March 25, 2019

The Enduring Appeal of Kate Bush

“Female pop geniuses who exercise their gifts in rampant, restless fashion over decades, writing, performing, and producing their own work, are as rare as black opals. Shape-shifting brilliance and an airy indifference to what’s expected of you are not the music industry’s favorite assets in any performer, but they are probably easier to accept in a man than in a woman. And such a musician, even today, is subject to the same pressures that have always hindered women’s artistic expression. Like the thwarted writers whom Virginia Woolf described in “A Room of One’s Own,” the female pop original is “strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of disproving that”—by the refusal to please and accommodate that only a deep belief in one’s own gift can counteract. “What genius, what integrity it must have required in the face of all that criticism, in the midst of that purely patriarchal society,” Woolf writes, “to hold fast to the thing as they saw it without shrinking.”

Kate Bush, the English singer-songwriter, is one of those who have held fast without shrinking, so it is curious and instructive to see how certain cultural signifiers have been trotted out over the years to diminish her. Certainly, she’s had her share of respect and even adoration. Prince, Peter Gabriel, and Elton John collaborated on songs with her, and she has inspired younger talents; Tori Amos, Björk, Joanna Newsom, St. Vincent, Perfume Genius, and Mitski are all heirs. Every year, around the world, people get together by the hundreds to dance in public to Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”—a goofy but heartfelt tribute to her interpretive dance moves in the song’s glorious freak flag of a video. She’s got credit for her pioneering use of the Fairlight synthesizer, in the eighties, and the headset microphone onstage, for producing her own albums, and for evolving an ahead-of-its-time sound that combined heavy bass with the ethereal high notes, swoops, and screeches of her own remarkable voice. She is a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty, and critics have always noticed that.

And yet—in part because she emerged into the public eye at just eighteen, and with “Wuthering Heights,” surely the most literary and therefore one of the strangest hit singles in history—Bush struck some people as a wide-eyed sprite to whom music somehow happened, not an artist fully in command of her own ideas and craft. The evidence against this reading, even then, included the fact that Bush had defied EMI record executives to pick “Wuthering Heights” as the lead single from her 1978 debut album, “The Kick Inside”; it went to No. 1, making Bush the first female performer with a self-written No. 1 hit in the U.K.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"China’s Hydrogen economy Is coming: The world’s electric-vehicle king is seeking leadership in fuel cells, too. Investors are probably right to be excited."

"It would be the height of naivete to believe the book is closed. Democrats on Capitol Hill are not just going to take the attorney general's conclusions and move on to new things."

"Netanyahu has brazenly allied himself with Trump’s Administration and his family (including the cryptic peace negotiator, Jared Kushner, whose family he has known for years), as well as with the Republican Party and Republican funders..."

"Us is stranger than Get Out, with deeper philosophical undercurrents flowing through it. The rabbit that greets you at the movie’s start is an invitation. Will you follow, like Alice in her Wonderland?"

"Democrats and Republicans seem to have irreconcilable views on economics, but on one point they agree: Small business is better than big."

"Sanctuary, a digital astrology start-up backed by $1.5 million in venture capital, made the considered decision to launch its service on Wednesday — the dawn of the new astrological year, when Pisces gives way to Aries in the astral cycle."

"It is a Vessel for the depths of architectural cynicism, of form without ideology and without substance: an architectural practice that puts the commodifiable image above all else, including the social good..."

"Apartment Therapy posted a photo to Instagram of a bookshelf with the spines facing inward, and the dramatic response — dozens of users denouncing the trend as anti-intellectual, even comparing it to book-burning ..."

"Perhaps it is time to add parenting to the growing list of “replacement religions” competing for our attention and currency these days, a list that already includes workism and politics."

"Only a fraction of the world’s yeast species have been discovered. The ones still out there could revolutionize health care, green energy, and beer."

"We’ve recently fixated on expunging “fake news” but the medical world also has its charlatans. The snake-oil salespeople, masquerading as health professionals, are naturopaths."

"...should we continue to teach thinkers like Kant, Voltaire and Hume without mention of the harmful prejudices they helped legitimize?"