Today’s song takes me back to my last two years in Philly. In the unprepossessing winter at the start of 1982, a writing buddy from the London’s crowd, my friend Joe, aka River Reid, brought around some albums by Kate Bush. Her first three to be exact. He had become smitten by her after seeing her perform, on SNL, “The Man With the Child in His Eyes” from her first LP, recorded when she was all of 18. Joe and I hung out a lot in those days because we were part of a Finnegans Wake reading group—the whole purpose of which was to read the book aloud, round-robin, just to get through it. I got smitten with it, actually, but that’s another story.
At the time I was also working on a collage of pastel drawings using photos of friends, family and some of my musical and literary heroes. The bottom portion was “the past” (as in DE and growing up) but also featured me and Mary as parents of Kajsa. Then came a column of Major Tarot Arcana and, on the right hand side, males, and on the left, females. By the fall of 1982, I had moved into what would be my last Philly apartment, on 42nd between Walnut and Sansom, and there I set about completing the drawings. Around that time, Joe came around with Kate Bush’s newly released LP The Dreaming.
Now, while I liked songs on the first three LPs, some of them quite a lot, I was still pretty exacting about new artists—Kate was born the year before me—and tended to look askance at “chick themes” in songs. Granted, I’d embraced Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders and Rickie Lee Jones, but there were still some walls up. The Dreaming broke through all that. I still consider it one of the most brilliant LPs of its time. It’s the Kate Bush album I most return to and the one I find endlessly interesting and enthralling. And this record earned Kate her place in the collage, right up there with, and slightly in front of, the two women I just mentioned. A late addition was Laurie Anderson from the cover of Big Science. And that gave me four female creative heroes. Unheard of. Clearly, I was maturing. What’s more, I had a daughter so, y’know, your perception of these things changes.
|the image I drew, from Lionheart|
Today’s song is the first song on and first single released from The Dreaming, “Sat in Your Lap.” The accompanying video isn’t so bad as videos go. It features Kate in her prime, doing a freaky wide-eyed stare (“Just when I think I’m king”) and some interesting gyrations. The part at the end—“up the ladder”—brings to mind David Byrne’s line “the world moves on a woman’s hips” from “The Great Curve.” “Give me the karma, mama” indeed.
The song epitomizes the “gimme gimme gimme” spirit of instant gratification. It’s a song about finding fault with one’s own laziness (“I want to be a scholar / But I really can’t be bothered”) that I recognize only too well, I gotta admit. But it also plays with the notion that “knowledge is something sat in your lap”—a nice figure for the sense of an intimate relation and a “now here, now gone” (fort/da) quality to it all. Sometimes you’ve got it, sometimes you don’t. And “some say knowledge is ho ho ho” (with different inflections) as if, in essence, the joke is on us. I remember Faust: “and see that nothing can be known / That knowledge cuts me to the bone.”
What can be known, we like to say, is the here and now of our own experience, but even that is evanescent because nothing stays in place for long. Hence the feeling that it’s all slipping by too fast and that we need to score quickly. Before it’s too late. And yet it’s that very mentality (the timing of a thing) that makes us unable to enjoy it. We look forward to having it. We mourn its passing. When was it really here?
I’ve been doing it for years / My goal is moving near / It says, “Look! I’m over here” / Then it up and disappears.
The drum track is what put this song (and the eventual LP, though this song was released ahead of the LP, in 1981) head and shoulders above earlier Bush albums. She produced The Dreaming herself, and she crammed into its multi-tracking all the oddity she could. Lots of background voice overlays, use of digital effects, odd instrumentation, the works. And on top of it all the amazing instrument that is Kate Bush’s voice in her early twenties. Some of her earlier LPs played-up the winsome sprite persona that her little munchkin voice can do to perfection, but on this album she goes for some truly guttural sounds, as well as using some comic musical theater touches. Which helps this song too in its larksical silliness (she wears a dunce cap for much of the video, in a kind of Pierrot outfit).
Yes, our Kate is quite the clown on this one—“My cup she never overfloweth / And it is I that moan and groaneth”—running through a litany of holy places—Mecca, Tibet, Jeddah, Salisbury, a monastery—as though there should be somewhere to break on through out of this farce of ignorance, ambition, and dumb luck. It’s a question of “grey and white matter,” ultimately, science’s knowledge tells us, but is there any wisdom in such knowledge? That’s the heaven and hell, either/or this song plays with, quite playfully.
Me? I’d just be grateful for a “dome of ivory / My home of activity.” And . . . they’re off!