Today Kate Bush is 56 years old. Next month she will undertake a 22 date live performance residency in London, extending into October, called Before the Dawn. Brave girl. Tickets for the shows sold out within 15 minutes. Prices are allegedly moving well upwards of £1,000. I suppose everyone knows it will probably be the last live show hurrah for Bush, who is a major celebrity in Britain.
She never attained that kind of status here, though with news like the above getting copy she might yet. Nothing impresses Americans like selling out and driving up prices. Nothing matters unless it’s in demand and demand means nothing if people don’t put their money where their mouth is. Some might say the rampant materialism of the U.S. is a sickness. I prefer to see it as business as usual.
Anyway, what song to present as tribute to the unique gifts of Kate Bush? Could choose “Wuthering Heights” which she wrote as a teenager, released—finally—the year she turned 20, and it held #1 in the UK for 4 weeks. First self-penned song by a woman to hit the top of the charts. You can see how that would make someone a celebrity, especially someone so young and quirky as Kate. The song dramatizes the position of Cathy from Emily Brontë’s novel. The subject matter of Bush’s songs do tend to the unusual.
I’ve already posted about a song from The Dreaming (1982), my favorite album of hers and the one that gives her high “art rock” cred. Since Kate’s only a year older than me, I assume she grew up aware of some of the same prog rock artists I listened to in my teens. She’s a bit of an offshoot of that kind of music—with collaborations over her career that include David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Gary Brooker of Procol Harum and of course Peter Gabriel, formerly of Genesis. There’s a roll call right there of some of the musical acts I mean. The Dreaming moves beyond all those worthies, and throw Bowie and whoever else you want into the list too. It’s the one, and the least in sales. Caviar to the general, y’know?
I considered a song from Hounds of Love (1985), which was her biggest success in the U.S. up to that point. “Running Up That Hill” is probably one of her best-known songs, along with “Cloudbusting” and “Hounds of Love”—all from that album and all featured at times on MTV back in the day. If Kate had toured in the U.S. to promote that record, I have no doubt she would’ve become a much bigger celebrity here too. I respect her for not doing that—in the sense that keeping aloof from the U.S. music industry and press seems a much saner way to go about things. If you don’t need ‘em, don’t join ‘em.
The Sensual World was released in 1989, and I’ve picked today’s song from that. It was one of the singles and has a video. Kate did a number of artsy, high production videos, mainly because she has training in dance and movement and likes to be seen doing that—if not live. Still, I’m generally underwhelmed by video production and I won’t say anything except that hers present an opportunity to see her, and that’s well worth it. With this album, the main run of Kate Bush albums ends as she was, in some ways, a distinctly Seventies-Eighties type of artist. Or maybe it’s just a way of saying that the Kate we loved best was under thirty.
In 1993, at 35, she put out The Red Shoes, one of those fully empowered kinds of records. Doesn’t have to prove anything. Has a vividness that makes it better than Sensual World, in some ways. But it came to seem a coda, particularly as The Whole Story (a career compilation) had been released earlier. In 2005 she came back with Aerial, an album (double CD) that seemed to draw from Hounds of Love to its present in its textures and its mix of somewhat more personal themes and her usual odd interests. “How to Be Invisible” seemed only too germane for an artist who had been out of sight, and mostly out of mind, for 12 years.
In 2011 came The Director’s Cut, which reworked songs from the 1989-1993 period as if, quite rightly, that era was deemed not so good on its own merits (I’ve posted on “Flower of the Mountain” in this series). 50 Words for Snow, in 2011, had a quality that one might hope she will pursue in the future: take a theme and make an album, or a song cycle or collection. Kate Bush has always had a sui generis tendency. She’s one of a kind and each of her albums is a different occasion. The time between them helps in that regard. One doesn’t expect “continuity” so much as consistency. That her albums have, though of course what we’ve lost, with the loss of the Kate in her twenties and thirties, is that piercingly high vocal register. Those fortunate enough to have tickets to her London shows will be treated to seeing how she reinvents her repertoire in her mid-fifties. A good age for taking stock, hmm?
So, enough about her. Now about me. “Love and Anger” is one of the songs I like best on The Sensual World because it’s not so arcane that I have no idea what she’s going on about, and it’s got the great vocal overlays that I love so much and features an intriguing line: “Living in the gap between past and future.” That’s an important gap to live in, isn’t it? It’s called “the present” but everyone is rather vague on how big that gap is. It’s only a moment of consciousness, if that. And the more you see “the past” as a long continuity (as I tend to do), and “the future” as an unworkable unknown, that gap is all you’ve got. Or rather: that gap is the place where you use the past to affect the future, but it’s also the place where “the future” becomes “the past,” like immediately and incrementally.
And since the song is about “love and anger”—and something “so deep you don’t think you can speak about it to anyone”—it certainly had its place in the early Nineties, for me. More so than the more contemporary songs on The Red Shoes. It’s all about feeling something deeply and not wanting to tell anyone about it. Or not yet. Not unrequited love, rather what Paul Westerberg calls “love untold.” And the dream of that love is figured by Kate as “two strings speak in sympathy” and “building a house of the future together.” It’s a positive song, full of a yearning optimism. Which is nice.
There’s also those background voices that keep chiming on “what would we do without you,” nicely synched to the drum track, giving us a feeling much like a goad. In that sense it’s a prickly song (which is, I guess, where the anger comes in) with those propulsive drums. It seems to want the addressee (whom I take to be the singer herself) to take control of a situation, not simply languish with oughta, coulda, shoulda. “Waiting for a moment that will never happen.”
“Don’t ever think that you can’t change the past and the future,” she says. And that’s quite a gauntlet the little lady tosses down there. Change what has already happened, change what hasn’t happened yet. But changing the past changes the future, doesn’t it? And arriving at a different future than the past seemed to lead to changes what the past means or maybe even highlights a different past. There is a way out of this. Thanks, Ariadne!
It could take me all my life