Interviews & Articles


New Musical Express
"The Barmy Dreamer"
by Jane Solanas

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(This article was taken from Andrew Marvick's The Garden.)

[I'm afraid that this interview upset me while I was transcribing it--the result is that I interrupt with comments more than I should. This article is provocative, I suppose, because it seems to revel in the very smarminess and exploitation that it purports to criticize. Ms. Solanas has a very confused attitude toward her subject, especially as it relates to sexuality. Also, she shares with many other British interviewers the appalling tendency to favour her own rambling commentary to the replies of her subject. Edited by Andrew Marvick.]

Jane Solanas's New Musical Express Interview

The Barmy Dreamer

Kate Bush has moulded herself in an icon of pop erotica-- so much that suburban couples claim her breasts stimulate their love-making. Yet to like her voice and music is the ultimate in being uncool. Jane Solanas decides to give Kate the benefit of the doubt. Photography: Anton Corbijn.

"Dear Kate,

"I love you. My brother is in the army and he's a git. I couldn't tell anyone else that. And no one else seems bothered about soldiers getting blown up young. I know you care. I just don't know you..."

"Dear Kate,

"Me and my wife watched you on the telly and we found your breasts stimulate our love-making..."

"Dear Kate,

"Your being Roman Catholic interests me..."

There is the school of thought that Kate Bush is for mums and dads. Freakily lovable. The ET of pop--something to laugh at when females impersonate her on TV by donning explosions of brown wig, making stabbing actions with their hands, all the while wailing like a cat-fight.

And there's a school who believe Kate Bush is "profoundly subversive," like Fred Vermorel. [Already it's clear what the calibre of thought is in this piece, since Ms. Solanas actually feels it's of value to cite the likes of Fred Vermorel.]

Fred--more familiar to NME readers as Malcolm McLaren's old philosophical sparring partner, and co-author of a brilliant book, The Sex Pistols File-- for some reason freaked on Kate's nipples, which stuck out on the first EMI promotional poster; and went on to weave an almost demi-goddess identity for her, largely drawn from the rustic history of the Bush clan and Kate's turbulent schooldays [This is a reference to the second Vermorel book about Kate, The Secret History of Kate Bush.] (e.g., Why did Kate never fight back when girls pulled her hair?).

But among a younger generation, the school of thought seems to be that liking Kate Bush is about as hip as owning a set of Melanie albums, or else that she is wonderful. [Interesting that Kate was out of fashion in 1983, following the release of her most difficult and experimental album (The Dreaming), but that only two years later, with the release of Hounds of Love, she would be "re-discovered" and labeled "hip" once again.]

Someone at EMI said, "I've yet to see anyone sum Kate Bush up."

Kate Bush has said, "The thing I don't like about NME is that it seems so cynical..."

Those are the two main problems.

It would be so easy to be horrible about Kate Bush. A hundred, even affectionate, jokes immediately come to mind.

The press tend to think Ms. Bush is immune to satire, innuendo and downright rudeness. Somehow it's all right for Simon Bates to phone her up live on Radio One and bellow down the receiver about Kate's bank balance and sex life. The press can always say, "Fuck you, you turgid cretin," but a household name is trained to be polite. It's a shame.

But on the other hand, Kate Bush is enigmatic, and what do you do when you don't understand someone? Either attack them ("Kate Bush is a spaced-out Druid with lush tits..." is a familiar cry), or build fantasies around them a la Fred Vermorel.

I fell foul of the latter approach. I had so many preconceptions about the woman that it was becoming painful. I expected her to be into horror movies, astrology, mysticism and sex, and I based my questions around those subjects. I also expected her to have a sense of humour that would have me rolling in the aisles. I asked about the Kate Bush sense of humour at EMI and was told, Yes, it existed, but was "off the wall". Unfortunately, it seemed to be out of the room when I was present, but then I shouldn't have expected a sideshow.

I don't think the press would get Kate Bush so wrong if she did not marry her music, which is strong enough already, to a controversial visual presentation. We've all got an instant picture of Kate Bush to draw on: "Oh yeah, she dances, don't she?" being another familiar cry. But think about it: how many dancing songwriters can you count on one hand?

Kate Bush has been somewhat dogged by her past, particularly in light of the facts that she has been out of the public eye for over a year and that her last major tour was as long ago as 1979. Hence impressions of Kate tend to be hopelessly outdated.

I never saw Kate Bush live, and had no interest in her work until the release of the Sat In Your Lap single, so I asked EMI to show me some videos. I watched the Hammersmith gig from '79 and got a total shock: all Kate's songs which were finely imprinted on my brain were transformed into something straight out of Salem's Lot.

I got the impression that the twenty-one year-old Kate Bush was trying to be Peter Pan, but to me she came across as Varoomshka crossed with a vampire. It was genuinely frightening watching Kate stalking around the stage in various strange garb being manhandled by two male-slave dancers [This is apparently a reference to the fact that Stewart Avon-Arnold and Gary Hurst are black!], and pulling pained expressions with that extraordinary face of hers. Subtle it wasn't.

Four years on, Kate has calmed down a bit. I watched a preview of her Single File video: as might have been predicted, she is in her element on video. There's still quite a lot of frantic arm-waving (and jeezus has she got a pair of arms!), but when she interprets her later material, she's easily one of the most entertaining musicians on film. The ones to look out for are Army Dreamers, (see Kate get blown up), There Goes a Tenner (see Kate blow a safe), Sat In Your Lap (see men wearing goats' legs) and The Dreaming (see God?). [Ms. Solanas seems to have confused this video with the Suspended in Gaffa video.]

Kate Bush hit her artistic peak on The Dreaming album. Yet sadly, it wasn't recognised as an important or courageous album, and caused more confusion than fuss. The three singles taken from it-- Sat In Your Lap, The Dreaming and There Goes a Tenner-- were her finest ever, and sounded to me like sure-fire radio hits. But the Radio One DJs (except for David Jensen) titered nervously, and The Dreaming just about did the whole station in.

She blew away that MOR Wuthering Heights image by changing her voice (lowering it) and injecting aggression into the music. There's a note on the bottom of The Dreaming album instructing you to play the record "LOUD!". Before, Kate Bush as a flaming great noise would never have occurred to anyone. [Oops! Your editor must have been imagining his first four years of speaker-busting listening-sessions with The Kick Inside and Lionheart!]

Kate Bush has always been a unique talent on the music scene. Her individuality and imagination are unusual in an industry which constantly makes do without either. As a songwriter, she has the ability to take intriguing subject-matter--yes, Wuthering Heights, Houdini, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, aspects of war, anything from aborigines getting mowed down by trucks to soft-porn--and condensing it into song.

She wrote one of the best anti-army songs ever (Army Dreamers); and, of course, she has that voice: distinctive and constantly changing.

Her attitude to work is interesting. It's well known that the EMI machine has been good to her, allowing an extraordinary freedom in the running of her career. But there is still the pressure to promote herself, and she has wilfully taken a back-seat. She spent so much time working on The Dreaming that she knackered herself, and scrapped plans to tour. She is currently working on new material, but this is still only at the demo stage, and how long she will spend in the studio throwing her voice at walls is anyone's guess.

She is reluctant to do press because of bad experiences. She seems obsessed with doing things right, be it a performance or a photograph, and she does not seem afraid to wait. I find that a rare quality.

The interview I did with Kate Bush [Oh, yeah! That's right, there was an interview!] for two hours in a dance studio in South London was marred by the preconceptions I mentioned earlier.

I've got only one clear impression of Kate Bush's personality: she's sweet. [Two hours "interviewing" the greatest artist of the last thirty years, and her only impression is that Kate is "sweet." And Ms. Solanas was even paid for this work!] She wouldn't stomp on a spider if it was three inches wide and crawling through her hair. She wouldn't shout at anyone no matter how obnoxious they were being. I got the feeling that all the energy other twenty-five year-olds might expend on being sassy, sexy and a minor hell-raiser in order to impress their personality on the world, for her is contained and released in her work.

This is not to say Kate Bush outside of a studio or off a stage is vacuous or innocent, but she is unusually quiet. I saw no trace of the extravert that comes across in her music. I don't think I gave her enough scope to talk about the things--chiefly her songwriting and her dancing--that she would have like to.

A lot of the time was spent patiently explaining that No, she wasn't into this or that, or no, that was an interesting way of looking at it, but not her way. As a "fan", I was probably cute. [Fan? Cute? The editor has missed something here.] As an interviewer, a load of crap. For example, I liked the way she handled this question:

Fred Vermorel wrote a curious thing about your lacking aggressive emotions. Yet The Dreaming seemed to work because it sounded so aggressive. Can you comment on that?

"I think the last album is about trying to cope...to get through all the shit. [Cf. Not This Time. ] I think it was positive: showing how certain people approach all these negative things--war, crime, etcetera. I don't think I'm actually an aggressive person, but I can be. But I release that energy in work. I think it's wrong to get angry. If people get angry, it kind of freaks everybody out and they can't concentrate on what they're doing."

I thought that was an admirable piece of logic. I wasn't so keen on Kate's surprised dismissal of my question on her sexual identity as a female performer:

I once saw a photograph of you taken from your live tour and you were covered in sweat and licking the barrel of a gun. I found it erotic but frightening, because it was so blatant. (I also accused her, after watching the video of the Hammersmith gig, of oozing sex all over the stage.) What, as a performer, are your feelings with regard to an audience's erotic reaction to you?

"I suppose it's something I don't really know about. Your energy on stage dictates the character you are--then. I'm too subjective. I just see me...Either I get embarrassed, or it's working."

It seemed to be news to Kate that her visual presence might have a dramatic sexual effect on people. I closed that part of the conversation with a muttered, "Well, it must be my filthy mind (chortle)." But later, I remembered all the comments I'd heard when I'd told people I was going to meet Kate Bush: "tits" and "naked photographs" being uppermost. [Oh, well, that's proof...of something, at least.]

Also, in a later question about her initial press identity, Kate remarked: "When I first appeared, the press couldn't handle me in any normal way. I was the girl who sang in a funny voice, with 'The Body'..."

There is a video on the Video File [sic] that shows "The Body" to wonderful effect. As you can imagine, I buried the next question--Do you think women get off on you?--in fine flippant style. [This is very peculiar.] But I liked her candidness in other areas. Do you like books?

"Yes. But I'm a really slow reader. Every time I read a good book, it's in my head for weeks...Like The Shining. That went straight into a song [Get Out of My House]".

We had already established that Kate was a keen film fan when I asked this one:

Do you like gory things or taboo subjects?

"Some taboo subjects definitely attract me...I don't think I do like particularly gory things. With Don't Look Now, Psycho, it's not the gore so much as the emotional effect--the distortion. I don't think I'd ever go and see Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, things like that. I think it's sick: you know everybody is going to die disgustingly. I prefer films that work around the subject, build you up..."

Did you ever go through the hippie stage?

"No. I was just a few years too young. In some ways, my attitudes could be associated with the time. I mean, I was growing up in the '60s..." (Kate is well gone on the Beatles.) [Likes the Beatles? Well, that clinches it: hippie through and through!]

Were you ever into teenage (fashion) cults, like a skinhead (titter) or something?

"No. I don't think I ever felt I could be convincing enough in any of the roles."

Do you ever get drunk?

"I don't really like alcohol. It doesn't get on with my body...(But) I've got a strong stomach. I can eat a lot...a great combination of things."

Well, I think it's far more interesting to know that Kate Bush is a gut than that Lena Zavaroni is a Freudian anorexic. [Huh?]

You wouldn't believe how physically small Kate Bush is. After the interview, I looked down at her and, for a split second, I wondered how she'd ever make it across the street, let alone be someone people would like to touch, annoy, know. She lacks the cynicism and mistrust of the '80s, yet she's got a singlemindedness that transgresses all the pitfalls of fashion and falling sales.

We should stop bugging her.

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"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush

Reaching Out
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Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds