FEATURE: Feel It: How to Be Invisible: The Magic, Beauty and Strangeness of Kate Bush’s Stunning Poetry




Feel It



How to Be Invisible: The Magic, Beauty and Strangeness of Kate Bush’s Stunning Poetry


MAYBE I said there would be no more Kate Bush articles...


 IMAGE CREDIT: Faber & Faber

until next year but, given the fact she has released quite a lot recently (she has remastered and re-released her back catalogue), I feel it is right to end the year with one more feature (make sure you check out the Kate Bush pop-up shop in London’s King’s Cross before it closed Sunday at 8 P.M.). How to Be Invisible, a selected collection of her lyrics, has been released and you can grab a copy here and dive into her brilliant and beguiling world. What I do know from the book is there are some more obvious songs picked for exposure – Moving, Rubberband Girl and Breathing – but, in actuality, there are so many others that many might not even be aware of! I am holding off getting my copy until Christmas and will not succumb to the temptation to see in a local bookshop and thumb through the pages! It is strange putting out a book of lyrics and not many artists are afforded that opportunity. For so many, there are only a selection of elite musicians whose words are worthy of literary hubris. Bush, as a prodigious and always-captivating artist is not showing off or getting stuck in the past. This book is a chance for fans and new converts the chance to see her brilliant work and delve into a sea of eye-catching words, expressions and dizzying stories! I will bring in some articles in a minute (that look at her lyrics) but, to me, there are a couple of songs that stick in my mind when we think of Kate Bush’s finest lyrics. I have one of the songs, Moving, tattooed on my left arm. In fact, it is not the entire song but a couple of lines. That track is the opening number of Bush’s debut album, The Kick Inside


 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

It is dedicated to the late Lindsay Kemp who, among others, taught Kate Bush dance. He also worked with David Bowie and Bush would not be such an incredible dancer and alluring figure were it not for Kemp and what he taught her. It is not only the passion and expression of the song that gets to me but it is the way she delivers the words. The then-teenager (the album was released in 1978) proved, even at the start, she was masterful at emphasis, elongation and mood contortion. She never delivers words straight: every song has a character and nimbleness that captivates with its drama, intimacy and sense of freedom. Moving, to me, is an accomplished song that married poetry and dance and has the best Kate Bush opening – “Moving, stranger/does it really matter?/As long as you’re not afraid to feel”. I love how intriguing and mysterious some of the words are; how universal it seems and, without being a dancer, can identify and take something from the moment. It is a gorgeous song that, essentially, announces Bush to the world. I could put together a top-ten of my favourite Kate Bush lyrics/songs but, to me, the defining moment is her debut single: Wuthering Heights.

I could spend hours talking about the messages and images of Army Dreamers or the oddness of 50 Words for Snow’s eponymous track and, how in every album, there are these peculiar and exceptional lyrics that make you think and dream. There is no other artist, I feel, that has the same prowess when it comes to the English language and how her voice manages to elevate already-brilliant lyrics to heavenly heights. Whereas some bands toss off words like they mean nothing; Kate Bush has such an affinity and lust for words and can get under the skin with such ease. Her debut single, released in 1978, set the charts alight and people were slack-jawed – nothing like it had been released to the world! A song about Wuthering Heights and its doomed lovers ‘conversing’ on a cold night is not something one would hear in 2018, let alone forty years back! The song is set, as the opening line goes, on a winding and windy moor; Kate Bush (‘Catherine’) projects herself as another Cathy – albeit, one who is a ghost that is calling to Heathcliffe and asking to be let through his window. It is such an original and strange idea that is masterfully realised and presented. Such a mature, vivid and wild song was not coming from anyone twice Kate Bush’s age. The fact she wrote it whilst still school-age on a moonlit night in not very much time at all shows you how scarily-talented she is!


 IN THIS PHOTO: Author David Mitchell (who has provided an introduction/foreword for Kate Bush’s new book of lyrics)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

It is the way Wuthering Heights, as a known and loved novel, was brought to the mainstream and, to many, this was their first exposure. The fact Bush’s voice is this untamed and dancing spirit takes the song to a whole new level. I will come back to my favourites (and why How to Be Invisible is an essential gift) but, given the fact the book’s foreword writer David Mitchell has written a piece in The Guardian; I wanted to let him share his experience:

You don’t learn much about Kate Bush from her songs. She’s fond of masks and costumes – lyrically and literally – and of yarns, fabulations and atypical narrative viewpoints. Yet, these fiercely singular pieces, which nobody else could have authored, are also maps of the heart, the psyche, the imagination. In other words, art”.

Nobody in my home-taping circle owned either of Kate’s first two albums, The Kick Inside and 1978’s follow-up Lionheart. I heard, and loved, Kate’s precocious teen-dream “The Man with the Child in His Eyes”, but had no means to hear it again. It haunted me for years. I was luckier with “England My Lionheart”. One night I was listening to DJ Annie Nightingale under the blankets when Kate’s unmistakable voice came on: I fumbled over to my shoebox-sized cassette recorder, pressed PLAY and RECORD and, by holding the radio’s speaker against the built-in mic, managed to capture about two thirds of the song”.


IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush doing the washing at her family’s home in East Wickham, London on 26th September, 1978/PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Moorhouse/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images  

The Man with the Child in His Eyes, actually, is another remarkably mature song (she wrote aged thirteen) that, today, would raise eyebrows but, as Bush said in interviews, is about praising men and them having that child-like quality and innocence. Bush was a spellbinding narrator on The Kick Inside but it was 1982’s The Dreaming that solidified her as one of this country’s finest artists – even if the album was met with a little caution by her label at the time, EMI:

Far from resting on Never for Ever’s laurels, Kate rewove those laurels into her first masterpiece: 1982’s majestic, haywire and widdershins The Dreaming. The first track, “Sat in Your Lap”, is a statement of intent and serves as a stylistic overture: a polyrhythmic glory whose meaning – about truth’s ultimate slipperiness – is itself slippery. It requires repeated plays for its beauty to emerge, and it’s as far from “Wuthering Heights” as it could be, while still being Kate Bush. The album is never painterly, like Never for Ever frequently is. Orchestration is absent. The songs are tense, headlong and overlain and sometimes filtered through accents. They lull and startle with wild dynamic swings”.

Kate Bush, as her career took off and the pressure became more intense, did not weaken or move in a very unadvisable direction. Whether she was talking about aboriginals on The Dreaming or, by 1985’s Hounds of Love, clouds, cloudbusting machines and writing in an ambitious and epic way, people were still hooked and amazed at her evolution.

I guess it is the consistency and evolutions that mean her words are always fresh and different but uniquely Kate. Hounds of Love, to many, is Kate Bush’s magnum opus (I feel The Kick Inside is…) but the wordplay and incredible songs cannot be denied. The ‘conventional’ side-one of the album has huge hits like Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) and Cloudbusting that, between them, ask “Do you wanna feel how it feels?” (the former) and provide us with the thought, “You’re like my yo-yo/that glowed in the dark” (the latter). The fact that, post-The Red Shoes (1993) there was a bit of silence and decline in quality did not stop many wondering what would come next. Bush was starting a family and there was a twelve-year pause until her next album, Aerial, that showed she had lost none of her step! Many consider that album one of her genius records – age and changing domestic circumstances would not diminish or tarnish her brilliance. David Mitchell, again, takes up the story:

“...By now my wife and I had a small child of our own whose toothy grin was for us, too, “The most truly fantastic smile / I’ve ever seen”. “Mrs Bartolozzi”, surely the only song by a major artist whose lyrics include washing machine onomatopoeia, portrays a housekeeper of a certain age. The drudgery of her life smothers her own memories and desires, and puts me in mind of a 21st-century Miss Kenton from Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. The song “How to Be Invisible” contains a Macbeth-esque recipe for invisibility that is, Kate-ishly, both quotidian and magical: “Eye of Braille / Hem of Anorak / Stem of Wallflower / Hair of Doormat.” Disc one’s last song is my desert island Kate song: “A Coral Room”. Musically, this ballad for piano and vocal is one of her sparsest. Lyrically, it’s one of her richest, describing an underwater city, dreamy and abandoned and swaying and recalling Debussy’s prelude La Cathédrale Engloutie”.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images 

Her later work, in fact, contains some of her most astonishing and vivid expressions. If Bush’s 1978-1993 was lauded because of its imagination, peculiar charm and incredible charm then her 2005-2011 output is no slouch! 50 Words for Snow, released in 2011, is her last/latest album and one that wowed critics. Its title offering is Bush listing synonyms (imagined by her) for snow whereas the wintry theme unites lovers separated by history and ill-fortune (Snowed in at Wheeler Street alongside Sir Elton John) and takes us to wonderful and jaw-dropping spaces! To David Mitchell, it seems he connects with an album that shows Bush, even in her mid-fifties (as she was then) could still entice and stagger as she did as a teen:

A mere six years later, 50 Words for Snow was released. It is Kate’s fourth masterpiece. The songs are expansive, loose-fitting and jazzier than the rest of the oeuvre, thanks to her lower register and huskier vocal cords, plus veteran session drummer Steve Gadd whose percussive lexicon shifts from spacious to flurrying to ominous to trip-hoppy, according to each song’s slant. Lyrically, it is themed around winter. The album opens with “Snowflake”, a slow and shimmering duet between a falling flake “born in a cloud” and a person destined to catch it. Because the snowflake is voiced and sung by Kate’s son and the person by Kate; or maybe because of the small-ish children then in my life, I think of the song also as a duet between a soul before conception (one of multitudes of multitudes) and that soul’s new body’s future mother. Its lyrics are both primordial (“I am ice and dust and light / I am sky and here”) and intimate (“I think I can see you / There’s your long, white neck”). “Lake Tahoe” is a ghost story of sorts, featuring a drowned woman in Victorian dress “tumbling like a cloud that has drowned in the lake” calling for her dog, Snowflake; and that same, now-elderly dog’s dream, in which his drowned owner is still alive”.

There is talk when another Kate Bush album will come along and whether it will be different to her previous output. Her son, Bertie, is all grown up so one is curious whether she will concentrate on family or provide something akin to her work around Hounds of Love. I am hopeful there will be something out next year and, given she has re-released her back catalogue and remastered it, I feel that is her getting everything out there in order whilst she prepares for the next phase. There is, as Mitchell explains, this never-ending hunger and appreciate for Kate Bush – even if people want her to produce the sort of material she did at the start of her career:

Fans want more of what we loved the first time, yet we complain if things feel repetitive. Kate is a mighty exception to all this, as rare as a yeti. Her fidelity to her ever-curious, ever-morphing muse has won her a body of fans who hold her songs as treasured possessions to be carried through life. By dint of never having been in fashion, she has never fallen out of fashion. By taking bold artistic risks that she navigates with ingenuity and wisely chosen collaborators, the albums Kate made in her late 40s and 50s equal and surpass the songs recorded in her teens and 20s that made her famous. To any artist in any field, her example is a hope-instilling exhortation to evolve, to reinvent, to reimagine what we do”.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush photographed in 2005/PHOTO CREDIT: Trevor Leighton/National Portrait Gallery, London

I will wrap things up soon but, although I have shared my favourite lyrics of Bush and Mitchell’s; there are others who have a deep love of her words and peerless quality. This article looks at Bush’s exceptional calibre and how was a revelation and revolution:

She represents for many a force of uninhibited originality and feminine energy that somehow cut through the marketing machine of pop music to set and break her own rules as her creative whims saw fit, retaining ownership of her output across the writing and production process in a way that remains impressive by contemporary standards. In particular, her talent for songwriting sets her apart. She began aged 11 and topped the charts with her first single, the Brontë-inspired “Wuthering Heights”, when she was 19. She has since had 25 UK Top 40 singles, from “Babooshka” to “Running Up That Hill”, and 10 UK Top 10 studio albums, including Never for Ever (1980) and Hounds of Love (1985). In 2002, she won the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music...

Her songs, each with their own story to tell, their own characters, their own unique soundscape have seeped into our consciousness and form important touchstones in the lives of those who come into contact with them. I cannot fail to be moved by the lines, “I know you’ve got a little life in you yet/I know you’ve got a lot of strength left,” on 1989’s “This Woman’s Work”, when life all seems too much. There are few gatherings with my female friends that don’t end with a mime-infused interpretative dance-off to the refrain, “Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy/I’ve come home, I’m so cold/Let me in through your window

The article talks with a few songwriters and, before I conclude, I want to bring two of their opinions in that show how Kate Bush has inspired the new generation. Freya Ridings shared her favourite Kate Bush moments and lyric:

Kate Bush is a revolutionary force of nature, from writing songs completely on her own to her iconic performances. The thing that sets her apart is her wild creativity and emotional freedom that shines through her melodies and lyrics. She writes in a way that still stops people in their tracks. They embody a timeless quality that is endlessly inspiring for so many emerging writers and performers.

“Ohh there is thunder in our hearts” from “Running Up That Hill”  is a lyric that’s always had a resonance with me. Not just because the song has simple timeless beauty but because it highlights the hidden emotional storms that aren’t always easy to communicate with someone you love”.

Rae Morris also gave her thoughts:

There’s a magic in Kate Bush’s music that I can’t find anywhere else. The characters in the stories she tells are old friends you can turn to, familiar and warm, but never boring. The music she’s made over the years sounds just as fresh and relevant now as it ever did.
I first listened to “Aerial”, which may be a strange place to start.

My favourite lyrics are: “The day writes the words right across the sky/They go all the way up to the top of the night” from “Sunset”. And “My mother and her little brown jug/It held her milk/And now it holds our memories/I can hear her singing…” from A Coral Room. I’ve attached it to an image of my own mum singing in the kitchen. That’s the genius of Kate. She makes you reflect on your own life”.

I know there will be more material from Kate Bush and you can never predict what she will do next and where she will head. Her career is always impossible to pin and, in terms of albums and what they will sound like, they are always different and completely incredible. I think music, in some ways, is less about the language and more about its immediacy and compositional tones. I cannot name many modern songwriters whose tracks leap out because of the wordplay and language. Certainly, there is nobody like Kate Bush and her work is a benchmark I do not feel we will see troubled. Everyone has their own memories and favourite songs of Kate Bush but, to me, her whole career has yielded gold and legacy. I think Wuthering Heights and Moving are brilliant staring places and, if curious, take the time out to investigate her entire catalogue. I would urge anyone with even a passing interest in music and lyrics to get How to Be Invisible as it is a beautiful thing that collects together songs from right across Kate Bush’s career – including some rarer tracks and her big numbers. I cannot wait to get the book and digest every single page but, looking forward there will be curiosity hoe Kate Bush, now sixty, will follow 50 Words for Snow and what is on her creative mind. As has been shown in this piece, from 1978’s startling introduction, The Kick Inside, through to 1985’s Hounds of Love and 2011’s 50 Words for Snow; she has lost none of her linguistic genius and ability to stun the collective. As we look back on her brilliant legacy and gift, let us hope...


 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush captured during filming for The Line, The Cross and the Curve in 1993/PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari

THERE is much more to come!