A Bit More About Those Two Movies
Prayers For the Young Priests

"No one notices the customs slip away"

That's a line from an Al Stewart song, "On the Border," the second hit single from his very successful 1976 album (and extremely successful single by the same name), Year of the Cat. It's one of the little cultural fragments that are always bouncing around in my head, and it probably shows up once a week or so, usually called forth by some little thing that strikes me as an emblem of the disappearance of the country I grew up in. Here's the context: 

In the village where I grew up
Nothing seems the same
Still you never see the change from day to day
And no-one notices the customs slip away

It's no longer the case for me that "you never see the change from day to day." The place--just a country crossroads, not really a village--where I grew up has mostly been...I started to say "wiped off the map," but it's worse than that: it's being physically wiped away, replaced by factories and warehouses. Some of it is still recognizable. But I'm not sure anyone actually lives there now. And this:

In the islands where I grew up
Nothing seems the same
It's just the patterns that remain, an empty shell
But there's a strangeness in the air you feel too well

I try not to harp excessively on the sense of living in a country that is no longer the one in which I grew up. Something like that is always the case to some degree for old people, though the rapid pace of change over the past hundred and fifty years makes it stronger, often much, much stronger. Some of it is just a species of nostalgia which is really an inevitable effect of time itself, and the changes that produce it are not necessarily for the better or the worse.

But still: has our constitutional republic not become an empty shell, something manipulated by ideologues and oligarchs for purposes of their own (what the leaders of today's Democratic Party refer to as "our democracy") rather than the effective instrument of ordered liberty that it ought to be? How many people now believe that we--all the American people--are really all in this together, sharing a common ideal? How many have an effective understanding of the concept of citizenship, or even an interest in it?

The "century" to which Stewart refers is now twenty-three years in the past; the song is going on fifty years old. But although the details are different the observations are still relevant. 

Anyway, it's a great song, and I think an extremely good album, though I haven't listened to it for many years. The images in this video are apparently from the Spanish Civil War, an event which some fear could be a pattern for our future. I don't really think that will happen, but the levels of partisan hatred make the warning apt. 



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I don't really know Al Stewart. Saw him in concert a few years ago (along with Orleans and The Orchestra - some guys who had been in ELO at various times). I didn't recognize the lyrics but I've heard the song (without paying too much attention). I'm a bit younger than you, but I definitely see the change from day to day. Would be nice if some of the changes were for the better.

Indeed. And some are. But on balance...with family life deteriorating so much, material goods and freedom don't make up for it. People seem pretty unhappy.

Speaking of Al Stewart, I'd like to hear him do a cover of West End Girls. Or Neil Tennant covering Year of the Cat.

I had to look up both of those.

I had Year of the Cat on vinyl back 40 years ago or so.

Speaking of which the internet tells me that August 8th is national cat day or some such thing. Hopefully Al Stewart is celebrating!

I was just looking at his discography and I also had Time Passages. Seems like nostalgia is a part of what he writes about.

Writing this post made me want to hear Year of the Cat and a couple of earlier albums again. I used to think they were extremely good but it's been a long time. Pretty sure they are in fact good.

I saw him live sometime back in the '90s and he was really good, just him and another acoustic guitarist. I think he said something then about how much money Year of the Cat, the single, had made him, and kept on doing so, because it kept getting played. Or else I read it somewhere. I don't know if radio hits make that kind of money anymore.

I never listened to Time Passages very much, I think I didn't care a lot for the basic sound.

Here is a debate question for pop music fans: is "Year of the Cat" (the single) "classic rock"? I was talking to someone last weekend who was complaining that the local classic rock station plays stuff that is not classic rock. E.g. Pearl Jam. But I can see how PJ might be thrown in because its sound is not that far from a lot of the heavy rock that constitutes classic rock, as a radio station theme. YOTC on the other hand does not, but in terms of when it came out, how successful it was, and for how long, it qualifies.

It's all pretty subjective, Mac. "Year of the Cat" sounds like folk music. That said, it did get a lot of play on pop/rock radio back when it was released which likely accounts for my having two Al Stewart albums. Put him up against Rod Stewart and one sounds like classic rock and the other does not.
That first Pearl Jam album came out I think in the early 90s, and is definitely rock, no heavier than Led Zeppelin who are most certainly classic rock. Are we discussing heavy vs classic, or how much time does it take to join a category? Going back to what you wrote, I suppose all of the above.
I would not categorize either as classic rock.

Oh yes, it's extremely subjective, and not to be taken very seriously. My own very casual, very loose sense of "classic rock" is pretty much: rock music that's fairly hard and loud, was made roughly between 1967 and 1980, and was at least fairly popular at the time. And remained popular among...those who like classic rock.

You could say that YOTC is by definition not classic rock because it's not rock at all. Soft rock, I guess.

I'd agree with YOTC being "soft rock," hence not "classic rock" in the commonly understood sense. Of course, classic rock radio does play some soft rock, but it's generally either softer songs by harder bands (Zeppelin, The Stones) or vice versa (The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac).

If classic rock stations were playing 60's music in the 80's, it doesn't seem a stretch for 2020's classic rock platforms to play 90's rock like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. What's "classic" for boomers isn't strictly the same as what's classic for millennials. And what was once considered "alternative" can over time become mainstream.

One might distinguish "classic rock" from "rock classic." :-)

The funny thing about the conversation I was having is that the other person in the conversation I mentioned is of the age cohort that grew up with Pearl Jam et al., just a few years older than the official ("official") cutoff for millennials. And he's quite adamant that PJ does not belong on the classic rock station.

My impression from listening to the local station that calls itself "classic rock" is that they lean more heavily on the '70s than the '60s. Not surprising I guess if for no other reason than that the music they favor really didn't get started until the last two or three years of the '60s.

Of course there is a Wikipedia entry. ;-)


True about the 60s vs. the 70s. The 60's stuff they play tends to be post-Woodstock.

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