I have no history with Cat Stevens; somehow, he’d passed me by entirely in all of my musical journeys with the exception of a cover of his “Father and Son” that managed to upset me enough with one particular lyric (“Find a girl, settle down/Pretty soon now, you’ll be married”) that I stayed away from any temptation that might’ve led me to explore further. And then, years later, I heard this:
In terms of performance, it’s not Elliott Smith’s finest hour in the slightest; he sounds very out of it, all the rumors about his condition prior to his death swirling around in his sullen, slurred vocals. But the melody, the sparseness of it and the darkness of the lyrics, appealed to me enough that I went searching for the original, and… It’s actually right up my alley.
Clearly, I find sadness far too attractive when it comes to these kinds of songs, because this is a dark, defeated song filled with enough inference and vagueness as to allow the listener to define the “trouble” any way they want; one of the problems I have with the Elliott Smith version is, I think, that the way he sounds, his “trouble” overpowers other readings. But the original has a… lightness, perhaps, isn’t the right word, but there’s space to breathe and insert yourself that I find inviting. It’s not misery, but melancholy, and that’s an important difference for me. My sad songs must have a glimpse of hope, or else they’re too claustrophobic and upsetting.