"O.K.," he said. "That's all I want to know."
It was a Thursday, about dusk, on a cold, blustery December day in central Massachusetts. Cat Stevens was taking a break from recording what would turn out to be his last long-playing record album. As we had learned to anticipate, the man could be short on patience, and sometimes rude. But this was show business, and we were there to please.
"Markle, see that light over there on the horizon, the one that's blinking red?" Cat Stevens was pointing to an approach beacon serving the Worcester Airport, to the East of Long View, about ten miles distant.
"Sure Steve," I replied, "what about it?"
"Well, what I want to know is, if you drew a line between where I'm standing, and it extended out to that red light, and if it kept on going, where would it end up?"
That was an easy question for a guy like me, and I didn't keep our famous guest waiting long for an answer.
"Worcester Airport first, then Worcester, Massachusetts, then somewhere South of Boston... Plymouth, maybe."
"No, damn it," Cat Stevens snapped. "I don't care about Massachusetts. I want to know, where would it end up?"
"Hmmm..." I reflected. This was not your ordinary curve ball. Cat Stevens was fishing for something special, and I had to watch my step. The privileges of a rock 'n' roll host could give out on short notice under circumstances like these, and I needed the studio business.
"Ah, ha! Steve," I resumed. "You want to know where you'd end up, if you followed the line right out over the Atlantic Ocean, and kept on going, right?"
"That's right, Markle." Cat Stevens interrupted, tapping his fingers on the porch rail. His eyes were not on me, but drilled out over the valley, towards and past the spot of redness on the horizon which blinked and winked at us.
"Well, let's see. We'd be heading East-by-Southeast. Plymouth on the mainland, then Eastham maybe on the Cape, then open ocean for three thousand miles or so, probable landfall, Southern Portugal — does that help?"
"Yeah," Cat Stevens said. "Then where?"
"I get a bit fuzzy here," I said, hoping to dodge the bullet which often fells the messenger. "South of Spain, Marbella, I guess. Then lots of Mediterranean Sea, Sicily, then a corner of Lebanon. Then Saudi Arabia, then..."
"Wait," Cat Stevens said. "That's far enough. Just over that red light, you say?"
"Yup." I said.
"O.K." he said. "That's all I want to know."
Cat Stevens wheeled about and disappeared into the house. A commotion then ensued at Long View Farm, as Cat Stevens' lieutenants sought out an appropriate window on the second floor, and a proper rug for the floor beneath the windowsill. A bit of incense was made to smoke in the corner.
Looking out the window, sitting cross-legged on the rug, one could see a red light blinking on the horizon, and ever so far beyond it, in a land to which Cat Stevens greatly aspired during this cold winter of 1976, one could imagine the sight of steeples, and hallucinate the morning prayer calls, of Mecca.
(Unless my directions were wrong, of course, and the man's thoughts had been directed to some smog-ridden bit of Eastern Europe instead, where people on the street wheezed and coughed and knew nothing of rock 'n' roll, or of the savior Allah so known by way of distinction, or of the demi-god Stephen Georgiou d.b.a. Cat Stevens, or even of Long View Farm, the countryside recording studio in central Massachusetts.)
"God help me and this strange avocation," I thought.
It was a few days later that a long limousine pulled onto the pebbled drive of the Farm, discharging a pretty young lady in her twenties. Instead of leaving, the limousine pulled over under the big tree, and sat, engine idling. The young lady, who was carrying a plastic-wrapped man's dinner jacket over one arm, on a hanger, explained that she was a friend of Cat Stevens, and that she wanted to see him. She was announced as such to the recording artist, who agreed to see her immediately. They disappeared upstairs into the bedroom we called "The Crow".
This was a short visit. The young lady came back down the stairs some fifteen minutes later, now without the dinner jacket. Her eyes were teary and red. She sniffed loudly and swept through the kitchen and out the door without a word of good-bye to anyone, including Cat Stevens himself, and ran across the drive to the waiting limousine, which began its forward roll down and off the property even before the young lady had closed the rear door of the big car behind her.
For his part, Cat Stevens stormed down the stairs from The Crow and back into the recording studio, slamming the door behind him.
It was only a few moments later that he announced that he, too, would be leaving the Farm, the very next day. This was about a week earlier than anyone had expected.
"Steve," I asked later that night, "what's up? I know we've had some problems with the 24-track machine, and I can tell from across a room that you're not overjoyed with the vocals you've been doing, but is that a reason to bail out so soon? We've only recently gotten into a stride."
"That's not it at all," Stephen Georgiou said.
"Well, is it the daily rate, then? We could always take another look at that."
"No," he said, wearily. "It's not that either." "Look," he said, "I don't want to talk about it. Maybe another time. In the meanwhile, take this..."
Cat Stevens reached behind him, and took the black dinner jacket off the back of a chair, where he had put it a few moments earlier.
"It should fit you. I'm not going to needing this either, where I'm going."
"Where, Steve," I asked? "Where are you going?"
Cat Stevens went over to the window overlooking the valley, and pointed towards Mecca.
"There." he said. 1
1 Back to Earth, recorded by and large at Long View Farm, was in fact the last LP that Cat Stevens made. Shortly after his departure from the Farm, he sold his guitars and recording paraphernalia at auction in London, and announced his retirement from show business and conversion to the Islam religion. His name is now Yusaf Islam.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.