Like Elton John, Kate Bush's genius has enriched my life
Sir Elton John has credited Kate Bush with saving his life. You and me both, baby. Ok, perhaps the stakes were not quite as high for me as for Elton, who says that Don't Give Up, Kate's 1986 duet with Peter Gabriel, helped him conquer his addictions. But Kate has been there for me, too.
"That record helped me get sober," Elton tells a forthcoming BBC documentary about Kate ahead of her stage shows this month. He's right about the power of the lines she sings:
Rest your head. You worry too much. It's going to be all right
When times get rough you can fall back on us. Don't give up.
The song was both a battle-cry and a lament for the unemployed millions across the UK in the Eighties, but its words are immensely comforting to anyone in trouble, who feels they've failed and can't go on. Kate's voice is, as always, other-worldly, but unwavering in its assurance that "somewhere there's a place that we belong".
I'd grown to hate school. It wasn't the school's fault, it was me.
I'd spent a summer working in a local newspaper office and wanted to get back to being a rookie reporter, making tea for the older male hacks and listening to their salty tales of courts, councils and crackpots.
Sitting in A-level history under siege from another of Marlborough's battle plans, the world going on some place else without me, the only thing that kept me sane, Elton, was writing those very same lyrics surreptitiously on the inside of the back of my file. Again and again. Until they were carved into the stiff cardboard. Don't give up.
Now, that time seems utterly surreal. Not just the long bus journeys to a school where I felt out of place, bored and lonely. But also how bleak it was to grow up during the Troubles; all armoured RUC Ford Cortinas, low slung to the road, Army patrols, bombs, checkpoints, coffins each tea-time on the news.
The Christmas my grandfather died was one of unrelenting misery. No tree up because of the bereavement. One day my brother and I escaped the house and caught a train to Portadown.
Even that haunts me – the shop shutters suddenly clanging down for the funeral of a policeman – but, mission accomplished, I returned home with something in my pocket I wouldn't have swapped for moon rock. A cassette of Kate's Hounds Of Love album.
What better psyche-you-up song than the opening track Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)? We muttered that through gritted teeth as we hiked through the Mournes on a woeful Duke of Edinburgh expedition.
Then there's the sheer joy of Cloudbusting, with its big cello crescendo and hypnotic beat willing you to be happy. It's about the philosopher Wilhelm Reich, but really the song is a mantra about positivity – "I just know that something good is going to happen".
For hundreds of nights I fell asleep to the B-side, the mini-concept album, The Ninth Wave, as it spooled through my Walkman. Almost drowning in a stormy sea, then saved to the sound of chanting. A meditation app before they were thought of.
Kate's work is extraordinarily accomplished, the lyrics so clever. "Like a chicken with a fox, he couldn't win the war with ego," she sings of a young dead soldier in Army Dreamers, a powerful anti-war song.
There Goes A Tenner, about a bank robbery, The Sensual World, inspired by Joyce's Ulysses, and Babooshka, about a wife who snookers a husband she thinks is cheating, are story-telling at its best.
Her woman possessed in Wuthering Heights fired up my Cathy in a Speech and Drama exam. Those big piano set pieces, like This Woman's Work and Moments Of Pleasure, kept me practising right up to Grade 8, long after I (and my music teacher) would rather I'd packed it in. All though university and when living in England, the albums (now replaced as CDs) went with me.
I love her world view, which is always comforting – "If the skies stay dark, we will live on in comets and stars," she sings on the album Aerial. If you miss someone, look up at the sky tonight and think of that.
I love that in the heartstoppingly beautiful Moments Of Pleasure, when she names her dead, she remembers the lighting technician who died on her only tour decades before: "Hey there Bill, could you turn the lights up?"
Then there's Kate herself. Or what we know of her. Unlike Rihannna, or Beyoncé, she's never pornified herself, though her music brims with sensuality. She's dubbed a recluse, but I think her privacy is more because she's never needed or wanted to be a celebrity. She's not afraid to slip out of the limelight. When she has nothing to say, she doesn't say it.
But when she does have something to say, then she is beyond compare. As Elton and I can testify.
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