Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I'd Buy Anything By...Kate Bush

I grew up listening to my parent's record collection, which wasn't exactly conventional by the time of the early '80s -- Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Harry Nilsson -- but, since my parents owned those albums, was not any form of outright rebellion on my part.

Eventually we subscribed to "Superchannel" (the Pay TV service). In between the movies, Superchannel would "pad" the schedule to convenient half-hour blocks by playing promos, oddball animations, and music videos. For some reason the only videos they ever seemed to play were "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits, "Airwaves" by Thomas Dolby...and Kate Bush's "Wow."

My parents HATED Kate Bush, with her shrill voice and her arty-farty weirdness, but I fell instantly in love. I embarked on massive Kate-buying sprees that included posters, books, interview disks, and bootleg vinyl (which are now worth nothing at all to anyone). Kate Bush was my first act of musical rebellion, and things only went downhill for my parents from there.

It's easy to forget how innovative she was in those pre-Tori Amos days: a young, pretty piano player singing unorthodox songs about literature, dreams, sex, nuclear war...even during her brief return to fame (thanks to "Running Up That Hill") Bush was an oddity, an individual, a recluse. Along came Lene Lovich and a whole whack of nutty female performers, but beside them all Bush appeared to be smarter, less eager, and -- most importantly -- down to earth in her interviews.

Here she is performing her first song that I ever heard -- "Wow" -- during her first (and only) tour back in 1979. Only she could work a reference to sodomy into a hit song.

The intervals between her albums began to telescope. She stopped performing. The press loves to come up with reasons why Kate Bush disappears for so long -- agoraphobia, secret lovers, dramatic weight gain -- but it all seems to come down to one thing: she's never relished "stardom" and would much prefer to keep her private life private, and to have lots of breathing room for creating music. LOTS of breathing room.

Rather than play one of her more recent videos -- which I think are a bit too goofy -- here's an unappreciated song and video, in which she has never seemed more vibrant, unconcerned, and beautiful: "The Big Sky." No high-falutin' choreography, just a big load of fun. Let's hear it for '80s hair, giraffes, and that incredible bassline.

Albums to buy? Bracket her career with "The Kick Inside" (her first) and "Aerial" (her latest). Albums to avoid? Even her worst efforts are good, but if you must avoid ONE, let it be "The Red Shoes" (it's a bit of a mess and the Prince collaboration is her most embarassing moment). For fans only: "The Dreaming," my personal favourite, but definitely inaccessible...she ran wild in the studio production booth and made ten dark songs full of screams, grunts, and backwards vocals. In a fair world this would be up there with "Sgt. Pepper's."

(No Kate Bush retrospective would be complete without this dead-on spoof by Pamela Stevenson...BRILLIANT!)


McMonkey said...

I must admit, though I found her beautiful during my teenage years, my appreciation for her music has never really gone past "Running up that Hill" and her cover of "Rocket Man".

I don't think that's likely to change. Her voice is simply too chirpy for me to listen to for any length of time.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Ahh, I love the "Rocket Man" cover; it's a strange mix of styles that somehow meshes (barely!) just long enough for her to finish the song.

She can definitely be chirpy. Her post-70s albums have less chirpiness (her voice had already lowered by then) but there's no denying that she hits the high (some say "piercing") registers.

VanillaJ said...

Kate Bush is the pride of UK men! Oddly enough, her piercing registers never seem to bother the men I've met from England or Scotland. These boys will unabashedly wear their T-shirts that ask: WWKBD? (What Would Kate Bush Do?)

The footage from her public performances and video shows a woman that appears to enjoy stage drama and dancing. While I don't believe she stopped touring because of some weight gain (cm'on! give me a break),it's hard to believe Kate never liked performing to begin with. Her sudden refusal to perform will always be a wonder and a mystery.

And I agree: besides the single "Eat the Music", the Red Shoes album was a disappointment.

Johnny said...

Only Kate, you say?

Depends on how tight your definition of "hit" is...

Toni Basil: Hey Mickey
Adam Ant: Press Darlings
Onigo Boingo: Grey Matter
Marylin Manson: Cake and Sodomy
Clarence Carter: Strokin

Thats just off the top of my head, and yes,
I understand this means there is something
very, very wrong with me.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I wish *I* had a WWKBD shirt!

And don't forget "You're the Only One I Want" off Red Shoes...

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Aha, Johnny, I KNEW somebody would call me on this. :)

My point (shortened to keep it pithy) was that only Kate could have done it THEN, in 1978. It apparently hit 14 on the UK charts. The rest of your suggestions either came along much later (you can score an alternative hit with "Cake and Sodomy" NOW), or they weren't singles ("Press Darlings," "Grey Matter").

"Hey Mickey" had a sodomy reference? I missed that subtext. :)

"Strokin'," okay, I'm sas-fied!