Monday, October 5, 2009

Over the Lights, Under the Moon

After several years of estrangement, I've started hanging out with my siblings again. It's weird. My mom just bought a house here in Michigan and she's really excited to share her new home. Her new-found and unprecedented happiness is pretty irresistible, so I visit her as much as I can. And sometimes that means hanging out with the sibs who live around here.

Everyone has been really nice. In fact, it's shocking to see how pleasant and positive they've all become. I credit the passing of my jerk father for that change in the weather, because family gatherings used to be a super depressoid scene. I wouldn't go so far as to call the current get-togethers "fun" because I feel like an outsider. I guess that seems natural, given that I missed a big chunk of their lives. But really, by virtue of birth order and age range, I always was on the outside. That used to make me really sad (one of the reasons I decided to go my own way, actually). Now that I've built my own life, it doesn't matter as much, but it's still alienating.

I can deal with that awkwardness for a few hours at a time, every month or so, but I struggle with the exhaustion. There's so much bottled up emotion in all of us. We tend to laugh hard, in part because we're all so amused by ourselves, but also because it's the one common and comfortable mode of expressing some very intense feelings. When you get several of us in a room together, it's overwhelming.

I have to find other outlets for my emotions. Being around my family has reminded me how much I hold in. It wears me down. I also suspect that I could funnel that feeling into something creative and perhaps even beautiful, which would make me so happy. And if I don't succeed at that, I'll gladly settle for peace of mind!

As a remedy for this bottled-up syndrome, I've been listening to a lot of Kate Bush. She's my new artistic role model. Ever since she was signed to a major label as a teenager, she's labored with a very clear notion of how exactly she would express herself.

In those first couple years, she didn't release anything or engage in any kind of promotion, but focused instead on songwriting, interpretive dance and mime. Her first single was "Wuthering Heights", which she wrote when she was 15. In it, Bush channels the spirit of Cathy and sings to Heathcliff about her all-consuming love for him, begging, "Heathcliff! It's me Cathy. I've come home, I'm so cold. Let me into your window!" The lyrical retelling of the story is sublime, but her ethereal voice takes the narrative to another level. She could sing a song called "Wuthering Heights" in complete gibberish, but if the melody were the same, you would still feel as if you had stepped into the story. Bush's performance infuses the song with a feeling and an understanding that is inevitably lost in the hands of other singers. Still, hearing other artists cover "Wuthering Heights" is a lot fun. It's just a great song.

In 1979, Bush embarked on her first and only tour. It was an intricate and highly theatrical production in which the interpretive-dancing Bush pioneered the use of a cordless mic (take that, Britney). Again, Bush had a very clear idea of how she wanted to express herself, but the tour was costly and exhausting. So in the next several years, she did a lot of one-off tv and live performances and made some truly avant garde music videos, many of which can be found on Youtube. Early music video technology really suited an artist like Bush. She more than makes up for the lack of pizazz in the medium itself with her unusual vocal style and choreography. She's beautiful, too, which helps.

I used to think that Kate Bush was loopy and pretentious. Her voice grated on me. I scoffed at the "Love and Anger" video when I first saw it on "Beavis and Butthead". And I cringed when I heard a rumor years ago that she refused to tour internationally because she feared that crossing large bodies of water would interfere with her witchcraft. But after doing some research, I don't think that rumor is true. What is true is that Bush has lived a relatively quiet and secluded life, releasing just two albums in the last 16 years. For most of her career, she's shied away from heavy promotion and has been silent between album releases. The media has filled in those quiet years with all manner of tawdry gossip (so easy to attach to a maverick like Bush). But in her interviews, she's thoroughly articulate and rational. I think she has to be a little loopy to write songs like "Wuthering Heights" and create interpretive dance accompaniments. But it's as if she funnels that loopiness into this arresting and aggressively captivating art, leaving her brain completely refreshed. And that's just how I want to be.

As an example, I've attached the video for "Army Dreamers" from her 1980 album "Never For Ever". This isn't my favorite of her songs (my currents jams are "Kite" - from which the title of this blog originates - and, surprising to myself, the highly dissonant "Sat in Your Lap"), but I think it's one of her best music videos.


  1. "Them heavy people" was a revelation when you played it for me, and it's now in heavy rotation on my itunes.

    Speaking of emotion and catching up, I'm gonna give you a call this weekend.

    And I will admit to wishing you were on Facebook, BTW!

  2. I look forward to your call! I'd like to believe that the next phase of social networking will be more tolerable, that the inevitable improvement upon Facebook will be streamlined in such a way that I will find it less overwhelming. But I doubt it. Like TV news, it just seems to get more spastic and dumb.