London — Two children, one black and one white, played on the doorstep of Cat Stevens’s terraced house.
“Are you here for the interview?” asked one. “He’s in there,” pointed the other, as professionally as a tour guide, even though the occasion was a rare one.
Stevens was entertaining a group of reporters on the eve of a tour that would take him to the U.S. for 24 dates, beginning April 22nd in Detroit and ending May 20th in Los Angeles. He would conclude the tour with concerts in Australia and Japan. And he had just released a new album, Buddha and the Chocolate Box, and the initial impression was that Cat was back to his pre-Foreigner ways, with shorter, poppier tunes, sweets but no 18-minute suites.
Stevens eased himself into a crosslegged position on the floor of his living room and explained the title of the new album: He was on a plane to Florida a year ago, he said, and he was carrying a small porcelain Buddha figure and a box of chocolates with him.
“I suddenly realized that was all I had. Whether I died or not, it would just be the Buddha and the chocolate box. I was trying to find the significance in that when I realized that was the significance. That’s all that had to be known.”
Cat dispensed more philosophical bonbons: “One cannot discount any moment in one’s life. There is no moment that is not important. Just like the boy on the back of the album finds enlightenment from a chocolate box [in a cartoon strip conceived and drawn by Stevens]. You can find it from anything. It’s like meditation, you can look at a piece of paper and find anything you want in the piece of paper.”
Cat’s cloudy ways of expression follow him onto the stage. At the Theatre Royal in London in late March, he castigated himself for moving across the stage with “the walk of a poof. I’m just a poof. Well, maybe not. What’s the opposite of poof? Heterosexual? Well, then, I guess I’m just a ‘heto.’ Well, I don’t really know.”
Shortly after that interlude, Stevens told the house that Foreigner hadn’t sold too well, but that didn’t mean much, since chart positions weren’t important to him. Then he went on to exclaim: “The new one went in at number 16!”
However puffy, Stevens seemed sincere at his home, trying to explain his albums, the ambitious Foreigner and the new one, on which he’s reunited with producer Paul Samwell-Smith.
“Paul and I were getting too familiar before Foreigner,” said Cat. “Being away got us excited about going into the studio again.” Samwell-Smith had teamed with Stevens to produce Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat.
“Foreigner was like going away for a while,” said Stevens. “People want to hear from you. I’m not going too far, I never want to be out of reach, I want to be here for anybody who wants to relate to me. So after Foreigner I wanted to say, ‘I’m still here, you don’t have to worry about it.”
The single from Foreigner, “The Hurt,” failed to make the British charts and barely reached the Top 20 in America. “I’ve always been a bad picker of singles,” said Cat. He chose the new single, too, he said, “but I got a lot of other people to give reactions because I love it so much.” It’s called “Oh Very Young.”
“I’ve seen youth lost,” Stevens reasoned. “I’ve watched myself grow, and seen my attitude to children change. One must always change, that’s what children do. I find a lot of people take their kids for granted, even people who were in the hippie thing. I haven’t broken the line yet. I still enjoy the kids on the street, and there’s a school across the back that I’m looking forward to visiting.”
Stevens drew puzzled stares from several of the reporters at his house when he began drawing a connection between Buddha and Jesus Christ, who both rate a verse in the song, “Jesus.”
“I see no difference in what they were doing,” he said. “Jesus died . . . really . . . not violently, but on a cross which became the symbol of Jesus . . . whereas Buddha didn’t even die as we know.
“They were both saying exactly the same thing, which is why I think of them both.”
As if to match the spiritual mood of Cat Stevens, the stage design for the American portion of his tour is all in white. A white nylon band shell was built in Los Angeles. Described by one crew member as “kind of floating, like half a flower,” it will serve as background for two grand pianos — white, of course — and an expected company of ten musicians and singers behind Stevens.
It appeared from his London performances, however, that Stevens was not yet comfortable onstage. After a generally uninspired performance, he said goodnight to the opening-night capacity crowd at the Theatre Royal: “Well, that’s all for another year.” He told the audience they had been “nice, but cool — but then, I was cool, wasn’t I?”