Aug 15

Cat Stevens: “Wild World”


Personally, I think the tillerman was shoved under the table and this guy with the beard is some tea-taking imposter. I bet the kids in the tree saw the whole thing go down.

When I was just a youngster, maybe in first grade, one of the first musicians imprinted upon me by someone outside of my own family was Cat Stevens. My elementary school music teacher — who, maybe that same year, taught us songs from Free to Be…You and Me by “Marlo Thomas and Friends” — played “Morning Has Broken” for us, in preparation for then teaching us the song to perform later that year in a chorus concert. The song made an impression upon me, clearly. I think it was the pretty yet melancholy melody that stood out, and Stevens’ delicate singing. I don’t know how much longer after that it was before I heard his “Wild World,” from what I now know was his slightly earlier, 1970 album, Tea for the Tillerman — for all I know, my music teacher played it for us too — but I know it impressed me even more, and to this day I consider it one of the great folk songs of the ’70s. Actually, though, I think of Stevens as less a folk singer than an acoustic pop singer; not sure where I draw that line, exactly, but I think it’s because he had a tendency to be a little funkier than your standard folk singer. But really, it’s all just semantics, and not an important distinction. Maybe because of the great use of Stevens’ songs in the Harold and Maude soundtrack (in that way akin to Good Will Hunting), I even think of him a bit as the ’70s Elliott Smith, minus the deep introversion.

But “Wild World”: although commonly interpreted as a song sung from father to daughter, a closer listen to the lyrics reveals it as being sung to the singer’s girlfriend, who has dumped him and is heading off for grander horizons (“Now that I’ve lost everything to you/You say you wanna start something new/And it’s breakin’ my heart you’re leavin’”). The song seems like a fairly sincere warning that not everyone is going to be as nice to her as he was, despite her friendliness (“hard to get by just upon a smile”). I like to think it’s sincere, anyway; the song might not work as well for me as a snide sendoff. As for the line about thinking of her “like a child,” I interpret it not literally, but more that he’ll remember her with the relative innocence she had when they were together, rather than the woman kicked around by reality that he may meet again years later after she navigates life without him.

Hmmm. Now that I put it like that, it does seem like a rather pessimistic outlook, and maybe a case of not really wishing the best for her after all. A little bit “Cat-ty,” perhaps?


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