KT Cloudbusting -- Kate Bush In Her Own Words


The side most people know of Houdini is that of the escapologist, but he spent many years of his life exposing mediums and seances as frauds. His mother had died, and in trying to make contact through such spiritual people, he realized how much pain was being inflicted on people already in sorrow, people who would part with money just for the chance of a few words from a past loved one.

I feel he must have believed in the possibility of contact after death, and perhaps in his own way, by weeding out the frauds, he hoped to find just one that could not be proven to be a fake. He and his wife made a decision that if one of them should die and try to make contact, the other would know it was truly them through a code that only the two of them knew.

His wife would often help him with his escapes. Before he was bound up and sealed away inside a tank or some dark box, she would give him a parting kiss, and as their lips met, she would pass him the key which he would later use to unlock the padlocks that chained him.

After he died, Mrs. Houdini did visit many mediums, and tried to make contact for years, with no luck - until one day a medium called Mr. Ford informed her that Houdini had come through. She visited him and he told her that he had a message for her from Houdini, and he spoke the only words that meant for her the proof of her husband's presence. She was so convinced that she released an official statement to the fact that he had made contact with her through the medium, Ford.

It is such a beautiful and strange story that I thought I had very little to do, other than tell it like it was. But in fact it proved to be the most difficult lyric of all the songs and the most emotionally demanding. I was so aware of trying to do justice to the beauty of the subject, and trying to understand what it must have been like to have been in love with such an extraordinary man, and to have been loved by him.

I worked for two or three nights just to find one line that was right. There were so many alternatives, but only a few were right for the song. Gradually it grew and began to piece together, and I found myself wrapped up in the feelings of the song - almost pining for Houdini. Singing the lead vocal was a matter of conjuring up that feeling again and as the clock whirrs and the song flashes back in time to when she watched him through the glass, he's on the other side under water, and she hangs on to his every breath. We both wait. (1982, KBC 12)


Your songs are nearly always based around a story of sorts. Is it important for you to have a meaning behind your songs?

Oh yes, I think it gets more and more so, because although on the first two albums the songs were always based on something, they weren't all that strong; but now I get more involved with the ideas behind a song, and I do my best to make the concept as vivid and as solid as I can. On the new album, for instance, there is a track about the legendary escapologist Houdini. During his incredible lifetime Houdini took it upon himself to expose the whole spiritualist thing - you know, seances and mediums. And he found a lot them to be phoney, but before he died Houdini and his wife worked out a code, so that if he came back after his death his wife would know it was him by the code. So after his death his wife made several attempts to contact her dead husband, and on one occasion he did come through to her. I thought that was so beautiful - the idea that this man who had spent his life escaping from chains and ropes had actually managed to contact his wife. The image was so beautiful that I just had to write a song about it. [The full story is quite complicated, but mrs. Houdini later stated that no such contact was ever made. Kate has indicated in other interviews - conducted presumably a bit later than this one - that she was aware of the dubious aspects of the story, but that the beauty of the concept and imagery were no less true for that. - ied] (1982, POPIX)


It's a wild track, that ``houdini.'' it certainly gets a bit manic.


What's it about?

It's all about Houdini from Mrs Houdini's point of view.



The houdini - the escape artist?

That's right. He was married, and his wife was actually quite involved with his whole life and his work, and she used to help a lot with the tricks. And one of the things, which is what the album cover's about, is before he went off into his tank, when he was all tied up and everything, she would give him a parting kiss, and as she kissed him, she passed him a tiny little key, which he then later used when he was in the water to unlock the chains. And as soon as I heard that imagery, I just thought it was so beautiful, and so extraordinary.

He tied that into the whole side of his life where he was completely obsessed with exposing mediums as frauds. I don't know if you know anything about that.


This was another side of him. His mother died, and he was really, really close to her, like really close. And when she died he needed desperately to try and communicate with her through a medium, and he just came across all these people who were basically making money out of the art of pretending to speak to the dead, and when he realized all these people were just basically ruining peoples' lives just to make some money he decided - in a very positive way - to show that they were frauds and tricksters. So he spent years of his life dedicating time to finding any medium that said they were really authentic and proving that they were completely false. So he spent years of his life doing this, and ruining peoples' careers and getting an awful lot of spiritualists uptight. Before he died, he said to his wife, ``i'm going to die before you, and when I do, I am going to try everything I can to try and come back through a real medium. And there'll be one way you know it's me, because all these tricksters are going to jump on the wagon and say that I've come through and I'm going to use words that only you and I know. It's a code, so you'll know that it's me, and no-one else.'' So they made this code together, and when he died she went round all the seances waiting for him to come through. It's extraordinary really, because the thing happened on the three levels, because apparently when he first got his stage set together, he was more into magic and the same kind of fraud, and he would do things where he would pretend he was contacting the dead, and he would tell the audience these messages from their dead people, and it was all a trick. Then it happened to him, through his mother, where they were all tricking him because he wanted to contact his mother, and then exactly the same thing happened to his wife after his death, when they were all trying to trick her, that he had come through. And it's just so extraordinary, that, really: the whole thing with him escaping, chains and things, and then trying to escape death, and this weird sort of parallel of contact and frauds. It's just an incredibly extraordinary man and story.

How did you get into all this?

I just heard about it. I don't even remember how I first heard about the big thing of exposing mediums. I mean, that was what started it, because it was such a strange story, the fact that he should be so obsessed with proving that they weren't real.

And then I started hearing how his wife was involved, because I hadn't even known he was married; and as soon as there was an emotional contact with that bit - there was some woman who was really in love with him through it all - it became a perfect angle to write from, really. Especially when you thought about how, even when he was dead, she spent all her time trying to be with him. It's very strong stuff, I think. Beautiful.

The credits on the album. There's two mentioned, there's gordon farrell. Who's that?

He was my singing teacher!


Yeah! Years ago I used to go every week for these lessons, and really it was great, 'cause he gave me loads of confidence in singing, which is what I needed more than anything. I just used to go to him half an hour a week, and by the end of the year I felt a lot more confident in myself as a singer. He worked wonders! And on ``Houdini", i don't know if you noticed at the end there are these sounds, like the backing vocal that accompanies the very last ``you and I and rosabel believe'' lyric, just after the strings section; and that's him.

So you gave him a mention from that point of view?

Yeah. He sang in it.

And the ``rosabel, believe!'' bit?

Ah, well, that's actually the words that were the code, between him and her.

Between houdini and his wife?

Yeah, and they were the words that proved to her that it was him, and only him.

And why do you put Del Palmer's name next to that?

Because he was the one who actually pretended to be him, in the song. The idea in the song is that it was the voice of Houdini, perhaps from the other side, and in fact it was Del on the telephone.

Oh, I see. Del played that part, he played that, sort of ``role'' And del's also the bass player on quite a few of the tracks?

Yes, he is, yes. (1982, Bootleg CD)


There's a mysterious quote on the sleeve: ``with a kiss I'd pass the key...'' it comes from this song, and there she is on the sepia sleeve embracing a chained man, key on tongue.

It's a little depiction from the song. I didn't even know he was married, but apparently she used to help him out quite a lot. As he used to go into his tank or jump in the river, she'd give him a parting kiss and pass a tiny silver key into his mouth. He'd wander off, then take it out and unlock the thing. That started that side of things because I didn't realise she'd been involved with his tricks.

He used to be involved with spiritualists - go round exposing them because they were hurting a lot of people. I think he tried to get in contact with his mother, and had some bad experiences. He and his wife made a code together so that if he or she died and the other came back through a medium or something, they would know it was them, not a fraud. When he died, she started going to all these seances, all frauds, but she went to one guy and he really had come through. The code was given; so far as she was concerned, it was him.

It's such a beautiful image: for this guy, who'd been escaping all his life, to escape death and come back to her. But I didn't know if he had come back, because the other stories said he hadn't, so I rang up Psychic News, and this nice lady got all these papers from the 1920s and read me this apparently official declaration from Mrs. Houdini that this had happened. I feel that they were terribly in love because of the whole story. She was saving his life every time. It's such a great story, I couldn't resist it.

Kate recalls the legend of his last escape, where they had to smash the tank with an axe to free houdini. Shiver at the stage possibilities! Terrifying, says kate.

Kate would like [It] to be the next single but isn't sure if it's obvious enough - I feel under pressure to go with the obvious one. (1982, ZigZag)


*Well, Houdini, I think most people know him for being the escapologist, the man who's who's wriggling around in a sack on the pavement. But I started finding out about a side of his life that seemed more interesting, for me, where he spent a lot of years actually going around to mediums and seances, exposing the fact that they were frauds. He'd try to contact his mother when she died and he just met fraud after fraud and they were after his money and as far he was concerned they were just making people very unhappy just in order to get money. So he spent years just going 'round to these places, and revealing the wires and revealing the technicalities and all this sort of thing. But between him and his wife they made a code and it was very strange because they made this so that if perhaps one of them ever died and the other tried to contact them through a medium or a seance, that they would know that it was really them and not a fraud. And when Houdini died his wife did actually start going around to the mediums and the seances, more or less what he had done when he had been alive. And the same thing for years, she just came across so many fakes and people that really were not true mediums at all. Until one day she had a phone call from a man who said that Houdini had come through to him. So she went to see him, and he gave her the code that only Houdini and her had known and as far as she was concerned he had made contact with her.

So the [??? Inaudible tape cuts out] is really all about her and him and how very much in love they were and how terrible it was for her when he died, but that they did make contact again. So it's all about that special moment. (1982, Dreaming debut)


*Now on the front cover of the album, for those who have not seen it, you have got your hands around a fellow who has his hair combed back like houdini. You confirm this was houdini who you are clutching in your hands there, or someone looking like him. And you have a key in your mouth, on your tongue in fact, a gold key. What does that represent?

Well, one of the wonderful things about Houdini was that his wife would help him out with his tricks, sometimes. And one the ways was that as she gave him a passing kiss before he went off to do his act, she would pass him a key and he would later use it to unlock the chains.....

Is that true?

Yeah, it's beautiful isn't it?

Is that true??


Well, well.

Yeah. It's really good. So we thought what a fantastic picture it would make. (1982, Unknown BBC interview)


*I think the lack of accessability and instant comerciality are going to be problem with some of the tracks. Some people may be wondering, for example, on the cover of the album, the dreaming, what you are doing with a little gold key in your mouth. Yes.

Is this a reference to gold key comics or what?

[Laughs] well it's really to do with the song ``houdini", which is on the album. And the song is written from mrs. Houdini's point of view. And what was rather beautiful was she used to help him a lot with his tricks and one of the things that she would do, before he went off into his tank or to jump into the sea or whatever it was, she would pass him a tiny key with a kiss before she left him and he went off. And when he was then in the water he would use the key to unlock the padlocks. So in many ways by passing that key she was keeping an eye on his life, making sure that he be safe, that he would come out again. (1982, Pebble Mill at One)


*And in fact houdini's wife in that particular track was, as it were, possessed, there was quite a lot of distortion. How did you achieve that effect?

Well the idea is that it's as she's watching him go off into his tank of water for the last time, and it's the idea that she is this sort of possessed demon that's terrified of him going. And I drank about a pint of milk before I did the vocal and ate like two bars of chocolate. And the great thing about those sort of foods is it really creates a lot of mucus and normally that's the last thing you want when you sing, you normally want a very pure voice, but I wanted to get all that sort of spit and gravel in the throat. [Clears throat] So I worked on bringing the gravel out and then we also... as I sung the track we sped the track up a bit so that when it was played back the voice would just be slightly deeper, just have slightly more weight in it.

Hm. Some of the tricks of the trade in recording studios.

[Laughs] yes. (1982, Dreaming debut)


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