These days everyone my age seems to adore Kate Bush. Agreed, she’s been innovative, creative, has broken records for what women in music have achieved and unlike so many, she’s made it through to her 60th birthday. So many happy returns today to Kate Bush.
People speak to me assuming that I know all Kate Bush’s recordings, her past history, her personality – because I’m one of those women who really likes music. But I never got into Kate Bush’s music; I was busy making my own and her world seemed so far from mine. Now I feel that I should maybe go back and explore her music because she’s a female songwriter, and those punk prejudices were a little unfair – weren’t they?
Before punk, many women in music had that ethereal mystical wail combined with the paradoxical image of ‘I’m delicate/I’m tough’. When I first heard Kate Bush, I thought that she slotted straight in there with Joni Mitchell.
When ‘Wuthering Heights’ came out in 1978, I thought it was unusual and clever. We were also doing ‘Wuthering Heights’ at school for ‘O’ Level English exams; I much preferred ‘Denis’ by Blondie, which was out at the time and proved better to dance to. At the village discos I used to go to, they’d put ‘Wuthering Heights’ on at the end to clear the floor, but everyone would start doing exaggerated Lyndsay Kemp style ballet-mime. It didn’t look to me like they adored Kate Bush then – they were taking the piss.
What I liked about punk was that it swept away the prog rock reverence for genius musicianship, arty-farty shows and the link with serious worthy concepts. Punk brought in fun, have-a-go, fuck the system, equality and innovation. In this context, it seemed impossible to like Kate Bush and The Slits at the same time – well, unless you were a bloke, I guess.
“When I was signed, that was before the punk thing even happened. Punk was happening at the time of my first single.. Yes, I agree it was completely different than what was happening with punk music but perhaps that’s why it works… I think that music is something that surpasses trends, fashions; music is something much deeper.” Kate Bush
But in the years since punk, I’ve still not even bothered to explore Kate Bush’s work, despite the music papers and the mainstream press giving her gushing coverage, whenever a new album popped up. However, I’ve acknowledged her as someone with great talent, facing the usual problems that women in music have faced:
“People weren’t even generally aware that I wrote my own songs or played the piano. The media just promoted me as a female body. It’s like I’ve had to prove that I’m an artist in a female body.” Kate Bush
So on Kate’s 60th birthday, I have to consider, am I jealous of Kate Bush?
Yes and no.
Yes, I wish I’d grown up in a country house with barns, musical parents, two older brothers who got me in their band and people around me who enabled me to make contact with record companies to get signed up aged 17. It would have been nice to have creative freedom and time to explore art in all its forms, to work with the most accomplished musicians in the world and have everyone listening to you, interpreting your vision and receiving acclaim over so many years. It would be nice to have the security of money and family and to not have to get up to go to work at 6am every day.
But also, no I’m not jealous.
There’s the thing about actually living your own life. As a young musician, Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd did the five years ‘paying his dues’ with little recording projects, collaborations, busking in France and Spain, getting into fantastic scrapes and having no money at all. When Dave Gilmour subsequently helped Kate Bush to gain a retainer contract from EMI, aged 17, he prevented her from having this period of youthful insecurity in her life, but also the maturation, self-relience and wisdom that comes from it. Kate was also thrown into the role of being a musician with no way out – apart from becoming a ‘retired musician’. When you read the autobiographical writing of Viv Albertine of The Slits, you realise that a lot of punk girls were having precisely the kind of life experience that Kate Bush sidestepped with early fame.
So, all my friends love the changing musical art of Kate Bush that they grew up with – the one whose writing talent was recognised and nurtured from an early age and who is acknowledged as an eccentric, special artist. But what would Kate Bush have been like with a few more years of trying in vain, having no money, making a much wider circle of friends, contacts and enemies even? Would that have destroyed her, strengthened her or made her music even better? We can only guess.
Happy birthday KB! Health and happiness….. and I will now listen to your music with grown-up ears.
https://alchetron.com/Del-Palmer video interview with Kate Bush and Del Palmer 1993
7 thoughts on “Jealous of Kate Bush”
It takes all sorts in this world. So what if she had a rich family and was ‘helped’ in her success rather than having to struggle -Kate Bush is multi talented and to think she wrote so many unbelievable songs at such a young age, and performed them in her own unique way, says far far more about her than her politics and the way of life she was born into. She’s always been very dignified and women are right to have her as a role model. She deserves to be admired in the way that she is.
Kate Bush was the antithesis of Punk! She’s a freaking TORY! And I don’t mean Amos. Of course we only found that out recently, with her support for Theresa May in the press. Following which, I sold off my JPN boxed set of “This Woman’s Work” because I was well and truly done with her by then!
Truth be told, I bought that $250 box in 1990 and maybe listened to it 3 times over the years. I first heard Kate Bush when she appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1978 when Eric Idle hosted. Kate controlled her appearance and it was never shown in repeats, so five years passed when I saw “The Dreaming” in 1982 at a favorite store. I remembered her being “different” so I bought it and loved it. I promptly went down the Kate Bush rabbit hole got all of my friends hooked. I quickly had all four albums and the wait for album number five seemed interminable at three whole years. “Hounds Of Love” seemed to be a triumph and she even got on the radio in America with “Running Up that Hill.” Then the wait for album number six was even longer, but when I heard “The Sensual World,” I couldn’t stand it. It’s just the type of bloated, diffuse, whale flatus that other former favorite bands like Simple Minds were busy issuing at roughly the same time. It was a black mark on Mick Karn’s otherwise sterling career. I waited for her next opus, but not on pins and needles.
Four years later “The Red Shoes” was another mess to these ears. Even Prince didn’t help! I was over with her but still kept the boxed set for a time. After her outburst of support for May I gave a final listen to the first six albums in that box. The first three didn’t age well. At all. “Lionheart” was always a weak, rushed followup, and another listen to “The Hounds Of Love” was unmoving. “The Sensual World” was like torture to hear. It made my decision to divest myself of Kate Bush the way one would have divested oneself from DeBeer’s stock in the 80s, quite easy. After all was said and done, are we surprised that a posh, public schoolgirl like Kate was a Tory all along? Her orotund music reeks of a privileged life and I’ll have none of it… save for the one song she has made that stands dramatically apart from the rococo vapor she’s content to issue.
I will buy a cheap copy of “The Dreaming” just to get “Get Out Of My House.” Now that song was a powerful feminine statement that was unafraid to plunge deep into the realm of delirium to bracing effect. It’s much more than the girlish fantasies and poses and dry intellectual conceits that populate the vast bulk of her canon. If you’ve not heard that start… and stop there. There’s nothing else to remotely touch it. Better to spend your music budget on Danielle Dax, who makes whole albums of music at that caliber!
Well thank you for your comments. You are so right. I’m listening to ‘Get Out Of My House’ for the first time now. I’m still not sure; I think you have to have grown up with it maybe. I’m just not used to 5 minute songs….. Ruth
punkgirldiaries – I grew up with Prog Rock! Bush was a weird blend of music hall and Prog. Five minutes is pop!