Fade in on 1988, or thereabouts. I’ve checked out The Whole Story, Kate Bush’s singles compilation from 1986, from the library on LP. I spin it for the first time and get the strangest sense of familiarity. From the very first notes of the first track (“Wuthering Heights,” still her biggest hit ever, written when she was no more than 18) I feel as though I’m hearing music I’ve known all my life. I don’t mean that in a figurative way; it seems as though I’d heard the songs once, fleetingly, some years back and just forgot about them. Possible, but unlikely, as we’ll see — the radio stations I’ve listened to up to this point have been pretty good, but not that good.
A day of coincidence with the radio
And a word that won’t go away
We know what they’re all going to say
— “Strange Phenomena”
Flash back to 1978. Kate Bush releases her debut album The Kick Inside laden with references to synchronicity, mysticism, universal patterns, the paranormal. I don’t know if Kate really believes that stuff — probably — but judging from the music she’s made since then, she’s always had an abiding interest.
Cut to 1982. Kate Bush has just released the album most hardcore fans call their favorite, The Dreaming, including a song about the Australian Aboriginal alternate dimension and one about Houdini’s widow trying to contact him by séance. I’m turning 8, and my favorite thing is taking out stacks of books from the library, many of them from the 130s, which in Dewey Decimal means Parapsychology and occultism. I read about ghosts, their stories, the attempts to capture them on film. I read about ESP, those decks of cards with five symbols Peter Venkman is using to pick up a coed at the beginning of Ghostbusters. I read about Uri Geller, that shifty old spoonbender. Predictions with pendulums, Kirlian aura photography — I’m eating it up, not quite buying it, but fascinated. What if? My aunt and uncle give me their old Ouija board, because I like it so much. I try it, by myself (I do most things by myself, even if that’s not how they’re supposed to work), two or three times, maybe, but mostly I just love how it looks, how it feels, the world it suggests in my mind. In 2014, I’ll still own it.
Cut to 1990. Seems like it must have been earlier than that; I’m not sure I believe Wikipedia on this one. But “Love and Anger” is the first video I see from Kate Bush’s new album The Sensual World. It’s sublime, the crest of a wave, full of joy and hope and love and forgiveness for someone who’s about to crash or burst. I come to think of it as my entry point into Kate Bush’s world, the first of her albums I’ve heard, from which I dig back into the past to listen to everything that’s come before, from which I’ll stretch into the future for the few albums yet to come.
What would we do without you?
Take away the love and the anger
And a little piece of hope holding us together
Looking for a moment that’ll never happen
Living in the gap between past and future
Take away the stone and the timber
And a little piece of rope won’t hold it together
We’re building a house of the future together
What would we do without you?
— “Love and Anger”
But that can’t be right, can it? Wasn’t it in 1988 that I heard The Whole Story? Or was it even earlier, something reaching out and lighting up my head, a word that wouldn’t go away?
Cut to 2014. I’m a skeptic. If you tell me everything’s connected, I’ll say cool, show me how; if you can’t, I’ll say it doesn’t make a difference in my life. But I can’t remember exactly when I first fell in love with Kate Bush, and even though my brain says it must have been between 1987 and 1990, my heart feels like we’ve always known each other.
She’s the first of the handful of musicians I think of as my favorites, in case that wasn’t obvious by now. I could write all 41 of these entries about Kate Bush without breaking a sweat. I could talk about going to see her film / extended music video The Line, the Cross, and the Curve in the movie theater while I was still a college student; I could write about the time I printed out a three-inch-thick stack of Kate’s interview archives from the internet; I could write about the modern dance (!!) show based on the second half of Hounds of Love I started conceiving in college and never put on, though I can remember exactly what it was going to look like. I could tell you exactly how I feel about every song of hers, in detail, and if I stop to think I can probably remember which is the one with the faint background vocals that always made me think my mother was calling me until I stopped the cassette and didn’t hear her anymore. I could tell you about listening to Kate’s latest album, the nearly ambient 50 Words for Snow, while I write this, and how I’m only listening to it because my iPhone’s music library has mysteriously crashed and I have to listen to my Amazon Music library, and how I didn’t much like it before, and have just today, while writing this, fallen in love with it.
For now I’ll just say that The Kick Inside is as perfectly off-kilter, personal, fearless, warm, and generous, as everything else she’s done. Like all of her albums, it feels like home. It does now, and it always has.
Blondie, Parallel Lines
Fabulous beyond measure. “Heart of Glass,” yes, “Hanging on the Telephone,” “One Way or Another,” yes, yes. “Sunday Girl,” good god yes, “Fade Away and Radiate,” absolutely, sure, “Picture This,” giant blinking neon YES yes YES. Watching you shower: a skyful of thunder. My telephone number. Yeah.
Talking Heads, More Songs About Buildings and Food
Not as immediate as 77, but it still contains some of my favorite Talking Heads songs, including the hilarious “Artists Only,” the magnificent “Found a Job,” the shimmering “The Girls Want to Be With the Girls,” the unstoppable “Thank You For Sending Me an Angel.”
XTC, Go 2
“I Am the Audience” is just okay. The rest of this is raw young genius. It’s XTC when they still had Barry Andrews, so there’s all sorts of swirly carnival organ all over it. The feminism’s a little fuzzy, but there’s an early hedonistic draft of “Dear God” here under the title “Jumping in Gomorrah.”
- Devo, Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!
- Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Scream