David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, has just written a truly remarkable and insightful piece in the Guardian about Kate Bush and her musical achievement. His discussion of Kate’s masterpieces is so good that every Kate fan will delight in it and find themselves rushing to listen again to these beloved albums.
Every word of Mitchell’s essay rings true. His memories of youthful, pre-Internet encounters with Kate’s music are so beautiful, they will remind you of special scenes from your own life. I was also thrilled to find him conclude his piece with this exhilarating interpretation of “Under the Ivy,” one of my very favorite Kate songs of all time:
I can’t help but interpret “Under the Ivy”, a B-side from the Hounds of Love era, as a kind of self-portrait or “meta-song” about the Kate and her oeuvre that have existed “away from the party” of musical fashion since the start of her career. Her music is secluded “under the ivy” and yet it invites you to join it, almost coyly: “It wouldn’t take me long / to tell you how to find me … ” Both Kate’s wariness of celebrity and her oneness with music and sound are recalled by the lines: “I sit here in the thunder / The green on the grey / I feel it all around me / And it’s not easy for me / To give away a secret / It’s not safe.” Yet she does give away secrets: they’re just coded, in extraordinary songs like this one.
Fans want more of what we loved the first time, yet we complain if things feel repetitive. Kate is a mighty exception to all this, as rare as a yeti. Her fidelity to her ever-curious, ever-morphing muse has won her a body of fans who hold her songs as treasured possessions to be carried through life. By dint of never having been in fashion, she has never fallen out of fashion. By taking bold artistic risks that she navigates with ingenuity and wisely chosen collaborators, the albums Kate made in her late 40s and 50s equal and surpass the songs recorded in her teens and 20s that made her famous. To any artist in any field, her example is a hope-instilling exhortation to evolve, to reinvent, to reimagine what we do.
Note that Mitchell has written the introduction to a print edition of Kate’s lyrics which is published by Faber & Faber: How to Be Invisible.