Kate Bush: Loyal To The Kick Inside

Kate Bush: Loyal To The Kick Inside

Things like that don’t come along very often. When has the next Kate Bush come along after Kate Bush? There hasn’t been one.

-Elton John

When I was a teenager I was living with a crew of ex-street punks who had left the mean streets for the beauty of Denman Island in the Pacific Northwest. Most of them were recovering addicts or abuse survivors, and they banded together to survive and support each other. Among other things they shared was an interest in things of the spirit, particularly a polyglot mix of Eastern mysticism, Celtic spirituality, and neo-shamanism in the form of recycled ideas and practices from Canada’s Indigenous peoples. We had a limited number of cassette tapes between us (yes, cassette tapes). Among those we had were some Kate Bush. My two closest friends and older mentors in the group, Graham and Verndawg, both loved Kate Bush. They were the ones who introduced me to her singular genius.

Graham and I would sip tea in his little hut on the side of Graham Lake (the name a coincidence) and listen to her mind-blowing 1982 album The Dreaming over and over again. The sacred feminine was celebrated in our little band, and Bush seemed to embody it in spades- unworldly yet sensual, both dancer and singer, an elfin madonna, her music a hallucinatory blend of poetry and eerie, playful soundscapes driven by a uniquely high-intensity musical adventurousness. It was easy to believe she wasn’t quite human.

Verndawg told us that when he was living in Toronto in 1985 the word dropped that Bush, generally reclusive, would be making a rare live appearance at MuchMusic (the Canadian MTV).  Vern and his friends made it their mission to catch a glimpse of her, and after a serious espionage campaign, found out what hotel she was staying at and camped there in hope of seeing her. Their fanaticism paid off when they saw her leave the building with her group, headed for a limo. Vern ran up to her and she asked what he wanted. “A kiss?” he said, struck by a moment of wild chutzpah. Bush kindly graced his cheek with a kiss and departed, leaving Vern in a fit of ecstasy for the next several days, and us, hearing of it years later, in a squall of envy. A kiss from the Faerie Queen!

Many things about Bush came together to make her seem more like a fairy tale enchantress than a simple pop star, more like a shamaness than a songstress.

Bursting onto the music scene with the bizarre, hypnotizing “Wuthering Heights” in 1978 at the age of 19, she accomplished the unlikely feat of having a #1 hit on the UK charts with a song openly based on a novel from 1847 that sounded like an out-take from the opera of the elves.

The video featured Bush singing in costume while dancing, not like a pop star, but like a performance artist. The style- insanely bold, quirky, courageous- would hold for the rest of her career. In the albums that followed, Bush would write incredibly diverse and imaginative songs, more often short narrative excursions from the point of view of a fictional or historical character than confessionals. Her first two albums, The Kick Inside and Lionheart, both sold well.

Already an innovator in video art, with her third album, 1980’s Never For Ever, Bush upped the ante considerably, creating bold, emotional, cinematic videos. Breathing, performed by a Bush wrapped in saran wrap inside a plastic womb, is sung from the perspective of a gestating baby trying to breathe through a nuclear war.

Army Dreamers, sung from the perspective of a soldier’s mother, received a similarly edgy and courageous treatment in video:

By the time of Never For Ever Bush had stopped touring and was in the process of transmogrifying her pop career into that of an artist. Few were prepared, though, for The Dreaming, the 1982 album which my friends and I loved so much on Denman Island more than a decade later. The first album to be produced by Bush herself, it was a rich, almost operatic series of avant-garde ballads and sound poems, dense with layers of vocals and sound effects. No one was doing anything as far out as that, especially not a pretty twenty-three-year-old female pop star. It’s stunning Bush had the temerity to release the title track as a single:

 

Bush is singing about the intrusion of the industrial-commercial complex into the Australian outback, juxtaposing the image of wild animals hit by cars with the destruction wrought by white miners.

Bang!’ goes another kanga
On the bonnet of the van.
“See the light ram through the gaps in the land.”
Many an Aborigine’s mistaken for a tree
‘Til you near him on the motorway
And the tree begin to breathe.
“See the light ram through the gaps in the land.”

The civilized keep alive the territorial war.
“See the light ram through the gaps in the land.”
Erase the race that claim the place and say we dig for ore,
Or dangle devils in a bottle and push them from the pull of the bush.

1985 saw Bush return with the more accessible double album Hounds of Love, which many view as her crowning work. She released what is probably her most perfect fusion of dance and video in Running Up That Hill, a music video that took the unusual approach of having the pop star appear in it without singing, instead delivering a thematic modern dance performance.

Running Up That Hill:

 

Bush followed it with the boundary-pushing video for Cloudbusting, a short film based on the story of Willhelm Reich, the eccentric German-American thinker who experimented with rain making machines. His son Peter Reich wrote an account of their experiments together after his father was arrested and died in prison.

Cloudbusting:

 

The following year saw Bush do a duet with Peter Gabriel for his break-out album So, a song called “Don’t Give Up” which has been credited with saving people from committing suicide more than any other song I know (the video is also remarkable for featuring a six and half minute long hug).

 

The thirty years since have seen only four albums of new material from Bush- The Sensual World (1989); Red Shoes (1993); Aerial (2005); and Fifty Words For Snow (2011). Her work has continued to receive positive critical reception as her reputation for reclusiveness has grown.

In 1999, Bush gave birth to her son, Albert McIntosh, prompting a decade-long break from making music. In 2005, Bush returned with the triumphant two disc Aerial, the first disc of which, A Sea of Honey, contains, among a typical esoteric diversity, a Rennaissance style-ode to her son titled “Bertie.”

 

As with her 1985 album Hounds of Love, the second side of the album, in this case titled, A Sky of Honey, is one continuous piece of music using dense soundscapes. A Sky of Honey musically evokes a single summer day from dawn to dusk. Its opening words, spoken by her son, are, “Mommy, daddy, the day is full of birds. It sounds like they’re speaking words.”  Bush mixed her voice with cooing woodpigeons to repeat the phrases “A sea of honey, a sky of honey”, and “You’re full of beauty” throughout the track, whose music is interwoven with recordings of birdsong.

In 2011, Bush released her most recent album, 50 Words For Snow. As quietly and fiercely independent as ever, Bush had made an album around the theme of-  snow.

The album included the track Snowflake, a duet between two falling snowflakes as they get to know the form of their lives on the way to the ground. It was sung by Bush and Albert, who can be heard at minute 2:35 below singing, in a haunting choirboy soprano, I am ice and dust and light. I am sky.  

Snowflake:

In 2014, Bush announced she would give a series of live concerts, a 22-night residency called Before the Dawn in London at the Hammersmith Apollo. Albert, now 16 years old, had convinced his Mom to perform live again, and Bush decided to play at the same venue she had last performed at in 1979. Tickets to the concerts- all 75,000- sold out in 15 minutes. Albert appeared in the shows as a backup singer and dancer, curly red hair poking out of a white top hat atop an intense, elfin face. The concerts, which were filled with theatre and surreal puppetry, struck many as though they had suddenly and wonderfully been let into the evasive Bush’s private, magical world. Some fans had been waiting to see her live again for thirty-five years.

In August of that year, as a result of the concerts, Bush became the first female performer to ever have eight albums in the Official UK Top 40 Albums Chart at the same time- a feat previously only accomplished by Elvis and the Beatles.

Bush is a patron saint of personal integrity, not just in the art she made, but also in the art she didn’t make; in her willingness both to expose the soul of her creativity and in her willingness to be private and abandon the publicity game when it suited her needs. She turned sixty this year and is currently somewhere out of the spotlight tinkering, while the rest of us wait for her to suddenly appear again in her own time, bearing gifts.

 


Matthew Gindin

Matthew Gindin is a journalist, educator and meditation instructor located in Vancouver, BC. He is the Pacific Correspondent for the Canadian Jewish News, writes regularly for the Forward and the Jewish Independent and has been published in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Religion Dispatches, Kveller, Situate Magazine, and elsewhere. He writes on Medium from time to time.

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