Advent, Day 23

LOOK: Illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, from the book Peace Train

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Yusuf / Cat Stevens’s song “Peace Train,” this year HarperCollins published a picture book adaptation of the song by Yusuf, with delightful illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds.

Peace Train cover

LISTEN: “Peace Train” by Yusuf / Cat Stevens, on Teaser and the Firecat (1971)

The Spotify link below is to Yusuf’s original studio album recording, but the YouTube video, released this year for World Peace Day on September 21, is a “Song Around the World” version of “Peace Train” produced by Playing for Change [previously]. In addition to Yusuf, the video features thirty-five musicians from twelve countries, including oud player Ghassan Birumi from Palestine; Grammy-winning American artists Keb’ Mo’ and Rhiannon Giddens; Senegalese artist Baaba Maal; the Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi choir; musicians from the Silkroad Ensemble and the Afro-Brazilian percussive group Olodum; Tushar Lall playing the harmonium in Delhi, India; Joshua Amjad playing the khartal in Karachi, Pakistan; and more.

Now I’ve been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun

Oh, I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Someday it’s going to come

’Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train take this country
Come take me home again

Now, I’ve been smiling lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Yes, Peace Train, holy roller
Everyone jump up on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Get your bags together
Go bring your good friends too
Because it’s getting nearer
It soon will be with you

Now come and join the living
It’s not so far from you
And it’s getting nearer
Soon it will all be true

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Now, I’ve been crying lately
Thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating?
Why can’t we live in bliss?

’Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train, take this country
Come take me home again

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Yes, Peace Train, holy roller
Everyone jump up on the Peace Train
Come on, come on, come on
Yes, come on, Peace Train
Yes, it’s the Peace Train

Come on now, Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train

Cat Stevens converted to Islam in 1977 and adopted the name Yusuf Islam the following year. For the next two decades he gave up his singing-songwriting, regarding it then as incompatible with his new faith. But after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he agreed to sing “Peace Train” at a benefit concert in New York City. At the encouragement of his Muslim community, he slowly returned to his music career. His latest album is Tea for the Tillerman 2, released in 2020.

Inclusive of all faiths, “Peace Train” invites people to join in committing to the way of peace, and to ride that commitment all the way “home.” Or, to put it another way, to let Peace transport you. In the introduction to Peace Train the book, Yusuf writes,

Each of us has the power to imagine and to dream. We all have our own picture of what a place called “heaven” would look like, and the ONE thing—for sure—we’d all expect to find there is PEACE. That’s what my song is based on: a train gliding to a world we all would like to share.

In Christianity, especially in the spirituals tradition, salvation is often pictured as a train that carries its passengers to their heavenly destination. “Peace Train” uses the same imagery, acknowledging that peace is already on the move (the Spirit is active, as Christians might say); we need only to get onboard. The song captures a sense of excited journeying toward. The train has arrived, and it’s taking us somewhere new.

Watch Yusuf “read” (sing!) the book, flipping page by page, in this Storytime Read Aloud video from HarperKids:

Also check out Yusuf’s Peace Train initiative, launched in 2020 to deliver relief, medical aid, and education globally.

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