Bush, Kate (Contemporary Musicians)
Much like her British compatriot, Peter Gabriel, to whom she is often compared, Kate Bush is a cult pop-star in the truest sense of the term. With each successive album, her followers become more convincingly hooked, and a handful of new devotees join the growing ranks of her audience. Dark, mysterious, and otherworldly, her highly theatrical musical arrangements are as disturbing as they are beautiful. "In one or two of the American reviews of The Dreaming," writes Peter Swales in Musician, referring to Bush's 1982 LP, "[her] music was described as schizophrenicnd it seems to me that, in a manner of speaking, [it] does represent a virtual compendium of psychopathology, alternately hysterical, melancholic, psychotic, paranoid, obsessional, and so on." It is an assessment that Bush is not altogether uncomfortable with. "I think that is the most fascinating thing to write about," she told Swales, "the way people distort their attitudes."
But at the heart of this intense, exploratory music is a woman who is very much in control of her art and her life. Since her impressive debut at the age of nineteen with the album The Kick Inside, Bush has shown a maturity far beyond her years, especially in maintaining a firm guard over her private life. "I try very hard to keep privacy in my life," she told Rolling Stone. "I don't see what my private life has got to do with my music. Although obviously there's a lot of me in my music. It's my music I feel I want to give to the world, and not myself."
This distancing of herself from her music may be the most fascinating aspect of Bush's stage performances, which are highly contrived, visual presentations of the stories her songs are telling. Trained in classical dance and mime, Bush is, on stage and in her elaborate videos, more like an opera diva than a pop star. Her costumes and makeup are masks that Bush hides behind as she enters the world of her music. "I don't want to be up there on the stage being me," she told Swales. "I don't think I'm that interesting. What I want to do is to be the person that's in the song. If I can be the character in the song, then suddenly there's all this strength and energy in me which I wouldn't normally have."
In recent years, Bush has abandoned live performing, however. It is a policy she adheres to despite the objections of her record company, fans, and the music press. "I go straight from an album into making videos, and it's a total involvement for me," Bush told Sheila Rogers of Rolling Stone. "By the time the video and promotion are done for an album, I'm absolutely exhausted; there's nothing left of me. . . . What matters to me now is spending as much time in the studio as I can, trying to make a good album."
In the studio is where Kate Bush the artist feels most at home; there, she is able to retreat from the circuslike media attention that surrounded her when she burst onto the British music scene in the late 1970s. The first single from The Kick Inside, the fiery "Wuthering Heights," went to Number 1 on the U.K. charts, and Bush was soon overwhelmed by the strange way in which her public persona was manipulated. One sophomoric British tabloid even went so far as to cast Bush in the role of a cute pinup girl. "It became one big promotional public exercise," she told Rolling Stone's Rogers. "I had no control over the situation.... It was exactly not what I wanted." It was not until she acquired her own studio and put up walls around her private life that Bush found her stride again.
But Bush had not entered the music world as a total innocent. Raised in a highly musical family, she was blessed from the outset of her career with a tightly knit support center that helped pave her way to success. Though her father was a surgeon, he also played piano, and Bush's mother was an accomplished Irish dancer. But it was her two brothers, Paddy and John, who probably had the most to do with shaping Bush's musical tastes and bringing her songs to the attention of producers. The brothers, both accomplished musicians and lovers of traditional English and Irish music, gave to their younger sister an appreciation of storytelling in music, as well as exposure to a wide variety of traditional instruments, such as the mandolin, bouzouki, and Celtic harp.
It was Paddy who first introduced Bush to her longtime companion, bassist and engineer Del Palmer. "I'd heard about Kate," Palmer told Musician, "but I'd had this impression that she was older, more mature. At our first rehearsal I felt an emotional involvement right from the word go . . . Her songs all started off in a familiar way, but then suddenly they'd leap somewhere completely different and you'd think, 'How could you think of going there? ' It was a phenomenon completely different from what anyone else was doing. I've never had any desire to work with anyone else since." Around that time a friend played a couple of Bush's songs for Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, who was impressed to the point that he paid to have three of the songs professionally recorded. The demos led to a recording contract with EMI. "He gave me a pathway through," Bush said of Gilmour in Rolling Stone. The two worked together again in 1989, when Gilmour appeared on Bush's album The Sensual World.
Though Bush's records have sold steadily in England, her cultlike following in America has probably been due as much to her distaste for self-promotion as to the eccentricity of her music. Still, her 1985 album The Hounds of Love did produce a Top 30 hit single, "Running Up That Hill," which was accompanied by an extremely popular video. But Bush is hardly concerned that she is not seen as a superstar in the U.S.; rather, she is glad for a little anonymity. "It's really nice for me to feel that I'm being seen almost as a new artist by America," she told Rolling Stone. "I like the idea.. . of being able to start from a musical base. That's what I've always wanted."
The Kick Inside, EMI, 1977.
Never For Ever, EMI.
The Dreaming, EMI, 1982.
The Hounds of Love, EMI, 1985.
The Whole Story, EMI, 1987.
The Sensual World, Columbia, 1989.
Musician, January 1986.
People, November 13, 1989.
Rolling Stone, February 13, 1986; February 8, 1990.
Stereo Review, January 1986.