It’s me, Kate Bush, I’ve come home: the woman be­hind the myth

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

T’S A dan­ger­ous game, ide­al­is­ing the un­known.” This sin­gle ob­ser­va­tion from the author of the best mu­sic bi­og­ra­phy in per­haps the past decade is a rare ad­mis­sion from a writer about their sub­ject. But then, Graeme Thom­son did un­der­take the Her­culean task of writ­ing a 346-page study of per­haps the mu­sic’s world most in­ef­fa­ble char­ac­ter: Kate Bush.

In these days of rock stars tak­ing to their Twit­ter and Face­book ac­counts to pro­vide us with throw­away and ba­nal ob­ser­va­tions on the hour, and pulling all man­ner of chore­ographed press stunts in or­der to keep the “pro­file” stoked, there’s some­thing beau­ti­fully ro­man­tic about how Bush has done a Greta Garbo and re­fused to en­gage other than through the medium of her mu­sic.

Signed to EMI at the age of 16, she’s re­leased eight al­bums, man­aged just one live tour and when she does deign to give in­ter­views – ev­ery other blue moon or so – she won’t even say if she’s mar­ried or not.

Thom­son, who has penned pre­vi­ous books on Wil­lie Nel­son and Elvis Costello (who must have seemed like Jed­ward in terms of giv­ing ac­cess com­pared with Bush) got ab­so­lutely no help, en­cour­age­ment or sup­port from the her­met­i­cally sealed Bush fam­ily and close as­so­ci­ates.

He did, how­ever, plough through old school friends, ex-band mem­bers, record-com­pany per­son­nel, peo­ple who had worked in the stu­dio with her (charm­ingly, we learn from one mu­si­cian that he had to stop play­ing on one of her al­bums be­cause he fan­cied her so much) and oth­ers who had even briefly en­tered into the Bush or­bit.

The rea­son he has come up with such an ab­sorb­ing, painstak­ingly re­searched and down­right fas­ci­nat­ing book is down to two clear things. Firstly, most unau­tho­rised bi­ogra­phies are slaver­ing en­comi­ums writ­ten by fan-club types – this is far from that – and se­condly, he very quickly dis­penses with all that “enig­matic will-o’-the-wisp” non­sense that is usu­ally writ­ten about Bush. A lot of “enig­matic” mu­sic stars are any­thing but. They – or those around them – care­fully con­struct this im­age as noth­ing more than a mar­ket­ing ploy. To have a long-term and hugely suc­cess­ful ca­reer, as Bush has, you have to play hard­ball in the shark-in­fested mu­sic world – be it la­bels, pub­lish­ers, fel­low mu­si­cians, pro­mot­ers or man­age­ment. And there is noth­ing pri­vate or enig­matic about charg­ing peo­ple money to see you per­form your own com­po­si­tions in a pub­lic set­ting – with the cam­eras also rolling for the DVD re­lease.

From Mor­ris­sey to Leonard Co­hen there is – there has to be – a moun­tain of am­bi­tion and a steely-eyed re­solve. Bush, as we learn, is no dif­fer­ent. As a teenager she fought tooth and nail with her la­bel to get Wuther­ing Heights re­leased in­stead of their choice of first sin­gle – they wanted James and the Cold Gun.

This is a woman, we learn, who had a res­i­dency in a Lewisham pub in 1977 (most def­i­nitely not for the faint-hearted), and who en­tered into com­bat with the no­to­ri­ously pro­tec­tive James Joyce es­tate (Bush wanted to use Molly Bloom’s so­lil­o­quy as the lyrics to her The Sen­sual World song).

All of which does not por­tray Bush as a grasp­ing, hard-nosed show­biz player – it merely explodes a few of the self-serv­ing myths about the woman.

And the author goes easy on the “fem­i­nist icon” stuff – yes ev­ery­one from PJ Har­vey to Björk to Lady Gaga can’t speak highly enough of her, but that’s a mere sideshow to the main event here: her won­drous and unique mu­si­cal out­put.

You will not nec­es­sar­ily go back to Bush’s mu­sic (as you’re com­pelled to do) af­ter this mag­nif­i­cent read loaded up with all man­ner of in­sights and in­sider in­for­ma­tion, but you will, af­ter this heavy flir­ta­tion with the real Kate Bush, come to ap­pre­ci­ate her work that bit more. And if that isn’t the point of mu­sic bi­og­ra­phy, what is?

Bush fire: Kate in 1979

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.