Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Steamrolling Cat Stevens

Vinyl records have a reputation of being "unbreakable." When they were first manufactured this was actually advertised on several brands. In reality they're not impervious to damage, they scratch easily, and scuff but they don't crack or shatter without significant effort. Compared to shellac they're quite durable. It's no surprise then that destroying records has long been a radio stunt. The greatest of these was the infamous Disco Demolition Derby of 1979. But there have been some much more recent LP-destroying radio events. My favorite of these was Steamrolling Cat Stevens LPs at KFI-AM.Images of the event are hard to find. Here is one.

In 1989 radio show host, Tom Leykis drove a steamroller over a pile of about 200 records, tapes and CD by the recording artist known as Cat Stevens. Born Steven Demetre Georgiou, he began using the stage name Cat Stevens in 1966, at age 18. After his conversion to Islam in 1977 he adopted the name Yusuf Islam. Stevens attracted a bit of attention for himself  for made remarks that were deemed to be supporting the fatwa (death penalty) imposed on the author Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses, first published in 1988.

If you don't remember, Stevens wasn't alone in condemning the book or the author... there were large-scale riots in several countries. On February 21st 1989,  in an address to students at Kingston University in London he said about Rushdie "He must be killed. The Koran makes it clear - if someone defames the prophet, then he must die." In America this went over like a lead brick and Stevens became a target of criticism. He tried to walk it back a bit but he was on the hook. More here.

Radio stations removed Cat Stevens records from their playlists some even announcing a "ban." But Tom Leykis, at KFI-AM went a step further. He put on a hardhat, and drove a steam roller over a pile of a couple hundred Cat Stevens albums. But Leykis isn't stupid, he was afraid of repercussions. He wore a bullet-proof vest and instead of staging a public event, he staged his record destruction privately at an "undisclosed site" in Compton, CA.  More here.

The event was presaged by  the departure of another KFI morning talk show host, Geoff Edwards who quit over the event which he said smacked of fascism. In the fall out Leykis admitted that it was just for attention, just another stupid DJ trick. He defended himself  with the explanation: "It's not the same as censorship at all. We don't say they should take the records off the shelves..." In 1992 The Los Angeles Times gave him a Hypocrite-of-the-Month award for his umbrage at censorship of the recording artist Ice T.