Friday, August 08, 2014

How Can I Tell You?

For "music night" this evening at The Wild Reed I share singer-songwriter Cat Stevens' haunting "How Can I Tell You?", a track from his phenomenally successful 1971 album Teaser and the Firecat. Also on this album are three of Stevens' most famous recordings, "Morning Has Broken," "Moonshadow," and "Peace Train."

Before sharing a YouTube video of Cat Stevens performing "How Can I Tell You?" on a BBC television show in 1970, I'd like to share a little about how and why this particular song is especially meaningful for me.

I guess it all begins at around the time when Cat was at the height of his popularity, which was in the early 1970s. How popular was he? Well, when I was doing a Google image search for pictures to accompany this post I came across the image at left, which in 1972 was a pin-up in the Australian magazine TV Week.

Now, at that time I was just a child and although I don't recall this particular poster, I did have a number of other TV Week posters sticky-taped to the inside of my bedroom wardrobe door. They were all of popular male entertainers, or "heart-throbs," of the day – David Cassidy, Rick Springfield, and Donny Osmond. I dare say that if I had come across this poster of Cat Stevens, it would have been added to my collection. I mean, the guy's incredible handsome and would have appealed, I'm sure, to my little gay boy-self.

Now, I should say that back then the word "gay," along with its meaning related to sexuality, meant nothing to me. I should also say that I wasn't trying to hide anything by having my posters on the inside of my wardrobe door; it was just that Mum didn't want anything sticky-taped to the outside of our painted built-in wardrobes.

There did come a time, however, when my mother gently told me that "little boys don't have" the type of posters that I had so intentionally and happily collected. I'm sure she said this out of concern for me. Maybe she thought my friends would see them and tease me. Or perhaps it was simply that she sensed that there was something different about her middle child and thought to discourage or redirect whatever this was. Whatever the reason, I don't judge her for her comment as she made it out of love and concern for me. (Plus, a few years later she said something that was very liberating in my journey as a gay boy.)

Yet, without doubt, I felt confused and a little frightened by my mother's words . . . and by what they suggested my poster collection was saying about me. I felt this way because at the time I simply didn't have the words to explain what I was experiencing inside, let alone describe how the beautiful young men in these posters made me feel. And if I couldn't tell myself what was going on, how could I tell anyone else, even my mother?

And so I took my posters down.

I have another vivid memory from that time: I remember standing and crying in front of my bedroom mirror, feeling totally overwhelmed by a sense of out-of-placeness. Again, much of this confusion and sense of not fitting-in came from my inability to fathom or articulate the sexual self-awareness that was surfacing – and surfacing in ways that felt so natural to me and yet which others were letting me know were not okay. It was a difficult time, and one that I'm sure many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can relate to.

Fast forward thirteen years. I'm 21, in my last year of college, out to myself, and in love for the very first time. Yet how could I tell my friend about the feelings I had for him? I just didn't have the courage. It was around this time, 1988 to be exact, that I first heard Cat Stevens' recording of "How Can I Tell You?" By then I was in my first year of teaching in Goulburn but still very much in love with my straight friend. I can recall, on more than one occasion, being moved to tears when, alone in my little flat, I heard Cat Stevens plaintively singing . . .

How can I tell you that I love you, I love you,
but I can't think of right words to say.
I long to tell you that I'm always thinking of you,
I'm always thinking of you, but my words
just blow away, just blow away.

It always ends up to one thing, honey,
and I can't think of right words to say.

Wherever I am, boy, I'm always walking with you,
I'm always walking with you, but I look and you're not there.
Whoever I'm with, I'm always talking to you,
I'm always talking to you, and I'm sad that
you can't hear, sad that you can't hear.

It always ends up to one thing, honey,
when I look and you're not there.

I need to know you, need to feel my arms around you,
feel my arms around you, like a sea around a shore.
And each night and day I pray
in hope that I might find you,
in hope that I might find you,
because hearts can do no more.

It always ends up to one thing, honey,
still I kneel upon the floor.

How can I tell you that I love you?
I love you but I can't think of right words to say.
I long to tell you that I'm always thinking of you;
I'm always thinking of you but my words
just blow away, just blow away.

It always ends up to one thing, honey,
and I can't think of right words to say.

Yeah, it's kind of a sad story, which I guess is fitting for such a sad song. Thankfully I've journeyed far beyond that time and place, as I document in my coming out series, In the Footsteps of Spring.

But if by chance you're reading this and feeling the same way I once did, then I lovingly encourage you to take heart; to seek, discern and respond to the loving and transforming presence of God deep within you. It may take time but, trust me, you will grow in understanding and discover that, no matter what your circumstances, you are "wonderfully made" and loved by God just as you are. The journey goes on and you can and will find peace, acceptance and happiness within . . . along with the right words to say.

UPDATE: Cat Stevens Announces 5-City US Concert Tour – David Bauder (Associated Press via Yahoo! Music, September 15, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
One of These Boys is Not Like the Others
A Lesson from Play School
Engelbert Humperdinck: Not That Easy to Forget
The Living Tree
Thanks, Mum!
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
Soul Deep


Karen Knight said...

Michael, your story really resonates with me and having read this post this morning with related ones talking of your wonderful parents, with whom I identify so much, I just want to send you all a big hug of thanks, solidarity, love and hope that people like you, my daughter and parents like us will be a force of love, tolerance and understanding to bring about the change in attitude that this whole world needs.

So many lives have been damaged by ignorance, hate, fear and prejudice. Love, understanding and education will bring change and I thank God for sensitive, articulate and wonderful individuals like you. We all have to learn to accept and 'just be', to live life with an open heart. Big hugs.

Marty said...

Thank you for sharing this. "Can't Fight this Feeling" by REO Speedwagon was the song that expressed how I felt about a straight friend in my late teens.