Waxing Nostalgic Connecting The Dots: Al Stewart, “Year of the Cat”

Published on October 9th, 2013 in: Music, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Jeffery X Martin


At the age of eight, I stopped hearing music and began actively listening to it. Matching artists with their music became a thing of great importance. I needed to know lyrics. I began learning the names of everyone in a band, not just the attention-hogging lead singer. It was the next phase in becoming a real music fan. I wanted to listen to as much music as I could, as many different kinds as possible and all of it, faster than now.

At that age, I developed more fears than I conquered. There were certain songs that, for reasons difficult to pinpoint and harder to explain, scared me. My abandonment issues and fear of sounds in the night were blooming like nightshade. My love of music corresponded with that and mirrored it. Good thing I didn’t collect creepy porcelain dolls.

This brings us, strangely enough, to Al Stewart’s seven-minute pop opus, “Year of the Cat.” The song is a weird fusion of smooth jazz and progressive pop. The lush orchestration belies the stark piano part that takes the spotlight shyly, almost with embarrassment. This is secret music, played from far away.

In my eight-year-old head, this song was an absolute horrorshow. The lyrics evoked a beautiful banshee, drifting through an abandoned amusement park, luring poor men to the top car of a shaky wooden Ferris wheel where they would wait in quiet terror until the shrouded banshee floated to the top of the ride and sucked the blood from their neck with a bright yellow Krazy Straw. Terrifying images, pasted against that semi-sweet music; it was a succu-lulla-bi.

I checked, too; there isn’t a year of the cat. Not on the Chinese calendar, anyway. There is a year of the cat in the Vietnamese calendar, but even I can’t dredge any kind of war allegory out of this song.

Listening to the song now, it seems funny that I would have been afraid at all. It’s a singles bar anthem. It’s what Ron Burgundy would refer to as “baby makin’ music.” That saxophone solo in the middle is straight from a Swedish Erotica loop. It would be easy to ignore and forget if it weren’t for that hollowness, that black pit of nothingness settled directly in the voided heart of the song.

There’s fear in this tune. Of course, that resonated with me. I was afraid of everything. Women and amusement parks were on the top of that list. One of those things is still on it. Even now, when I listen to “Year of the Cat,” I still think I hear softly blowing wind and a woman laughing, somewhere far away.

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