On The Road To Find Out
August 2020 sees Yusuf / Cat Stevens release the second eagerly awaited song taken from his upcoming Tea For The Tillerman2 album.
Following the spectacularly prescient ‘Where Do The Children Play?’, we are now treated to a radical reworking of his ode to self-discovery, ‘On The Road To Find Out’. The newly re-imagined version sees Yusuf explore some of his R&B and African Blues influences. The arrangement presents a more deeply reflective tone than the original. Its heavy, rootsy groove hypnotically stomps through as soulful guitars and Hammond organ drift in and out of sight, painting an expansive desert landscape, while spiritual voices moan from across the ages, telling of man’s earliest journey from darkness to dawn. The sonic experience is completed by Yusuf’s rich lead vocal, delivered in a lower register than some fans may be used to, that carries the weight of the wisdom and learning that he’s acquired throughout a life spent travelling his own road that has led to higher resting grounds.
The video for Yusuf’s compelling reimagining of ‘On The Road To Find Out’, directed by Kimberly Stuckwisch and Melora Donoghue below, is an allegory for humanity’s journey of self-discovery and the historical events, art, and music that have influenced life and culture. Stylistically, we are reminded of sci-fi classics such as Star Wars, Dune and even Mad Max with an added touch of magic realism. Our protagonist struggles to pull a boulder-like mass of artefacts that represent his ties to the material world through a desert landscape. The mass keeps growing until he discovers a small symbol of life at its purest in the barren wilderness – he is then able discard the shackles of materialism and walk with his soul free and unburdened.
‘On The Road To Find Out’ was written following young Cat’s battle with TB and the lengthy recovery period that laid waste to his early music career as a 1960s pop star. Though outwardly damaging to him both physically and professionally, inwardly the experience was the catalyst for a profound change that would set him upon a trajectory of even greater artistic success and lead to a spiritual discovery that would come to define his life.
While in hospital Cat practiced meditation with the aid of a book called ‘The Secret Path’ by Paul Brunton – the pen name of the influential British spiritualist Raphael Hurst.
“I had a book called ‘The Secret Path’ and it was just what I needed. I read that book once and thought about it and I used it to meditate. There was nowhere that was quiet enough in the hospital. I had to creep out and there was this deserted bus in the driveway. I used to go in there and close the door, then sit down and think. It was completely silent and that is where it came to me. It just happened. You reach that moment and you see it and say ‘Of Course!’ Then everything sprung from there, like light.”
Energised by his revelatory experiences, Cat began to integrate this new outlook into both his personal life and music. This process produced the stripped-down, more honest and revealing acoustic sound that defines both the Mona Bone and Tillerman albums as well as the more personal and introspective quality that began to inform his lyrics. He had truly begun his journey with a hunger for knowledge and learning and this is reflected in the bright optimism of ‘On The Road To Find Out’:
So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
There’s so much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out
Now, 50 years after the song was first recorded, the artist has returned to it once more. Equipped with a lifetime’s learning, Yusuf has made ‘On The Road To Find Out’ feel as fresh and relevant as ever. There’s certainly a weight to this new version that reflects the time that has passed. The footsteps feel heavier and the boots are showing some wear and tear after five decades upon the road. However, there is still so much vitality to the pace of travel and the humble, inquisitive journey goes on.
We live in an age of distraction. Our attention and profiles have become the currency of new-tech companies and our data is extracted mercilessly with no sense of shame or consideration for individual privacy. We now seem so entirely distant from the rich and natural network of life to which we once belonged. There’s a profound disconnect for our narrative of existence that was crucial to understanding both where we’ve come from and where we might be heading. ‘On The Road To Find Out’ is a voice arising amid the noise of a raging storm which is bringing the world closer to the edge of self-annihilation. It arrives at a perfect moment to remind us of the need for reform within the ‘self’ and to take ownership of our direction of travel.
Over the course of half a century, our ‘Roadsinger’ has grown from a wide-eyed and boyish seeker into an adept sage whose soulful insights run as deep as any basin beneath the waves of this gorgeous blue planet, and as wide as any desert sky. It is very much as if the wanderer has returned from an epic adventure in the wilderness to tell us everything he’s learned, although, in truth, he never really left us at all.