Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction Speech
The 2019 Songwriters Hall of Fame Ceremony was a glorious celebration of the work of artists who have positively affected the lives of untold numbers of people worldwide. The songs they have delicately plucked from the ether are our shields against life’s struggles, a personal coach when we need motivation, a warm hug when spirits are low, and our crazy best friend on the dance floor.
Dave Matthews, a legendary songwriter in his own right, paid testament to the powerful influence that songs, and songwriters, can have on our lives as he inducted Yusuf into the Hall of Fame. He said that it was listening to the music of Cat Stevens that made him feel like it was possible to be a songwriter. The pride that Matthews felt at inducting one of his true heroes was written all over his face. At the ceremony he delivered a spectacular performance of ‘Father and Son’ and then later declared: “I’m such a fan of the man who wrote that song”. When Yusuf joined him on stage the two shared a sincere embrace that said more than any words could.
Yusuf opened with a tender performance of ‘The Wind’ and then spoke about the eventful and winding road that his life as a songwriter has been:
I listen to my words
But they fall far below
I let my music take me
Where my heart wants to go
“Most of my songs are to do with a journey, mainly because I was on that journey myself. That was to define my main contribution as a songwriter: the road became my home.
As a young man searching for wealth and success, at first, then almost dragged underground after a battle with fame and Faustian demands of the music business, I was hospitalised with a thing called TB. Then started my most important journey: the search for meaning.
None of this was anywhere on my mind when I began writing – plonking away on my first cheap guitar back in 1965 after I heard the Beatles. Neither did I ever imagine that one day I might be standing here receiving this honour for doing what came natural … which also paid quite well!
The fear of not finding the answers to my limited mortality was what drove me. I needed to know what lay beyond the end of the road; what was over the rainbow. It gave me the courage to search beyond my own religious landscape and cultural zone.
A song like ‘The Wind’ is a perfect example of my quest.
Songwriting is amazing, it enables you to draw upon all kinds of possibilities in life – real or imagined. And when you’re Inspired you become something of a medium through which people can be brought together, sharing stories and feelings that reveal the highest peaks and deepest cracks in our humanity.
One day in the Pacific Ocean, I finally faced my own weakness and inability to save myself. I reached out to the ultimate Presence for help. That was all it needed, to recognise I couldn’t live without Divine help.
As T. S. Eliot said, ‘we shall not cease our exploration, until we arrive at where we started and know it for the first time’.
And I’m grateful to the power above us all for allowing me to travel far enough to find a doorway that led me to understand the purpose of that road.
I was even allowed back to write some more. So I could sing and shake the hands of those people – those hearts – who my songs spoke loudest to.
Here’s a more recent song I wrote when finding how hard it was to describe what I’d found.”
Roadsinger rode on, to another land
Though the people spoke a different tongue,
They showed him how to share and took him by the hand
Showed him the path to heaven
Through the desert sand
Yusuf closed with a poignant rendition of ‘Roadsinger’ and with that he took his rightful place in the pantheon of incredible artists who have been recognised by The Songwriters Hall of Fame over the past 50 years. He enjoyed a wonderful evening sharing memories and exchanging stories with his fellow inductees as well as the wealth of creative talent and stars who attended the ceremony. His heartfelt thanks go to Dave Matthews, The Songwriters Hall of Fame, and to his dear fans who have accompanied him on this magical journey.