High School’s end was rapidly approaching, an Outcome that we had all been working towards for 12ish years. Our class was graduating in a momentous year – 1976 – the BiCentennial, so additional press coverage by the newspaper and local TV station were invited. It was a big high school, one of 2 in town, and my class was over 730 young men and women, accompanied by their parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. Over 3000 were gathered in the local Junior College auditorium for the event, including my own grandparents from both sides. I was not… I was sitting across the street at a donut shop with a legal pad and a pen….
Many years earlier, our High School found that being the person with the best grades, while an amazing achievement, did not necessarily mean that the person would be a great speaker for graduation. As such, as also the President of the Student Body, someone they were used to seeing introduce congressmen, speakers, etc, it was easy to select me. As with the Presidency itself, I wasn’t actually looking for it, and had been busy with other activities. And I wasn’t sure what to say to my adopted hometown and classmates, most of which I didn’t think at the time I really had a lot in common with… which meant that actually WRITING the speech was something happening now… about 20 minutes before I was to execute it.
Cat’s albums had crested in the middle 70’s, and after his 4 platinum-selling albums, some of the magic was starting to leak out of his craft. As we reach the same 1976 with Cat, his disdain for the industry was turning into more ironic and skeptical lyrics, instrumentation with synthesizers and heavy production including trying to record with Ringo Starr and Muscle Shoals musicians. The output was haphazard, and didn’t sound like the Cat that many had followed… and you could sense a reprise of his earlier struggles after Matthew and Son that landed him in the hospital in the first place. Had he run out of things to say?
He was on the west coast recording and took a break with a swim in the ocean off of Malibu. As he was swimming out, he realized he was caught in a rip current, and began to lose his fight against it. Slowly losing his life, and starting to drown, he cried out, he shouted: “Oh, God! If you save me I will work for you.” He stated that, and immediately afterwards, a wave appeared and carried him back to shore. His brother gave him a copy of the Quran shortly afterward, and his lifelong search for meaning was quenched in his study of its teachings. Years later he would remind an interviewer that “This was before Islam was a headline,” Yusuf says. “The Iranian Revolution wasn’t even on the horizon. I felt like I was discovering something that was an amazing and immense secret.”
Within a year, he had fully converted to the Islam faith, renounced his recording career, seeing music as not aligned with his faith. He sold his guitars, and even sold all of the rights to his music, and dropped out of sight. For those who don’t know about his early brush with TB, this may seem rash, but seen through another lens, this Outcome was predictable. He had always been slowly deepening his own understanding of life, faith, and success – and how those all played together. But to his bandmates, particularly Alun Davies who suddenly was left without his career also, it was a brutal shock. One day you are selling out stadiums, and the next you are back to a session musician…
This speech was going to be the last time I would be addressing my “home town” before leaving, probably for good. Unlike others who would want to return, there was nothing really here for me. As I sat there, I remembered back to where much of this had started – a 3-minute long Optimist Club speech in the 9th grade that I won on the topic “I’m Just One” – about how one person can make a difference – if they put the ball in play. Had I lived that out in the 4 years since… and what would I want to capture and recommit to as I stepped into a different journey?I also realized that no one would actually be listening to much of what I said anyway, so long as I kept it short… about 3 minutes 😉
After my quick delivery (I always talked too fast), there was nice applause, and then 730 of us walked across the stage, received our diploma, and headed out…and with that I was gone from East Texas. It taught me many lessons that continue to be refined now 45 years on. What have you leaned on in your own path forward from your early days? And as you continue to deepen your own understanding, have there been hard Decisions that have led to Outcomes that were puzzling to others but made sense to you? Imagine what a graduating High School Senior this year will say… delivered on Zoom or YouTube, and preserved for eternity. Thankfully, the records of my own efforts have faded…mostly…
I chose Cat for both Decisions and Outcomes because I feel like he is a good example of how the 2 have worked together throughout his life… and have led him down a hard path, but one that I believe he would still choose. Tomorrow, come back to see how those consequences play out for him, and also one last fun swan song for me before heading off to college. Cat’s last album before converting, Izitso, it included this gem with a coda back to his own previous struggles… and a clue to his future path… I don’t want to be a Rock Star.