Itâ€™s quite a surprise to have Â what seems an innate appreciation of an artist (in the general sense of the word) explained by reading some analysis that explains possible reasons behind a latent, unconscious bonding Â â€“ or at least have light cast upon it. On holiday I read Graeme Thomsonâ€™s recent biography of Kate Bush â€“ â€˜Under the Ivyâ€™ Â (Omnibus Press) â€“ which bills itself as â€˜the first ever in-depth study of one of the worldâ€™s most enigmatic artistsâ€™.
Itâ€™s a curious book â€“ mostly biography gleaned from interviews with figures relatively peripheral to Kate Bushâ€™s life and from press interviews with Kate Bush herself. Sheâ€™s certainly a fascinating and enigmatic subject but what lifts the book above the levels of most music biographies is Thomsonâ€™s critical interpretation of her music, somewhat in the vein of Ian MacDonaldâ€™s classic about The Beatles, â€˜Revolution in the Headâ€™.
There were a few passages of analysis in the book which suddenly grabbed me and made me think â€˜that concept is similar to what Iâ€™ve been trying to get over in my writingâ€™.
One trait I have is to tend to throw in all sorts of cultural references and allusions, which is what Kate Bush tended to do in her lyrics â€“ almost to the level of self-parody in â€˜Them Heavy Peopleâ€™ but thereâ€™s far more â€“ think of Molly Bloomâ€™s speech from â€˜Ulyssesâ€™ in â€˜The Sensual Worldâ€™ (my favourite Kate Bush track of the lot), or the obvious â€˜Wuthering Heightsâ€™.
Yet Thomson points out that these cultural references are a paradox and something of a deliberate obfuscation because her work is impossible to fully appreciate solely by academic analysis:
â€˜Bushâ€™s music takes us somewhere else, somewhere deeperâ€¦Itâ€™s a very inquisitive, giving quixotic thingâ€¦there is no need to join every dot, or explain every reference. That is a game for those who canâ€™t trust their own responses without first looking for an intellectual hook on which to hang it. Kate Bush is all about emotion: the things she uses to get to those emotions arenâ€™t necessarily important. You either hear it and feel it â€“ and trust what youâ€™re hearing or feeling â€“ or you donâ€™t.â€™
I particularly like the last sentence: youâ€™re either the sort of person who trusts your emotional reaction or you arenâ€™t. This ties in with some current debate about writing, especially of the more literary genre â€“ does it work on an emotional level or does it solely exist to perform intellectual gymnastics?
No-one whoâ€™s seriously listened to Kate Bushâ€™s music can underestimate its sensuality. The candid attitude towards sex, even in songs released in the 1970s, is quite revelatory and far more insightful than many of her female successors (think of the relatively crude shock-tactics of the likes of Madonna or Lady GaGa). However, even knowing the song for 25 years I hadnâ€™t fully realised (shows how closely I read the lyrics) what she was trying to suggest in one of her most well known singles, â€˜Running Up That Hillâ€™. To quote Thomson:
â€˜Originally called â€œA Deal With Godâ€, the song spoke passionately of Bushâ€™s impossible wish to become her lover, and he her, in order that they could finally know what the other felt and desired. It was a sobering comment on misfiring communication and the impossibility of men and women ever really understanding one another, and yet â€“ in capturing the basic human need to strive for compatibility â€“ it was not without hope nor optimism.â€™
Iâ€™d say that many novelists also try to set out to achieve this â€˜impossibleâ€™ ambition (trying to fully understand the experience of the other gender) â€“ to know â€˜what the other felt and desiredâ€™. Itâ€™s certainly something Iâ€™m fascinated with â€“ as I have a novel that switches between male and female POVs in a putative relationship.
Itâ€™s pretty evident that these songs have lodged themselves quite deep in my psyche and bits of them seem to come out when Iâ€™m writing. I had a playlist of â€˜quiet stuffâ€™ on my laptop which featured a lot of Kate Bush songs and I have listened to this over the past few years at very low volume as I fell asleep in work trips in various hotel rooms around Europe.
Thereâ€™s another aspect to Kate Bushâ€™s work that makes it more approachable from a male point of view which Iâ€™d never realised until reading this book â€“ and yet itâ€™s so obvious. She likes men. Thomson says of one of Kate Bushâ€™s most touching songs:
â€˜Aside from its luminous melody and swooping chorus, â€œThe Man With the Child In His Eyesâ€ is one of the first example of the extraordinarily positive ways in which Bush views men. She is surely unique among female songwriters in that her canon contains not a single song that puts down, castigates or generally gives men the brush off. She has been feminist in the bluntest sense â€“ she wants to preserve and embrace the differences between the sexes and understand the male of the species. Many songs display a desire to experience fully what it is to be a man; she invests them with a power, beauty and a kind of mystical attraction which is incredibly generous. â€œItâ€™s not such an open thing for a woman to be physically attracted to the male body and fantasise about itâ€ she once said. â€œI canâ€™t understand that because to me the male body is absolutely beautiful.â€â€™
I knew that Kate Bush had a large gay (male) following but it was only after reading the above interview quotation that I the penny finally dropped. On a similar vein Iâ€™m wondering about buying â€˜Adventures in Kate Bush and Theoryâ€™ which is full of analysis (as it says in the publisherâ€™s press release) â€˜written by a queer woman in her late 20s, its answers are delivered in a unique way…showing that theory can be sordid, funny and irreverentâ€™. I wouldnâ€™t mind too much if those three adjectives were applied to my novel, at least in part.