Where Do the Children Play

Spending this last week with grandson Gavin got me thinking. Like wondering: where the heck he could have gotten his temper :-?, and how did he become so stubborn |:-( ). More importantly, though, it got me thinking about one of my favorite Cat Stevens' songs I've been planning on writing about since I was irritated by someone's negative (sorry, but I'm having a senior-moment on the name, though I remembering looking up his site, and, except for this sad comment, he seemed like a reasonably bright gentleman) comment on Jonathon's Delacour's page that Cat Stevens was merely a teenage-heartthrob and not much of an artist/folk singer.

While this may well have been true for some people, I'm certainly not buying it since for many years Cat Stevens was my favorite singer, ranking above my favorite blues artists, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, and Bruce Cockburn. Until I recently started following Bruce Cockburn's music, I've always thought that Cat Stevens produced the richest, most complex pop music available.

Although "Where Do the Children Play" is one of Stevens' least complex songs, a straight-forward ballad, for me it makes up for this lack of complexity with a simple elegance:

WHERE DO THE CHILDREN PLAY?

Well I think it's fine, building jumbo planes.
Taking a ride on a cosmic train.
Switch on summer from a slot machine. Yes,
Get what you want to if you want, 'cause you can get anything.

I know we've come a long way,
We're changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well, you roll on roads over fresh green grass.
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas.
And you make them long, and you make them tough.
But they just go on and on, and it seems that you can't get off.

Oh, I know we've come a long way,
We're changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well you've cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air.
But, will you keep on building higher
'til there's no more room up there?
Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?

I know we've come a long way,
We're changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?

I love the line "switch on summer from a slot machine" and its suggestion of modern man's intrusion into nature itself, which is reinforced by the arrogance of "cause you can get anything." You don't have to have driven too many freeways to feel that they "just go on and on, and it seems that you can't get off," just as it sometimes seems impossible to escape the negative effects of "progress" though, after the fact, it seems that it should have been remarkably easy to see them lying ahead.

For me, the haunting refrain, "Where do the children play?" suggests the end of innocence, for it's not only children that lose when freeways cover the "fresh green grass." We all lose when progress has "cracked the sky" and "scrapers fill the air." Of course, Stevens' is not the first to ask if this Brave New World will "tell us when to live " when to die."

But by asking us these questions in a new context, Stevens once again reminds us of the dangers of "progress" and makes us question whether progress as defined by capitalists is really a good thing. In fact, it makes me wonder whether the statement that "I know we've come a long way" is actually true, or is merely a truism some use to justify their actions.

One thought on “Where Do the Children Play

  1. Thank you so much for pointing me to this entry. I will have to think a bit, but I’d like to respond with a lengthy comment of my own about what Cat’s music means to me. That line “switch on summer from a slot machine” is very poetic: very musical and fun to say and hear. The repeating S’s really carry the rhythm.

What do you think?