So there I was, in my home studio, guitar in hand, trying to coax another song into existence, when I noticed the familiar sight of my cats in various poses of repose and meditation surrounding me. This is how it often was: me jamming and rambling away, searching for a meaningful chord sequence, while my cats looked on in quiet indifference, or when the melody wasn’t quite to their liking, in distain and disgust. They can be savage critics.
It got me wondering about how the cat, throughout history, has been closely associated with writers of music, literature and poetry. The ancient Egyptians revered the cat, and associated it with music – utilizing the graceful head and figure of the beloved creature in the decoration of the sistrum – one of mankind’s first known instruments. Back in the Dark Ages, sorcerers, alchemists and philosophers all loved their cats. The 18th Century Italian composer, Sacchini, assured his friends that he could only compose when surrounded by cats. He said that their presence inspired his gracious and seductive music. Literary folk have long been associated with the feline. French writers, particularly throughout the 19th Century, had harems of long-haired beauties. These authors of distinction included Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Pierre Loti and Emile Zola. Lord Byron had five cats, and Charles Dickens is said to have had a kitten named Williamina, who – to gain attention – would regularly put out her master’s candle while he was writing.
Let me share with you some “tails” of my own cats, for I am convinced that they harbor musical talent and appreciation. For example: one of my cats – Karma – adores to stroll back and forth across the keys of my acoustic piano (as I hear many cats are prone to do), constructing the most inventive melodies, complicated scales and profound cluster chords … putting my own creativity to shame. Whenever he calls to me, I have noticed that the note he communicates in is always B Flat. I once sat with him at the piano while he “sang” to me, and I constructed a chord sequence in the key of B Flat around his caterwauls. So, it could be said that Karma and I have officially collaborated.
Another of my cats, Mr. Bear, enjoys a good dance session while listening to songs playing on my kitchen iPod. I take his two front paws in my hands and he stands erect on his hind legs, swaying in bliss to the groove with me. His particular favorite to boogie to is “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder – which is very appropriate, seeing that he’s a black cat.
Whenever I sing high falsetto vocals, Dharma (another of my cats), overwhelmed by intense emotion and extreme anxiety, joins me in an apparent attempt at Gregorian chant harmonies … or perhaps she just thinks that I’m suffering and in pain. In retrospect, the latter explanation is probably nearer the mark!
And I am reminded of my parents’ cat, who – whenever my song “Animal Instinct” (recorded by The Commodores) was played in the household – would go absolutely ballistic, racing around the house with a crazed look in his eyes. My mother swore that he only ever displayed these insane and disturbed antics when my song was played ….. Well, there’s just no accounting for taste.
At this point, I would like to quote a passage by author and cat-lover Carl Van Vechten, who says, “As an inspiration to an author, I do not think the cat can be over estimated. He suggests so much grace, power, beauty, motion, mysticism. The perfect symmetry of his body urges one to achieve an equally perfect form. His color and his line alone would serve to give any imaginative creator material for several pages of nervous description; on any subject, mind you, not necessarily on the cat himself. As for his intelligence, his occult power, they are so remarkable that I sometimes feel convinced that true cat-lover authors are indebted even more deeply than they believe to ‘cats of ebony, cats of flame’ for their books. The sharp, but concealed claws, the contracting pupil of the eye, which allows only the necessary amount of light to enter, the independence, should be the best of models for any critic; the graceful movements of the animal who waves a glorious banner as he walks silently should stir the soul of any poet. The cat symbolizes, indeed, all that a good writer tries to put into his work. I do not wonder that some writers love cats; I am only surprised that all writers do not love cats.”
Well said, sir!
During the many hours when I believed myself to be writing songs totally alone, I was in fact in the company of kindred spirits – my cats, who, in their serene and silent observance, have somehow been the most purrfect of collaborators. I’m proud to be a felinophile.
“Who can believe there is no soul behind those luminous eyes!”
- Theophile Gautier
Thanks for dropping by.
P.S. Please read Peter Singer’s important book, “Animal Liberation”; I cannot recommend it highly enough.