This Woman’s Work: Ten Great Kate Bush Moments. Happy Birthday to Kate Bush, 57 Today.

1.  Kate Bush ‘Wuthering Heights’

(from the album The Kick Inside, 1978).

2.  Kate Bush ‘Wow’

(from the album Lionheart, 1978).

3.  Kate Bush ‘Babooshka’

(from the album Never For Ever, 1980).

4.  Kate Bush ‘Sat in Your Lap’

(from the album The Dreaming, 1982).

5.  Kate Bush ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)’

(from the album Hounds of Love, 1985).

6.  Kate Bush ‘Experiment IV’

(from the album The Whole Story, 1986).

7.  Kate Bush ‘This Woman’s Work’

(from the album The Sensual World, 1989).

8.  Kate Bush ‘Rubberband Girl’

(from the album The Red Shoes, 1993).

9.  Kate Bush ‘King of the Mountain’

(from the album Aerial, 2005).

10. Kate Bush ’50 Words for Snow’

(from the album 50 Words for Snow, 2011).

Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Six). “She Packed My Bags Last Night, Pre-flight. Zero Hour: 9am. And I’m Going to be High as a Kite by Then.”

Rocket Man, alternatively named Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time), from the 1972 album Honky Chateau, is a song composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.  The song was produced by Gus Dudgeon, the producer of David Bowie’s 1969 breakthrough hit Space Oddity (David Bowie).  The song was inspired by Taupin’s sighting of either a shooting star or a distant aeroplane and was inspired by the notion of being an astronaut no longer being a hero, instead being an everyday occupation.  This idea can be most seen most notably in the song’s opening lines, “She packed my bags last night, pre-flight.  Zero hour: 9am.  And I’m going to be high as a kite by then”.

The lyrics of the song, written as per usual by Taupin, were inspired by the short story, The Rocket Man by Ray Bradbury and featured in his 1951 collection, The Illustrated Man.  The story tells of how astronauts are few in number, meaning that they work for high pay.  One such “Rocket Man” goes off into space for three months at a time, only returning to Earth for three days to spend time with his wife and son, Doug.  Additionally, the song was also inspired by another song called Rocket Man by Tom Rapp, written for his band Pearls Before Swine and featured on their 1970 album The Use of Ashes.  The Rapp song Rocket Man was in turn also inspired by Bardbury’s short story.

Due to a number of similarities in Rocket Man, some presume that this song might also be an allusion to David Bowie’s character Major Tom in Space Oddity.  Bowie has even made the connection himself during various live performances of Space Oddity in which he called out, “Oh, Rocket Man!”

As with Space Oddity, Rocket Man has been said to use space as a metaphor for a drug high.  The line most associated with being a drug reference is “And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then” with ‘high as a kite’ being a common idiom in drug use.  There is nothing to suggest that Taupin intended the double entendre but the song was released at the peak of the ‘70s stoner culture.

The first stanza of Rocket Man was thought up by Bernie Taupin whilst he was on the motorway heading to his parents’ home.  Taupin had to repeat the line to himself over and over for two hours. Upon reaching his parents house, Taupin has said a number of times over the years that he rushed in to the house and ordered nobody to speak to him until he had written the lines down.  Additionally, the song is thought to be a comment on fame and touring, with the line “I’m not the man they think I am at home” perhaps referring to the superficiality of stardom and stage persona.

Musically, the song is one of John’s most grandiose offerings, anchored by piano, with atmospheric texture added by synthesiser, which was played on the recording by studio engineer Dave Hentschel and processed slide guitar.  Rocket Man is also notable for being the first of a number of John recording to feature the signature backing vocals of his band at the time, Dee Murray, Nigel Olssen and Davey Johnstone.  The song was another resounding success for John, reaching number 2 on the UK singles chart and number 6 on the US Billboard Pop Singles Chart.  In 1998, John played Rocket Man at the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.

Rocket Man has been covered a number of times over the years, most famously in 1991 by Kate Bush as part of the Elton John / Bernie Taupin tribute album, Two Rooms:  Celebrating the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.  Bush’s unique reggae-styled interpretation of the song was a great commercial success, reaching number 12 on the UK chart and number 2 on the Australian chart, where it was held off the top spot by Julian Lennon’s single, Saltwater (from the album Help Yourself, 1991).  Bush’s version of Rocket Man was voted as the Greatest Cover of All Time by readers of The Observer in 2007.

The B-side of Bush’s version of Rocket Man was a cover of another John and Taupin classic, Candle in the Wind.

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day One). “But Every Time It Rains, You’re Here in My Head …”

Right from her early days, Kate Bush was never afraid of demonstrating her literally knowledge.  For her first single, Bush had released Wuthering Heights (The Kick Inside, 1978), based on Emily Bronte’s novel of the same name (1847).

For her second album Lionheart (1978), she had referenced J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan in both Oh England My Lionheart …

… and In Search of Peter Pan.

Further to this, Get Out of My House from 1982’s The Dreaming album was inspired by Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining.

For her 1985 album, Hounds of Love, Bush’s love of literature and writing about her favourite works in song took a biographical turn with the song Cloudbusting, which took its cue from Peter Reich’s 1973 book, A Book of Dreams, a biography of his father, Wilhelm Reich.

Wilhelm Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher who was trained in Vienna by Sigmund Freud.  Reich’s work combined Marxism and psychoanalysis in order to advocate sexual freedom.  He would often visit parents in their homes to see how they lived, and took to the streets in a mobile clinic, promoting adolescent sexuality and the availability of contraceptives, abortion and divorce, a provocative message in Catholic Austria.  His aim was to attack the neurosis by its prevention rather than treatment.

In the 1930’s, Reich became an increasingly controversial figure.  From 1932 until his death, all his work was self-published.  His promotion of sexual permissiveness disturbed the psychoanalytic community and his associates on the political left, and his vegetotherapy, in which he massaged his undressed patients in order to dissolve their muscular armour, violated the key taboos of psychoanalysis.  In 1939, he and his son moved to New York, in part to escape the Nazis.  Shortly afterwards, Reich proposed the concept of orgone, a physical energy contained in the atmosphere and in all living matter.  In 1940, he started building orgone accumulators, devices which his patients sat inside of in order to harness the reputed health benefits.  This led to newspaper reports about sex boxes that cured cancer.  Reich is also famed as the inventor of the Cloudbuster, a device which manipulated the orgone energy in the atmosphere, forcing clouds to form and causing rain.  This invention is what informed the concept of Bush’s Cloudbusting.

After two critical articles about Reich in The New Republic and Harper’s, the US Food and Drug Administration obtained an injunction against the interstate shipment of orgone accumulators and associated literature, believing that they were dealing with a “fraud of the first magnitude”,  In 1956, Reich was charged with contempt for having violated the injunction and was sentenced to two years in prison.  In the summer of 1956, six tons of his publications were burned by order of the court.  Reich died of heart failure whilst in prison just over a year later and days before he was due to apply for parole.

Although Bush’s Cloudbusting is the most recognised, and personally, I feel the best song based on Reich, his life and concepts, it was not the first.  Other songs about Reich include Birdland by Patti Smith, from her debut album Horses (1975), which is also based on A Book of Dreams.

Cloudbusting is about the relationship between Wilhelm Reich and Peter Reich as a young boy, told from the perspective of Peter Reich as an adult.  The song describes the boy’s memories of his life with Reich on their family farm and research centre, which Reich named Orgonon, hence the song’s first line, “I still dream of Orgonon”.  Today, Orgonon is a museum dedicated to Reich and his research.  Of the first verse of Cloudbusting, which continues, “… I wake up crying, You’re making rain, And you’re just in reach, When you and sleep escape me”, Bush told Alternative Press Magazine in 1989:

“All of us tend to live in our heads.  In Cloudbusting, the idea was of starting this song with a person waking up from this dream, “I wake up crying”.  It’s like setting a scene that immediately suggests to you that this person is no longer with someone they dearly love.  It puts a pungent note on the song.  Life is a loss, isn’t it?  It’s learning to cope with loss.  I think in a lot of ways, that’s what all of us have to cope with”.

The second verse of Cloudbusting, “You’re like my yo-yo, That glowed in the dark, What made it special, What made it dangerous, So I bury it, And forget it” refers to part of Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams in which he tells of his father’s dislike of fluorescent light of any kind, believing that it held bad orgone energy.  Wilhelm made Peter bury his fluorescent yo-yo in the back yard in order to stop its harmful effects.  The yo-yo of which Bush speaks stood out from everything around it, thus bringing attention to itself in much the same way that Wilhelm Reich’s genius set him apart from other people and brought attention to him, leading to his demise.  Reich’s genius made him a very special person but also caused him to appear “dangerous” to the Federal Government.

In the song’s chorus, we find the lyrics “But every time it rains, You’re here in my head”, referring to the cloudbuster built by Wilhelm Reich.  In these lines, every time Peter sees the rain, he remembers his father and his experiments.  In an interview for MTV in 1985, Bush said of these lines:

“And the song is really using the rain as something that reminds the son of his father.  Every time it rains, instead of being very sad and lonely, it’s a very happy moment for him, it’s like his father is with him again”.

The chorus’s phrase of “… something good is going to happen” refers to the recurrent foreboding in A Book of Dreams that “something bad was going to happen”.

The lyrics of Cloudbusting’s third and fourth verse describe Wilhelm Reich’s abrupt arrest and imprisonment, the pain of loss felt by the young Peter and his helplessness at being unable to protect his father:  “On top of the world, Looking over the edge, You could see them coming, You looked too small, In their big, black car, To be a threat to the men in power” and “I hid my yo-yo, In the garden, I can’t hide you from the government, Oh God, Daddy, I won’t forget”.  Additionally, the lyrics “On top of the world, Looking over the edge, You could see them coming”, refers to the following passage in A Book of Dreams:

“He was like a man who was standing on top of the world looking over into a new world.  That is what Daddy was like.  He had lifted himself so he was looking the horizon to a new world, a free and happy world.  He stood there on the edge of the universe looking into the future … They pulled the ladder out from under him and killed him”.

The wonderful seven minute long music video for Cloudbusting, directed by Julian Doyle, the was an idea collaboration between Terry Gilliam and Kate Bush and features Canadian actor Donald Sutherland in the role of Wilhelm Reich, whilst Bush plays his son, Peter.  The video shows Wilhelm and Peter on top of a hill attempting to make the cloudbuster work.  Wilhelm leaves his son on the cloudbuster and returns to his laboratory, where in a flashback, he remembers the times he and Peter enjoyed working on various scientific projects.  He is then interrupted by government officials who arrest him and ransack the laboratory.  Peter senses that his father is in danger and tries to reach him to no avail, watching as his father is driven away.  Peter runs back to the cloudbuster and to his father’s delight, gets it working and begins to rain.

The video was filmed at The Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire, England.  Bush personally approached Sutherland to ask him to appear in the video at the hotel room in which he was staying.  She found out where he was staying from actress Julie Christie’s hairdresser.  In the UK, the music video, conceived more as a short film than a standard video, was shown at some cinemas as an accompaniment to the main feature.  Due to difficulties in obtaining a work visa for Sutherland at short notice, the actor offered to work on the video for free.  Despite the fact that the events in the story took place in Maine, the newspaper clipping in the video reads “The Oregon Times”, possibly in reference to Reich’s home and laboratory, Orgonon.

The cloudbuster depicted in the video was designed and constructed by people who worked on the alien in the film Alien (1979) and later, Aliens (1986).  The machine bears only a superficial resemblance to the original cloudbusters, which were smaller and featured multiple narrow, straight tubes and pipes and were operated whilst standing on the ground.  The video makes reference to Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams, acknowledging the song’s inspiration, in the scene where Bush pulls a copy of the book out of Sutherland’s coat.

The video is a magnificent retelling of the song and of the life and times of Wilhelm and Peter Reich.  If the song successfully manages to convey the moment when a child first realises that adults are fallible lyrically; then the video, in which Bush, as always, uses her significant acting talents so wonderfully, is a powerful visual interpretation of that theme.  When asked about her role in the video during a 1985 interview with MTV, Bush replied:

“I think it’s something I’d obviously worried about.  When you’re not a child, there are a lot of things that could be a problem.  Like I could look old and not young.  And we were also [coughs] – excuse me – trying to take away the feminine edge so that in a way I could be a tomboy rather than a little girl.  Trying to keep the thing as innocent as possible.  And I think rather than being that worried about playing a child, I was just worried about the whole process of acting, because it’s something I’ve not really done, in a true sense.  I’ve performed in lots of ways, but not really acted.  And it was something that I was wary of and I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed it”.

Song of the Day: Music Inspired by Television Shows (Day One). “Jeux Sans Frontieres …”

Always one to push musical boundaries, when Peter Gabriel presented his 1980 album Peter Gabriel to Atlantic Records, who handled the US distribution for his previous two albums and his final two albums with Genesis, it was flatly rejected.  Upon hearing mixes of the album’s session tapes in early 1980, Atlantic A&R executive John Kalodner deemed the album not commercial enough and recommended that Atlantic drop Gabriel from their artist roster.  As a result, Peter Gabriel, also referred to as ‘Melt’ due to its sleeve picture and to distinguish it from his three other self-titled albums, became Gabriel’s only release for Mercury Records.

By the time Peter Gabriel was eventually released several months after being rejected, Kalodner, now working for Geffen Records, realised his mistake and arranged for Gabriel to be signed to the label.  Peter Gabriel was subsequently reissued on Geffen Records in 1983.  The first single to be taken from Peter Gabriel, Games Without Frontiers, was released three months prior to the album and set the precedent for further explorations into the eclectic mix of sounds and intelligent lyricism that pervades Gabriel’s body of work.

Games Without Frontiers, as is the case with many of Gabriel’s compositions, is a song which takes one idea and builds it into a piece with a variety of meanings.  The starting point of Games Without Frontiers came from the long running European television show, Jeux Sans Frontieres, which translates as ‘Games Without Frontiers’.  The song starts with the refrain “Jeux sans frontieres”, often misheard as “She’s so popular”, sung by collaborator Kate Bush.

The idea for Jeux Sans Frontieres, which ran from 1965 to 1999, is credited to French President Charles de Gaulle, who thought it would be a good idea for French and German youths to meet in a series of funny games in order to reinforce the friendship between France and Germany in the post-World War Two era.  This idea was then put to other European countries and as a result, countries from all around Europe took part.  In the show, teams representing towns and cities from the various European countries would compete in games of skill, usually dressed in bizarre costumes, hence the line in the song, “Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games”.  Whilst some games were simple races, other games allowed one team to obstruct the other.  As to be expected, there was a strong element of nationalism in the games.  The British version of Jeux Sans Frontieres was titled It’s A Knockout, which is referenced by Gabriel in the lyrics in the final verse of Games Without Frontiers:  “It’s a knockout, If looks could kill, they probably will”.

And then we find the sublime brilliance of Gabriel’s writing because the use of references to Jeux Sans Frontieres is an allegory for the childish antics of adults.  Gabriel noted the attitudes of countries towards each other in the sporting events and the seriousness with which they competed against each other despite them supposedly being fun, hence the likening of such competitions to war.

The character of Andre in the lyric “Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching’s is blue” refers to Andre Malraux (1901 – 1976), a French statesman and author of the book Man’s Fate (1933), about Shanghai’s communist regime in the 1920s.  The “red flag” that he has refers to Malraux’s leftist politics.  Chiang in the following lyric, “Chiang Ching’s is blue” refers to Chiang Kai-shek (1887 – 1975), the Chinese leader of the Kuomintang who opposed the Communists, hence the right-wing blue flag.  In 1949, after being defeated in the Civil War, Kai-shek’s forces fled to Taiwan, where they set up a government in exile.  Lin Tai-Yu in the line “They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai-Yu” refers to Nguyen Van Thieu (1923 – 2001), the South Vietnamese president at the height of the Vietnam War.  Following the Communist victory of 1975, Thieu fled to Taiwan, followed by England, and later to the US where he died in exile.  The lyric refers to the way in which whilst leftist politicians such as Andre Malraux had a secure position in France and rightist leaders such as Chiang Kai-shek had a secure country in Taiwan, those in the middle such as Nguyen Van Thieu had no secure country and were just pawns in the Cold War game.

Additionally, Lin Tai-Yu is a character in the classic Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber (1868) by Cao Xueqin, which charts the rise and fall of the Qing Dynasty.   In the novel, Lin Tai-Yu is emotionally fragile and prone to fits of jealousy.   She is also described as a lonely, proud and ultimately tragic figure.  Therefore, her name could be used in order to represent a country which is in a weak position during a war and is jealous of the positions of other countries.

Despite the song actually having been written prior to the incident, Games Without Frontiers took on further meaning when it was released as a single shortly after the 1980 US boycott of the Olympic Games, which is referred to in the single’s accompanying video with scenes from Olympic events juxtaposed with clips from 1950 public information film Duck and Cover, which used a cartoon turtle to instruct school children on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.

Gabriel also covers the Olympic Games in the first verse of Games Without Frontiers.  The lyric “Adolf builds a bonfire …” refers to the way in which the 1936 Olympic Games, held in Berlin, Germany, was used by Hitler as an attempt to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race.  Hitler had high hopes that Germany would dominate the games with victories and was horrified when Jesse Owens, an African-American, won four gold medals in sprints and the long jump.  On the first day of the games, Hitler had only shaken hands with the German victors and left the stadium.  On the day when Owens was due to be decorated with the first of the four gold medals, the Olympic committee gave Hitler the ultimatum that he either shook Owens’ hand or didn’t shake any hands at all.  He chose the latter option.  The decision was largely seen as a snub towards Owens.  To add insult to injury, Owens later discovered that Franklin D. Roosevelt had not invited him to the White House to honour his victories in the games.  The line continues, “… Enrico plays with it”.  The Enrico mentioned is Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901 – 1954), who is most notable for his work on Chicago Pile-1, the first nuclear reactor.  In 1938, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on induced radioactivity by neutron bombardment and the discovery of transuranic elements.

To sum up the point that Gabriel is making in Games Without Frontiers, “War without frontiers” refers to a competition between nations, whilst “war without tears” refers to countries competing for supremacy without using any military force.  Therefore, Games Without Frontiers is a song about nations using athletes to fight wars.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Two). “Our Little Army Boy is Coming Home from B.F.P.O …”

Army Dreamers was the third and final single released from Kate Bush’s third album Never for Ever (1980).   The song is about the effects of war and a mother grieving following the death of her young soldier son after he is killed on military manoeuvres.  During the grief process, she wrestles with her guilt over what she could have done to prevent it.

In the song, the acronym “B.F.P.O” stands for “British Forces Post Office”, the postal system for the British armed forces, who deliver the message:  “Our little army boy is coming home, from B.F.P.O”.  Whilst the B.F.P.O are responsible for all manner of post being delivered between soldiers and civilians, they are also responsible for the delivery home of the bodies of soldiers killed in action overseas.  The conflict which Bush refers to in the song is the Northern Ireland conflict, made apparent by the slight Irish inflection in Bush’s voice as she sings and also in performances of the song on television around the time of the song’s release, where she dresses as a housewife and an Irish jig is incorporated as part of the choreography.  At the time of its release, the Northern Ireland conflict was highly relevant.

As the song continues, in the line “Mourning in the aerodrome”, we find “Mammy” waiting for her son’s body to arrive home.  The line “The weather warmer, he is colder” is suggestive that the song is set in either Spring or Summer but despite the change in air temperature, “Mammy’s hero” is cold because he is dead.  The line in the chorus, “But he never had the money for a guitar” is suggestive that the dead soldier was from a poor background and thus, Army Dreamers could be seen as a statement on how the military can take advantage of the lower classes.

The song’s chorus finds the dead soldier’s mother thinks about what her son could have done with his life instead of joining the army, if only he had had the opportunity to do so.  “Should have been a politician , But he never had a proper education”, sings Bush, referring the way in which the Army is often an option for those without a formal education.  The reference to the profession of ‘politician’ is interesting as the dead soldier was taken advantage of by politicians to fight their country’s battles but politicians themselves are usually able to escape fighting in conflicts due to their privileged backgrounds.  Further to this, “Mammy” laments that he “Should have been a father, But he never even made it to his twenties”, a criticism of the army cheating young men out of ordinary lives.

The third verse finds “Mammy” telling of the futility of war whilst weeping over her son’s coffin:  “Tears o’er a tin box, oh, Jesus Christ, he wasn’t to know, Like a chicken with a fox, He couldn’t win the war with ego”.  The fourth verse of the song tells of how the army may have honoured the dead soldier with military medals but no amount of these awards were worth his life:  “Give the kid a pick of pips, And give him all your stripes and ribbons, Now he’s sitting in his hole, He might as well have buttons and bows”.   These verses are key to the subversive nature of the song, which suggests that the army is pointless.  This message had already been seen in the chorus with the words “What a waste”, whilst in these verses, Bush tells of how medals won for bravery and valour have no more significance than buttons and bows and that they are merely shows of ego.

As with all Kate Bush singles, Army Dreamers featured an astounding and memorable promotional video.  The video opens with a close up shot of Bush, dressed in dark green army camouflage and holding a child.  The child represents the mother’s memory of her deceased son.  Bush blinks in time with the sampled gun cocks in the song.  The camera pulls out and shows that Bush has a white-haired child on her lap.  The child walks away and returns in a military combat uniform.  Bush and several soldiers make their way through woodland amongst a series of explosions.  Interestingly, one of the soldiers has ‘KTB’, a monogram that Bush used early in her career, etched on the butt of his rifle.  Later in the video, Bush reaches out for the child soldier, but he disappears.  Finally, one of the soldiers is blown up.  Bush has said of the promotional video for Army Dreamers that it is one of the few times she has been completely satisfied with a promotional video for one of her songs.  In a 1980 interview with Doug Pringle for Profiles in Music, she explained:

“For me, that’s the closest that I’ve got to a little bit of film.  And it was very pleasing for me to watch the ideas I’d thought of actually working beautifully.  Watching it on the screen.  It really was a treat, that one.  I think that’s the first time ever with anything I’ve done I can actually sit back and say, “I liked that”.  That’s the only thing.  Everything else I can sit there going, “Oh, look at that, that’s out of place”.  So I’m very pleased with that one, artistically”.