Cat Stevens rose to prominence as a folk and pop artist in the 1970’s. I’ve always enjoyed the thread of childlike innocence and spontaneity that runs through his music. After a near-death experience, Stevens began a serious search for a deeper meaning in life. In 1977, he left his rock and roll lifestyle and converted to Islam adopting the name Yusuf Islam.
Stevens released “In My Eyes” in April of 1970, years before his conversion. Like many of his songs, it is simple yet extremely poignant. It speaks of the impermanence of human love and of life itself. Paradoxically, “Fill My Eyes” flows like a sweet river and the meter is upbeat.
Here’s my cover of the song played in Yusuf/Stevens’ unique guitar style.
“I live for a sense of a feeling of purposefulness in this world, you know, that I could stop my life at any point and feel that my life has been worthwhile; that the people I’ve loved and my children have all reached a point where their lives are now going to come to fruit. And as far as something I live by, it’s to try to be as alive as possible and feel free to make my mistakes and try to be as honest as I can with myself.”
Kate Wolf–Singer Songwriter–1942-1986
Perhaps Kate Wolf had these thoughts in mind when she wrote the song “Unfinished Life.” It’s a haunting ballade filled with hard won wisdom, exquisite beauty, grace, and focused determination. The song is also ironically prophetic. Kate Wolf died tragically of Leukemia at the age of forty-four. Despite her abbreviated life span, she wrote over two hundred songs and performed them at venues in her native state of California and around the world. Kate’s life was, indeed, unfinished, but she left behind a treasure trove of beautiful music.
I first recorded “Unfinished Life” using a free-form guitar strumming method. Recently, while driving in my car, I listened to the song with a different pair of ears. I noticed the unique and highly effective guitar picking technique Kate used to express the words and melody of the song. After some trial and error, I’ve come up with a version that approximates Kate’s unparalleled recording.
“The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”
“The time that’s left is yours to keep.” These words come at the end of the chorus in the song “See Here She Says” by Kate Wolf.
While I find all of the lyrics in this song beautiful, this sentence hit me smack dab in the heart. I can picture a mother teaching a child about life. She is telling the child about the importance of dreams, and to use his or her time wisely. Use it well, not only for yourself, but also for others.
Certainly, love, beauty, and a full range of human emotions come through Kate Wolf’s music. Perhaps I can feel her heart even more, now that she has passed into spirit.
“Starry, starry night/ Paint your palette blue and grey/ Look out on a summer’s day/ With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.”
Those words came to Don McLean as he looked at Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 painting “The Starry Night.” Soon, he had a masterpiece of his own: “Vincent,” a 1972 hit that he released right on the heels of his defining epic “American Pie.”
Like Van Gogh’s painting, Mclean’s “Vincent” has touched a wide range of creative spirits over the last 50 years. The song, the painting, and the book “Dear Theo,” written by Van Gogh’s brother, have certainly touched my heart again and again. I’ve always thought that Vincent’s style was at least in part inspired by his mental illness. To me, the brush strokes reflect an altered state of perception similar to the hallucinogenic patterns seen under the influence of Mescaline or LSD.
Van Gogh labored in obscurity until his self-inflicted death at the age of thirty-seven. He sold only a few of his paintings during his lifetime. Today, Van Gogh is a household word, and his paintings each sell for fifty million dollars or more. “The Starry Night” is one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings.
Here’s my interpretation of Mclean’s homage to the masterpiece.