Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Whole Cool Person Thing: Kate Bush

I was reading an interview with Tavi Gevinson earlier this week and she said, in amongst all the other pearls of wisdom awesome-ness, that one of the reasons she started her massively popular blog The Style Rookie was because she didn't quite fit in anywhere else and she wanted to find somewhere where she had "no peer", a space that was "just hers'." She managed to carve that out for herself.

But it reminded me straight away of Kate Bush.

Kate Bush is probably the definition of having "no peer." You'll never hear anything quite like her. The closest comparison I can think of is Tori Amos (who I also love) but to mention that on either of their fan sites can incite Internet warfare, so that's the last I'm saying. ( I have no desire to get caught up in an Internet battle of OH YEAH WELL SHE SINGS BETTER OH YEAH WELL SHE'S MORE ORIGINAL WELL YEAH YOU'RE JUST STUPID HAAAAAAA because I think I'd probably headdesk my laptop halfway through and I don't want to have to pay for a new one.)

But back to Kate Bush.

See, the problem is that it's actually kind of difficult to describe Kate Bush, because the adjectives "different" "eccentric" and "unusual" are not different, eccentric, or unusual enough.

Perhaps the best way is just to show her first ever appearance, on Top of the Pops. Bear in mind she was only nineteen.


Kate Bush wrote Wuthering Heights, which became her debut hit when she was only sixteen years old and it was released when she was only nineteen. She grew up the daughter of doctors and her first exposure to music was through her older brothers. She actually hated her first performance looking back on it and described it as "like watching herself die."

I'll be frank: at first, I was sure I'd never like Kate Bush.

I actually won a bet with my piano teacher who bet that my parents would get me into Kate Bush within a week (I got a box of Celebrations for the pains I took to be uncultural.) But over time, she grew on me, though it took me a while to love Wuthering Heights (which ironically, is one of my favourites now.)

But the first song of hers' I remember loving is Army Dreamers.

I actually remember hearing this on a CD in the car on the way home from a restaurant one night and being addicted to the sound of the music. It was only when I looked up the lyrics that it became one of my favourite songs, simply because of how deceptively simple and sad the lyrics are. They're about a mother mourning her son who's been killed at war. It's a story we hear all the time. But the way she writes it, the way she sings it, will stick in your head for days on end.

That stoked the fire but the thing that really started the obsession was Cloudbusting.

Yes, that is President Snow as the dad in the video. And look Cloudbusting up-it's based on a true story, which is fascinating but would take way too long to get into here.

And maybe now you're starting to get why I said Kate Bush has no peer.

Her songs aren't just songs-they're like whole worlds, inviting you in. They tell different tales of people's lives, and of triumphs and tragedies. Each album is almost like an anthology of short stories, with different characters in each one. Her music videos often have to be included because of how visual her work is. Her songs sing with imagery and her performances are constantly visual, with dance moves-each one seems to invite you into the world with her for a while. But she always gives the impression that she's as new to this world as you are and that while she's in command of it, she's inviting you to explore it with her. Complete with her wide eyes, and hand movements, she often looks like she's discovering it all even as she commands it.

More than that, her songs are often powerful for women and girls. A lot of them are about embracing sensuality and sexuality or simply embracing female power. The Sensual World is about opening up to all the different sensory pleasures of the world, without any inhibitions. Her songs contain a message of power and often, a power in vulnerability. It's often the vulnerability in her lyrics that make her even more compelling to watch-she admits her vulnerability and invites her listeners to do the same. One of her songs, Sat in Your Lap, is about how you'll never know everything and how that's OK, because there's a certain power in not being perfect. I actually had lyrics from that song scrawled on my hand yesterday "Some say that knowledge is sat in your lap, some say that knowledge is something you can never have."

More than that, she's someone else for whom fame generally isn't a concern. She was the first woman to ever have a self-written single lead the top of the charts. And now, she's performing her first concerts live in 35 years. She's someone who's main concern really is the music, and her expression of her art. As another singer put it, she's someone who never gives the impression of making music for an audience-she's expressing it for herself. And that's what makes her connect with an audience.

I'm a huge fan of the Nostalgia Critic and I'll always remember a phrase he used in one of his videos. He pointed out that if you just give people what they already want, they'll never learn to ask for anything new. They'll just keep going over and over the same old stuff and just reject anything new. It's the people who defy convention, who bring something new to the table, that change things, that ignite a new passion. And Kate Bush does that. She gave people something new. And she opened their minds to a new way of listening to music.

But I've saved my two favourites of her songs for last. Because they're brilliant.

I've been listening to this song a lot recently.

You don't want to hurt me
But see how deep the bullet lies
Unaware, I'm tearing you asunder
There is thunder in our hearts
Is there so much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me we both matter, don't we?-Kate Bush

The whole song could be about a lot of things but for me it's about putting yourself in the place of someone you love who's ripping you apart emotionally, and recognizing that you're ripping each other apart. You want to take their pain away but then you see the way they're treating you and you're treating them. And even if you take their pain away, you can't take your pain away.

But my absolute favourite at the moment and the one I've been listening to over and over in the last week is Hounds of Love.

Remember the whole thing I said about how part of her power is vulnerability? That comes across pretty strongly in this one. It'll definitely be one of my Cool Songs at some point, so I won't go into all the lyrics, but I'll say that it describes how I feel at the minute.

The hounds of love are hunting me
I've always been a coward
And I don't know what's good for me
Oh, here I go
It's coming for me through the trees-Kate Bush

It's about breaking free of repression and restrictions you've placed on yourself. It's about letting yourself love someone, even though you might get hurt. It's about following a new direction your life's going that isn't the way that you've always planned, the safe, predictable way, but it's the way that feels indisputably right.

It can be about falling in love. It can be about running away from a relationship that isn't working anymore. It can be about letting yourself love someone else. It can be about following your own path, no matter how scary it feels. But it's about taking the risk, even when you have to face your own vulnerabilities and weakness. But Kate Bush owns the vulnerability and takes control of it through her music. It's about not letting your fear control you anymore, but instead, facing it and letting yourself be free of it and letting your emotions out, even when that scares you more than anything.

Don't let me go
Hold me down
It's coming for me through the trees
Oh help me, darling, help me, please
Take my shoes off and throw them on the lake
And I'll be two steps on the water-Kate Bush

It's about admitting you're doing something that leaves you vulnerable, that leaves you scared and excited and that you don't know how it's going to end. It's about admitting it and diving headlong in, even when you're terrified. It's about taking a chance because out of that chance could come more than you imagined you'd want or need.

It's about doing what you need to do. What's good for you. And about being yourself, and facing those fears. Not getting rid of them but facing them. And doing what you want even in the face of them. It's about letting your emotions rip your heart out even when you're terrified. It's about living even when you're scared to.

So, yeah, Kate Bush showed it's OK to have no peers. Kate Bush showed it's OK to just find your own steps. And she's probably helped many other people find theirs.


  1. OMG KATE. I have never actually listened to Tori Amos and have no idea where to start, but I saw that bbc 4 documentary on Kate and Tori was on it and I was like why have I never listened to you Tori Amos?? I love Kate so much and was so heart broken that I didn't get tickets! I think my fave songs are hammer horror and leave it open but obvs I love all the classic ones too, especially hounds of love and wuthering heights!! Also can we talk about big boi's kate bush obsession which is my fave thing ever and I could probably dedicate a whole blog just to that aaaa??

    1. The first Tori Amos songs I listened to were Icicle and Silent All These Years, which are great. And one of my absolute favourites by her is Winter. And I know, I was so disappointed. Oh my God, I haven't heard of that at all! WILL HAVE TO CHECK OUT IMMEDIATELY :) xoxo

  2. I love the video, running up the hill.