Changes

I wasn’t going to post anything today but the news about the passing of David Bowie has compelled me to write something.

As for many people mourning today, Bowie’s music has formed the soundtrack of my life. From the first time I was mesmerised by Sound and Vision whilst on a fairground ride in 1977, to my very first gig ten years later, when he descended to the stage from the belly of a spider, this man has captivated me.

That first gig was a brain-changer for me. My sister had bought tickets to the Maine Road gig and in all honesty, at the time I was as excited about the Alison Moyet, Terence Trent D’Arby support acts as I was about seeing Bowie. Until he descended on stage, that is.

I have a perfect memory of him leaning into his mic, singing The Jean Genie. I stood there, rapt. And I remember the ensuing days where I mooned about (it was the summer holidays) unable to concentrate on anything. I knew I’d seen something, someone extraordinary, but wasn’t quite sure how to define it. It seems that was Bowie’s magic.

Fast forward to the ’90s and I was working at Liberty in London, in the central scarf hall. In strides Bowie with his wife, Iman, she clad in head-to-toe black leather, he in an uncharacteristic Barbour jacket. The whole store went quiet. There was a moment of disbelief. I blushed. Bowie laughed. That laugh. The man-god was among us.

It’s not that I listen to Bowie all the time or am such a devoted fan that I own all his albums or know every lyric off by heart. I haven’t even seen Labyrinth – and don’t intend to. There’s just something about my relationship with him that defined an era for me. He woke up a part of my brain in the ’80s that was waiting for something amazing to happen.

The last time I felt this grief-stricken about the passing of a public figure is when Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the magical realist novelist, died. Again, I’m not an uber-fan of his, but his Love In the Time of Cholera made my brain start working in a different way and my grief was for the imagination that made that happen.

And so now we say goodbye to Bowie. The essence of all that is creative and original – who never delivered anything that was expected of him.

I’m going to strut down the road, listening to Heroes, smiling at the thought that this south London boy changed the face of popular music forever, and constantly reinvented it.

There’ll never be another one.

 

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Soundtracks

The recent ‘Top 10 books that have impacted your life’ meme has been making me think about songs that have played a similar role in mine. There might have been books along the way that encapsulated a moment, but in a way, nothing does it like a song. And those songs often reappear unexpectedly in our aural landscapes, transporting us back to those moments, in a way that books don’t. We have to consciously re-read those, and we rarely do.

So what are my songs?

1. The Surrey With a Fringe on Top by Rodgers and Hammerstein (Oklahoma). My dad played the piano and used to play this to me as a child. Years later I went to see Hugh Jackman singing it in Oklahoma on stage. It never fails to have me sobbing by the end. It’s such a loving song. (See also: Little Brown Jug. My dad used to play the organ at a Welsh chapel and every now and again I’d accompany him down there when it was empty and he’d play this for me).

2. Ave Maria by Bach/Gounod. My mum had a beautiful voice and sang in our Catholic church on Sundays. She taught me the Latin words to this and we’d often sing it together. We played Pavarotti’s version at her funeral. (See also: Climb Every Mountain by Rodgers and Hammerstein (Sound of Music). I heard her sing it one night, at a dinner party, with my dad on the piano. She always denied it had happened, but it did. She stopped singing after my dad died so it was a rare thing to hear her beautiful voice.)

3. I Only Have Eyes for You by Art Garfunkel (orig. Warren/Dubin). Mesmerisingly beautiful love song that I played and sang along to over and over as a tweenager. I wanted someone to sing those words to me, but maybe not Art (sorry, Art).

4. Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. See my ‘Why I’ll Never Stop Trying to be Kate Bush’ post. Says it all.

5. Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears. This is how I felt when I first had a massive crush on someone – bells ringing, heart a-flutter. Still gets me today, and they’re still a band I reckon to be one of the best pop bands ever. Their songs stand out a mile. (See also: Save a Prayer by Duran Duran. Said crush was on Simon le Bon and this is the song where I knew something naughty was going on in the song, but not quite sure what. Apparently, it’s all about a one-night-stand. My mother would not have approved.)

6. Out of Africa soundtrack by John Barry. My family had lived in Kenya during the 1950s but I wasn’t born then. I longed to go and follow in their footsteps and finally got the chance with my ex-husband – we visited Kenya and Namibia. The soaring soundtrack reminds me of our safaris to Tsavo and the Namib desert. We constantly referenced Meryl Streep’s accent and quoted the movie all the way round. Happy times.

7. Hysteria by Muse. The soundtrack to my marriage break-up. It encapsulated the yearning for freedom that I felt at the time. I became obsessed with Muse. (See also: Sing for Absolution by Muse and The Reckoner by Radiohead. This was clearly my Catholic guilt kicking in for wanting the things I wanted at the time.)

8. The Tempest by Pendulum. The angry “fuck you” break-up song after splitting up from a kingsized love rat. Along with Hysteria, you can tell these were my tempestuous years. (See also Hypocritical Kiss by Jack White – the soundtrack of last summer).

9. She Wolf by David Guetta (ft. Sia). The soundtrack to a passionate relationship with a younger man. He couldn’t stop playing it and neither could I. Maybe he saw me as a predator, but in reality, he asked me out. Always the way…

10. Up All Night by John B. This drum and bass track encapsulates my new-found freedom and lust for life. I love playing it really loud on headphones. It also references my insomnia, which has only recently gone away (see ‘Epiphany’ post). (See also: Waiting all Night by Rudimental (ft. Ella Eyre). This track is the sound of my new life in north-west London. I love drum and bass, love Rudimental, and I love Ella Eyre’s soulful voice. It’s my go-to late-night track.)

Plenty that didn’t make the list: Selecter by The Selecter, Dandelion/Cochise by Audioslave, Born Slippy by Underworld, Karma Police by Radiohead, Animal Nitrate by Suede, Vienna by Ultravox, I Feel For You by Chaka Khan, Atomic by Blondie, Prince Charming by Adam Ant, Geno by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

What are yours?

Why I’ll Never Stop Trying to be Kate Bush

I have tickets for two performances of Kate Bush’s Before the Dawn at Hammersmith Apollo – her first major appearance since the groundbreaking Tour of Life in 1979.

Thirty-five years ago.

Wow.

Unbelievable.

A few months ago in March, I was in the office almost in tears trying to get hold of tickets, but they’d sold out in fifteen minutes whilst I was manically refreshing about seventy ticket-website tabs online. I put a desperate call out on Facebook and Twitter and friends magically produced two separate tickets to performances in September.

I’m a very lucky lady.

But what if I’d missed the only opportunity to see the goddess, the woman I’d worshipped since her debut as a 19-year-old in 1978, when I was eleven years old? I can’t even bear to think about it.

I have spent my whole life since 1978 Trying To Be Kate Bush. She has single-handedly encapsulated everything I long to be: creatively, physically, audibly, kinetically. I don’t know how she’s done it, but she seems to gather all my passions: Irish music, contemporary dance, literature and physical theatre and do something brilliantly original with them. For some reason, my musical tastes tend to favour male voices but she stands out in my collection as the only female artist I’ve gone crazy over. Every album, every picture, every book, every set of hair crimpers.

Wuthering Heights. I was 11 years old when I first saw La Bush whipping around in white on Top of the Pops. I didn’t know what she was singing about – I hadn’t read Emily Brontë‘s novel at that point – but later I would become obsessed with it. All I knew was, there was a young woman I wanted to be, on my TV. The long flowing hair, the floaty white dress, the shapes her body made as she danced. Oh Kate. I was in love.

I was living in North Wales at the time and we’d moved to a hilltop village called Brynford after my dad had died a couple of years earlier. I had started secondary school and had begun to wake up to the world – I often found myself roaming around the surrounding moorland, constantly looking for something to happen, with our Jack Russell terrier, Sherry, running in circles around me, chasing sheep.

I was in that yearning stage – the one that is now partly satisfied in the reading of Young Adult novels, but for me, yearning was done Kate Bush-style. I did actually have a couple of long white dresses, and long, crimped hair that my mum used to plait when it was wet to make it really Bush-like. I was Being Kate. When I finally read Emily Bronte’s astonishing novel, I was in full ‘looking for Heathcliff’ mode, certain he would pop out from the rough bits of the golf course near my house where Sherry and I roamed. He never did, the bastard.

Let’s just stop for a moment and consider how brilliantly original Brontë‘s work was, never mind Kate’s rendition of it. From a Victorian parsonage in deepest Yorkshire, this woman writes a supernatural doomed love story of such tremendous passion and power that she allows the heroine to die half way through. It’s written partly in Yorkshire vernacular, and begins with the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw tapping at a window, one victim of the “unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” Heathcliff, he of the Byronic tortured soul, is the dark and demonically brooding love interest that won’t let her sleep. Emily B – you rock. You were the Kate Bush original of your day and I will always love you, too.

Back to Kate. She wrote that song at the age of 18 and summed up every young adult’s yearning:

Ooh, it gets dark! It gets lonely
On the other side from you
I pine a lot. I find the lot
Falls through without you
I’m coming back, love
Cruel Heathcliff, my one dream
My only master

I pined a lot, too.

Kate’s voice then became the soundtrack to my teenage life. She sang about love and sex a lot (Feel It, The Kick Inside) but in terms I didn’t quite understand, so veiled were most of the references. I didn’t mind it all being a bit veiled back then – I was brought up Catholic and went to a Catholic school where we didn’t talk about stuff like that. Much. I quite liked the fact that it was all a mysterious force somewhere out there, waiting for me.

In the mid-1980s, Kate released the Hounds of Love album, cementing my love for her. It was conceptual, with the two sides (when albums had two sides) differing completely. The first was fairly mainstream (for Kate), filled with what would become ‘popular’ hits, and the second had a narrative that was based around the idea of someone stuck out at sea at night, waiting for death.

Once again, Bush blew me away with her creative originality and intelligence. Her videos – notably Running Up That Hill – featured contemporary dance sequences because she had studied with choreographer Lindsay Kemp (as had David Bowie). By that point I was obsessed with ballet and dance and she just fed my passion. I’d also started to listen to Irish instruments and musicians and forming a passion for all things Irish, and they featured heavily on the ‘Ninth Wave’ section of Hounds of Love.

Nailed it again, Kate.

I have always striven to be as original and creative as Kate, in work and life. Why do what everyone else is doing when you can carve out something for yourself and show it to the world? I find ‘me too’ activities uniquely demotivating and soulless.

I remember trying to choose an English Literature dissertation topic for my degree and briefly toyed with the idea of doing one on something feminist before realising that almost every other woman was choosing ‘Women in Victorian Literature’ as their subject. I went for Masculinity in Shakespearean tragedy – the exact opposite. I still think it’s a good PhD subject, should I ever go there. I find it fascinating.

Recently I pitched a panel idea to a publishing seminar group where almost everyone chooses the theme of ‘digital’ or ‘ebooks’ to hang their debates on. “I’ll do print books, then”, I thought. Might as well go for the polar opposite. Even this blog is the reverse of what everyone might’ve expected me to write about: publishing.

‘Me too’ publishing is a thing – where publishers choose to publish almost exactly the same thing as another, if the original book has sold well. I give you Fifty Shades of Grey and its billions of copies. I know it makes commercial sense, but it’s the death of originality to keep churning out the same thing. I’m always tempted to do the opposite – I think that’s why I prefer parody books if I’m going to do a bit of ‘me too’ – Fifty Sheds of Grey was a brilliantly original, humorous take on E L James’ über trilogy, based on a Twitter parody account. Loved it, and at one point it was outselling the original in the UK.

So once again, back to Kate: alongside Bowie, one of the most brilliantly original artists in the world. Who chooses to make a breathy sexy song out of James Joyce’ stream-of-consciousness modernist novel, Ulysses? Kate does. Who uses a Bulgarian female voice choir on a song about tying yourself to a rocket and shooting off into space? Kate does. Who shoots a video of themselves dressed up as a young boy whose father is being arrested for making rain? Kate does.

I could go on.

One of Kate’s most profound songs for me is Moments of Pleasure, from The Red Shoes album. You get little glimpses into her visual memory bank – her mother, her guitarist in the studio, her producer in his chair at Abbey Road – people who aren’t necessarily in her life any more. It’s glorious. And then, she just sums it up:

Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time
Just let us try
To give these moments back
To those we love
To those who will survive

I’m going to enjoy my Kate Bush moments at the Apollo because they’re glimpses into my own visual memory bank and a gift from time.

I love you, Kate, and I’ll never stop trying to be like you.

Playlist in order of mention:

Wuthering Heights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1pMMIe4hb4

Running Up That Hill: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp43OdtAAkM

The Sensual World: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1DDndY0FLI

Rocket’s Tail: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yeimyOsdrA

Cloudbusting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K69hEnLpSY8

Moments of Pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW5hjWVS3ho