#134 & 135 – Year of the Cat by Al Stewart
I’ve never put much weight behind zodiac or astrological signs. I don’t really understand the difference, but I know they’re not the same. In my jumbled-up knowledge of these matters, zodiacs consist of years, while astrological signs divide up a single year. For instance, I’m a Gemini (astrology). In the Chinese Zodiac, I was born in the Year of the Snake.
A two-faced snake? Okay, maybe it does make sense. But not much more than playing with a fortune telling 8-ball when I was a kid, or when my clairvoyant cousin would read our palms. It was fun, but to this day my hand lines haven’t helped me pick the winning lottery numbers.
The Year of the Cat is a category of the Vietnamese Zodiac, which was happening in 1976, when this song was written. The War In Vietnam had “officially” ended the year before, but was still fresh on every red-blooded American male’s mind. So, in my jumbled-up perception of the times, that might have had something to do with this title, though not with the story within the song.
I’m not sure that makes sense, but it does to me in a mystic or clairvoyant way. The world had changed, which meant life in general was changing for many of my boomer peers. I was no different. When this song was released in October 1976, it was part of the musical soundtrack that was heard while I was making one of the most important decisions of my life.
If I were to place songs into sign categories – as I tend to do – Year of the Cat would fit “middle of the road” status in 1976. I was a rocker, as The Classic Rocker moniker should make clear, and was into the new albums like Hotel California by The Eagles and New World Record by ELO. Discs by The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were never too far from my stereo turntable. Disco was a minor annoyance, though I found appreciation decades later, and I was completely tired and turned-off by the guitar troubadour scene headlined by James Taylor, Cat Stevens and the others that all sounded the same to me.
Year of the Cat wasn’t rock and roll, but it also wasn’t boring. It had a catchy tune, which I’ve always admitted to being a gateway in joining this Dream Song list. It was worth turning up the volume on the car radio and decades later is often found on my digital playlists. Since I had just heard it before waking up on both July 16 and November 11 with Al Stewart singing in my waking brain, it joins the recently heard category of this countdown.
The Classic Rocker is the author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland
At the same time in 1976, I was changing the path of my entire life and moving into the unknown. Actually, the location wasn’t unknown – it was New York City. It’s only what would happen in The Big Apple after the big move that was unknown.
I had graduated college five months before Year of the Cat started getting major airplay on our FM radio stations. I had earned a degree in Business Administration and Marketing, with no interest in doing either as a career. My friends had been going to on-campus job interviews all year, while I never went to any. I had no interest in a job. I wanted a life that included some excitement.
Law school had been “pushed” on me by certain people (guess I liked to argue) and I had taken the LSAT (major-important test) and scored relatively high. The best part about it was stuffing my results into the faces of a few college buddies who had considered me not as “scholarly” as they were before taking this massive test together on a Saturday morning.
I distinctly remember playing it cool the night before by skipping a raging party happening in my fraternity house and going with my girlfriend to a theater to watch the movie Tommy (the rock opera by The Who). The results of my friends’ tests meant the next steps in their higher education wasn’t going to happen. Mine gave me acceptance into two law schools.
Following a semester internship on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC where I mingled with members of Congress and others with higher political aspirations, I was completely turned off to the scene. I still remember hearing racist comments during certain “prestigious” social events and talking to a couple recent law school graduates who were (seriously) sweeping floors in the Capitol building while trying to find jobs. The joke going around the building was that they had law degrees in their back pockets while pushing brooms.
Okay, I know it wasn’t like that for every law school grad, but the two schools I had been accepted to were far down on the list of being “prestigious.” One I wrote off completely because I had no interest in moving from one corn field-surrounded Ohio campus to another. With the second university, I remember going to a meeting with admissions to discuss classes, schedules and whatever else would happen over the next three years if I decided to go. I walked outside, looked at the tall building that housed the law school and made the decision:
No way. I had just completed degrees in subjects I had no interest in pursuing. I didn’t see any sense in continuing the pattern.
I’ll admit to being a bit lost. As far as career options, the Rolling Stones had just hired Ronnie Wood, so there were no openings there (I’m joking). Also, the television sitcoms I watched were not casting outside of Hollywood or New York (not so much joking). I wanted excitement and creativity, which wasn’t happening in small-town Ohio where I had returned. I was working in our family’s (successful) business, living in my old bedroom and was about to burst at the seams. A decision on “life” had to be made and I started the process.
The first move was influenced by attempting to – maybe – hold onto what I might have had. In October, after a full summer of working and boredom, I made a phone call. But it wasn’t geared toward the excitement and creativity I craved; it was to the ex-girlfriend who had helped me stay focused on the LSAT by going with me to see Tommy. I had some type of need for closure since her goal of marriage to a lawyer, kids and a house with a picket fence had not appeared anywhere on my radar while we were together. Since that decision had influenced her decision to drop out of school and go home to find her own life, maybe I had made a mistake. After my surprise phone call that was made months too late made it clear there had been no mistake, I walked out of the kitchen (where our only phone was located) and made an announcement to my parents.
“I’m moving to New York.”
There was no protest or resistance in my plan. They were supportive, obviously knowing me well enough that I wanted more in life than where we lived could offer. I put the wheels in motion very quickly to make this happen.
My first move was to call the music teacher who had directed me as the lead in our high school musical. I met with him and his wife who gave me books about acting schools in New York and their recommendations on what were the best. The school that stood out – because of the legendary name – was The Lee Strasberg Institute. I called, scheduled an appointment and in that same month – and also the month with Year of the Cat starting its rise up the music charts – I threw a bag in my 1974 Chevy Vega station wagon and made the 500-mile drive to New York City.
Life changed very fast after that and by May 15, 1977, I had moved into an apartment in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan. There was acting school, acting jobs, a new “day job,” new friends, new girlfriends, and thirteen years as a New Yorker ahead of me. It may not have technically been The Year of the Cat, but Al Stewart’s song was on the radio and still on the charts as I began this adventure.
I knew before I got there it was going to be exciting.
Here’s a video of Al Stewart performing Year of the Cat
To purchase Year of the Cat visit Amazon.com
Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.
For information about author presentations for both books – including rare concert films – visit BeatlesProgram.com
Copyright 2021 – North Shore Publishing