLUS in the Coordination and Organization Office for Interpreting and Translation Service for Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection.
Huge fan of A.S. Roma.

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