From the moment that music and literature convened in my family’s suburban rec room, the one soundproofed with mustard shag carpeting, nothing was ever the same.
I’m talking about the liner notes to a curious song called “Wuthering Heights” on Pat Benatar’s album, Crimes of Passion (1980). Who was K. Bush? Who was Cathy? And more importantly, why was she so tortured by love? I thought love was all flowers and happiness. My 11-year-old self was appalled. So I spent the summer of 1981 sprawled on my bedroom balcony, après-swim, letting my bathing suit dry in the sun, and turning the pages of an Emily Brontë paperback.
Thus my Kate Bush education began. Somehow these women—Pat Benatar, Kate Bush, Cathy Earnshaw—were all tied together, I believed. I had to find out how. As adolescents do, I set out to decode the currency of the adult world with the materials at hand: the Kate Bush albums discovered in a secondhand record store and English novels from the local library. I would learn everything I needed to know about love, gender, sex and its dark side, sadomasochism. Before I knew the word, I knew Heathcliff. I looked to the music of a quintessentially feminine artist for clues probably because Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship terrified me. I identified with Cathy, the fictional protagonist who battles a lifelong passion for the wrong guy. Her relationship with Heathcliff is the epitome of tortured love.
The music of Kate Bush held the key to understanding it, I thought, to navigating the minefield that was adulthood. She was telling me things, like how to become a woman. Although Bush was a paragon of the female, or maybe because she was, she could mess with my idea of her—shapeshift, role-play, people-please–she wasn’t above that.
I’ll be Isolde or Marian for you. I’ll be the Rose of Sharon for you.
The quote is from “Song of Solomon,” one of the tracks Bush re-recorded for Director’s Cut, a collection of songs that appeared on two previous albums, reimagined on the 2011 release in subtle, yet powerful ways. The album’s genesis was sparked by its own intersection of music and literature. After more than 20 years, the estate of James Joyce finally granted Bush the rights to Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of Ulysses, the inspiration for another Bush song, “The Sensual World.” This time, she recorded it with the real thing (instead of the legality-skirting, approximated lyrics that were on the 1989 original). The song bears a new name, “Flower of the Mountain,” but it carries the same spirit of joyful submission, the same balls-out celebration of female agency.
When I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes
The release of Director’s Cut comes at a personal time of reflection. I had been scouring the web recently for Kate Bush covers, hoping to wring new meaning from the songs that had been so vital to my tween self. (The genre is dismal, though a death-metal take on “Cloudbusting” by a band called Novembre comes close.) With songs from The Sensual World (1989) and The Red Shoes (1993), Director’s Cut takes me back to my college years when it seemed anything could happen—that post-punk, post-post-punk, on-the-verge-of-new-music era.
Art school in Philly was a particular fringe. A second-class college in a second-class city. We were girls with dreams of becoming the next Louise Bourgeois, harboring a nun-like devotion to creativity in a crime-ridden and racially charged neighborhood, hoping for a studio in Northern Liberties (the name wouldn’t even exist for a few more years), a show in Olde City. I thrived at the all-girls university, shared thrift-store dresses and wigs. Frequented bars that didn’t card on borderline blocks north of Museum Mile. The Berlin Wall fell. I dared to hold hands with a girl on the street. Cue Kate.
Give me those moments back. Give them back to me.
Ah, nostalgia. The reworking of “This Women’s Work” retains all the epic heartstring tugging I knew as an undergrad, but this time it finds new ways to draw out emotion. In these intervening two decades, I’ve become a mother and the song’s longing and regret take on new dimension. The fluidity of gender roles that I took for granted now seems like the most decadent of luxuries.
All the things I should have done but I never did. All the things I should have said that I never said.
How silly that I passed up on that spontaneous trip to Barcelona because it was unreasonable. Unreasonable! What I wouldn’t do to have a moment of unreasonableness these days. But parenting experts agree that kids need a schedule, above most everything else.
On a balcony in New York, it’s just started to snow.
It’s clear from the revamped “Moments of Pleasure” that Kate understands the romanticism of a Hell’s Kitchen walk-up (the homebase for all my twentysomething adventures). I recall the exhilaration of being responsible to no one. Back to back yoga classes just because I could. Lingering, wandering just because I could. Phone off. So what if Director’s Cut is, as its worst critics have said, a warmed-over repackaging from an artist who should know better. Who can fault Kate Bush for clinging to the past, to what was perfect, what gets more and more perfect through the prism of time?
You used to say, ah hell we’re young. But now we see that life is hard. And so is love.
Once upon a time Kate Bush was the authorial voice, the conjurer, beckoning me to create the life I wanted, with a whisper that this is what you can do (but that’s not to say it’s all joy–beware the Heathcliffs). Capture these moments, she seemed to be saying, the real along with the imagined. I was buoyed along by her voice, seduced by her self posession.
Hey there Bubba, dancing down the aisle of a plane.
They’re setting fire to the cornfields, as you’re driving me home.
Images so seared into my memory, I wonder if I’ve seen them or just heard Kate sing of them. When I listen to the original recordings of “Never Be Mine,” or any of her songs, it’s never the same, with new recollections every time. With Director’s Cut Kate Bush gave me a tweaked soundtrack to my youth so that I remember it anew, as I imagine she’s done for herself, having finally gotten the Joyce estate to come around.