All the Love

All the Love

A mostly unloved dirge on The Dreaming’s tails-side, “All the Love” exists as a buffer between the uxorial laments of “Night of the Swallow” and “Houdini.” Little distinguishes it from its fellow LP tracks — its lyrics scan like an embryonic “Houdini” or “Suspended in Gaffa,” presaging future such Bush songs as “Hello Earth” or “Never Be Mine.” Admittedly the song’s points of intrigue are mostly limited to what comes after it, with “All the Love” mostly existing to get The Dreaming to ten songs. 

Sonically, “All the Love” sounds like a callback to Never for Ever, to the point one wonders if the song is a holdover. The song’s centering of melody over rhythm is an aberration on the rhythm-preoccupied Dreaming, with Stuart Elliott’s drums quietly accentuating things rather than taking a “lead instrument” role. The relatively high position of Del Palmer’s bass playing in the mix also feels superannuated and reminiscent of “Blow Away (For Bill)” or “Egypt,” some of the oldest songs in Bush’s studio career. “All the Love” has some flourishes characteristic of the mid-80s — the sampling of phone conversations is the sort of thing Pink Floyd or The Smiths did around the same time (see The Wall, “Rubber Ring”). Nonetheless, “All the Love” sounds old, an adscititious swan song for Bush’s early style. 

There’s certainly a callback to the subject matter of Never for Ever, nominally catastrophes that damage and alienate families. While Never for Ever’s songs are largely narrative, The Dreaming deals with Modernist techniques of abstraction, dissociation, and stream-of-consciousness, shifting the dramatic arena to the human mind. “All the Love” is social, even amusingly caustic in its distance from human living. Its lyrical triumph, “the first time I died…”, setting up an account of a person whose deathbed experience includes “good friends of mine” who “hadn’t been near me for years.” Where the hell have you been? Why are you doing this performative fraternal visitation now? The answer comes as “we needed you/to love us too/we waited for your move.” We’re given a set of people (or perhaps just one faction) who struggles to love people and relate to them properly.

There seems to be some concession of wrongdoing, admitting she wasn’t the most forthcoming to her friends (“but I know I have shown/that I stand at the gates alone”). But she tempers this with an admission that the emotional distance was mutual: “I needed you to love me too.” There’s even a sort of “if I could start again” concession, as the character asserts the inevitability of reincarnation (or afterlife?) with “the next time I dedicate/my life’s work to the friends I make/I give them what they want to hear.” Its grief for a lost, atemporal past binds itself to the effluvium of old and new styles “All the Love” embodies. In the words of Bauhaus, “all we ever wanted was everything. All we ever got was cold.”

(Bush.) Bush — piano, Fairlight. Palmer — bass. Thornton — choirboy. Launay — engineer (backing tracks). Hardiman — engineer (overdubs). Backing tracks recorded at Townhouse Studios May – Jun ’81. Overdubs at Odyssey Aug – Dec ’81, Jan – Mar ’82. Mixed Mar – May ’82. Released 13 September 1982. Screenshot from Don’t Look Now (1973, dir. Nicolas Roeg).

Houdini

Houdini

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The Dreaming’s sessions with Nick Launay exemplify the album’s episodic production. The songs originally engineered by Hugh Padgham explore relationships between headspace and environment and how unreleasing trauma and mental illness can be cathartic. Bush and Launay’s songs are teeming with trauma and catharsis. Frequently they anatomize historical subjects, particularly subaltern or marginalized narratives. An overarching focal point tends to be enunciating the unspoken. Perhaps this was Bush’s way of asserting agency over a largely masculine music industry that had thus far limited her and kept her from true leadership positions in the creation of her albums. “[It was] very dark and about pain and negativity and the way people treat each other badly,” Bush asserted to Canadian broadcaster Daniel Richer in 1985. “Perhaps the biggest influence on the last album was the fact that I was producing it and so I could actually do what I really wanted to for the first time.”

“Houdini” is the face of The Dreaming. It’s one of the only Bush sleeves where the image is supplied by the song. Its aspect, another creation of fraternal mainstay John Carder Bush, is a sepia photograph in medium closeup depicting a slightly agrestal Bush with her head tilted to the right, with her mouth open wide revealing a key on her tongue, which she passes to a faceless Del Palmer. This image derives from the lyrics of “Houdini,” which impart the fictionalized yet broadly historical experience of Bess Houdini, widow of premier escapologist Harry Houdini, who tries to contact her late husband through necromancy (“I wait at the table/hold hands with weeping strangers/wait for you/to join the group”). The relevant lyric “with a kiss I’d pass the key/and feel your tongue, teasing and receiving,” is unique among pop lyrics, as the overwhelming majority of them don’t contain idle recollections of Frenching a deceased spouse. It’s a bald-faced and ostentatiously move that flags how uninterested in notions of “normality” Bush is. 

This furthermore indicates the subversive narratology Bush is pursuing. It’s quite boldly literal in the Carder Bush photo, where Del Palmer’s face is turned away from the frame. There’s an occlusion of “great man” narratives to “Houdini.” It’s named after one of the 20th century’s great performers, but it’s largely defined by his absence. As a result, the story has to be about the widowed Bess and her grief. Impressively, “Houdini” avoids elegy for the accomplishments of a Great Man, opting instead for the love Bess Houdini bore for her husband and the ecstatically weird lengths she went to demonstrate that. 

The song is far from a stringent one. “Houdini” is fueled by anguished conniptions rather than melodic coherence. The verse initially sounds like “The Infant Kiss” or some other perfectly normal song with its piano balladry in Eb minor with a progression that finishes on a major tonic chord. It commences as a séance with mourners preparing to reach into the ether (“the tambourine jingle-jangles/the medium roams and rambles”). The refrain is the apex of Bush shrieks, culminating in a gravely, agonized “WITH YOUR LIFE/THE ONLY THING IN MY MIND/WE PULL YOU FROM THE WATER!” The result is hardly melodic — it’s willfully ugly, produced by Bush eating lots of chocolate and drinking milk to sabotage her own voice. Whether or not the experiment works, it doesn’t seem like Bush cares — she wants this to sound raw and ugly.

We’ve talked about The Dreaming’s equation of the mind and spirituality quite often, so running into a rationalist-leaning figure like Houdini is quite something. A man who sought to discredit mediums during his lifetime, Harry made a pact with Bess to attempt contact after his death with a passcode only they knew, which would prove the medium who discovered was legitimate. In the song, this even seems to work — “this is not trick of his/this is your magic.” Houdini specialized in illusions, but if said illusions worked, that seems about equivalent to his magic being real. Curiouser is how the song legitimizes the séance, as it seems to transcend spacetime as it takes Bess back to her past assisting her husband’s dangerous performances. “You hit the water” comes across as temporal fuckery of the kind found in Bush’s favorite movie, Don’t Look Now. Linearity this ain’t. Functionality is irrelevant to Bush. Often she tries for beauty, but just this once Kate Bush fiercely clutches onto the awfulness of emotional reality. 

(Bush.) Personnel: Bush — vocals, piano, Fairlight, production. Weber — bass. Elliott — drums. Powell, Lawson — strings (writing and arrangement). Farrell — spoken word. Palmer — spoken word. Launay — engineer (backing tracks). Hardiman — engineer (overdubs). Backing tracks recorded at Townhouse Studios May – Jun ’81. Overdubs at Odyssey Aug – Dec ’81, Jan – Mar ’82. Mixed Mar – May ’82. Released on The Dreaming 13 September 1982. Issued as B-side to “Night of the Swallow” in Ireland, 21 November 1983. Photo: Bess Houdini and her husband (1907, Musée McCord).

Lord of the Reedy River

(Donovan, Goodbye Again)
(Donovan, If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium)
(Donovan, HMS Donovan)
(Hopkin, Postcard)
(Bush, “Sat In Your Lap” B-side)

CW: brief discussion of rape.

Cycling several incarnations before appearing on record, Scottish singer Donovan Leitch’s “Lord of the Reedy River” is a minor classic of his career. Getting performances on a 1968 TV programme and a 1969 celebrities’ demo reel romcom before appearing on Donovan’s 1971 double LP HMS Donovan. Serene, erotic, creepy, and sensuous all at once, Donovan somehow manages to make the Greek myth of Leda and the swan, a fable in which Zeus seduces or rapes (depending on the telling; Ovid, surprisingly, removes the rape, while Yeats writes about it as one) the Aetolian princess Leda. Donovan’s telling is a strictly romantic and erotic one, rejecting the sexual violence of the tale in favor of a sensuous, mythical love affair (“she fell in love with a swan” has no business sounding as beautiful as it does, but that’s Donovan). It’s a stunning piece of work that fixates on the uncanny and eerie aspects of the tale (“he filled her with song,” “she in my boat long hours/he in his royal plumage”). The song’s sense of place is potent and inextricable from its sensuousness (“black was the night and starry,” “she threw him some flowers/in the reedy river”). Most delightfully, the song has a Shape of Water ending, with the final act of its drama being the “glide” of “two swans.” With its chilling harmonies, palpitating vocal, uncanny vocal, and genuine lyrical beauty, “Lord of the Reedy River” is a masterpiece, an unjustly forgotten landmark of late-60s-to-early-70s folk music. 

Its album of origin HMS Donovan was a favorite of Kate Bush, a long-standing Donovan fan. Wavering between slating “Sat in Your Lap” with a cover of either Donovan or Captain Beefheart (the latter of which is mind-boggling to think about), Bush opted to cover the melodic Scotsman after serendipitously watching him perform on a Crystal Gayle programme. The choice was an interesting if unsurprising one — Donovan is as much a part of the British songwriting tradition Bush hails from as Ferry or Bowie or Waters. Yet the form of mystical, childlike ballad exemplified by “Lord of the Reedy River” was something of Bush’s past, an aesthetic that Bush had largely moved past by when she recorded The Kick Inside. This was an unexpected return to her musical roots. 

And yet the song works as a unit of Bush’s Dreaming era. The sensuous, place-centered ethos of “Lord of the Reedy River” is the sort of thing Bush explores throughout her four albums we’ve read about. The mythical aspect of Bush’s work has never departed, nor has her tendency to explore complex subjects through a perspective of searing childlike simplicity (one of the most useful critical tools for exploring the endemic truths of myth). Simplicity isn’t inherently equivalent to reductivism — simple truths have fractal implications. Certainly “Lord of the Reedy River” is both unostentatious and unnerving. Creeping into the senses through such channels of voice and harmony is as erotic as folk songs get.

In keeping with Bush’s explorations of psychological emancipation, “Lord of the Reedy River” fits in with Bush’s recent musings on transformations and desire. Who amongst us doesn’t at some point get so horny they turn into a swan? (I’ve read your posts, Kate Bush Forums.) It’s a treatment of childhood fantasy as a realization of deep-rooted desires. 

Bush niftily makes the song hers. She appears to be the only performer on the track, whose only instrumentation appears to be Bush’s Fairlight. Bush’s vocal is soft and throaty at once — she recorded it by the Townhouse’s disused swimming pool so her voice could “reflect” the water. Perhaps most crucial to the cover’s functionality is Bush’s change of pronouns from third person to first person — “she fell in love with a swan” becomes “I fell in love with a swan.” The result is Kate Bush singing about getting topped by a swan, the sort of surreal psychosexuality that appears in her later snowman-fucking song “Misty.” Nonetheless, Bush’s cover makes it feel like Leda’s story has come full circle, shaping her narrative into a love story of the sublime and the authorial presence of a woman.

The source material makes this tricky. In many tellings, “Leda and the Swan” exemplifies the predatory behavior of Zeus, the Greek pantheon’s patron deity of rape, with Zeus raping Leda. The plot varies by account (a knock-on effect of misogynistic sexual violence’s normalization in classical antiquity) and it eventually became a motif of classical eroticism in the Italian Renaissance, when the ostensible lovers were painted by da Vinci and Michelangelo. Yet Leda’s part in this myth has been sadly occluded. Greek mythmaking was populated by writers like Ovid and Aeschylus, who weren’t averse to telling stories about rape. In the myths, Leda becomes a Spartan queen, but this is occluded by her memorialization as exclusively a rape victim or a plaything of Renaissance artists and Classical playwrights and poets.

Donovan gets the ball rolling on repairing Leda’s story by jettisoning its violent misogyny. Bush takes this a step further by stressing the myth’s quintessential weirdness and providing the story with a woman to tell it. It’s one of Bush’s most idiosyncratic minor works, and an aberration in her greater career. An undervalued gem of Bush’s B-sides.

(Leitch.) Recorded May/June 1981 at Townhouse Studios, Shepherd’s Bush. Released as B-side to “Sat In Your Lap” on 21 June 1981. Personnel: Bush — vocals, Fairlight(?), production. Launay — engineer. Gray — assistant engineer. Leda and the Swan painted by Michelangelo in 1530. Screencap from If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969, dir. Mel Stuart).

Suspended in Gaffa

Suspended in Gaffa
2018 Remaster
Houba Houba (France, ‘82)
Bananas (West Germany, ’82)
Music video

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After a few weeks working with Bush in Townhouse Studios, a mollified Hugh Padgham was called to musical duties elsewhere. Bush commissioned the younger Nick Launay, who was coming off production duties on Public Image Ltd.’s drums-and-reverb LP Flowers of Romance, to replace Padgham. The close ages of the two collaborators (Bush was 22, Launay was 20) assisted their rush into youthful creative maximalism. “[It] really was like the kids are in control,” effused Launay. “I came from the punk rock thing, and to me she was punk rock.” Bush and Launay’s work together produced an attitude of kitchen sink realism, if you define kitchen sink realism as “we’ll throw the kitchen sink off a cliff and it’ll sound real neat!”

Bush’s newfound role as producer is at the heart of The Dreaming. For all intents and purposes, she was now completely in charge of her work and exerted her agency by trying out every idea she had. Collaborators were often stymied by her ideas (Aramaic instructions written in disappearing ink do not tend to endear a producer to their session musicians) — Brian Bath was particularly flummoxed, and Del Palmer has admitted in the years since The Dreaming’s release that Bush has since become “a bit more discerning.” To stake out her own territory meant Bush had to embrace uncertainty, resulting in the most restive and strangest record of her life.

Public response was ambiguous. In the years since its release, The Dreaming has gained a reputation as Bush’s most underrated album. This is a slight exaggeration, if a basically understandable one. The Dreaming peaked at #3 in the UK, but it domestically sold a relative paucity of 60,000 units (to compare, Never for Ever sold 100,000 UK units, and even Lionheart hit 300,000). It wasn’t close to a commercial failure by any means, but it was decidedly less popular than Bush’s prior work. This can be explained by a number of factors, from the obvious aesthetic ones (The Dreaming’s maximalism was viewed by some as a bridge too far for Bush), to timing (“Sat In Your Lap” predated the album’s release by over a year), and EMI’s timid promotional campaign. Reviews were mixed, if better than they’re sometimes declared in retrospect. The indelibly truculent Robert Christgau offered The Dreaming a conditionally approbatory review (“the most impressive Fripp/Gabriel-style art-rock album of the postpunk [sic] refulgence makes lines like ‘I love life’ and ‘some say knowledge is something that you never have’ say something”). Melody Maker’s Colin Irwin effused about Bush’s “fearsome twisted voice” for “put[ting] the fear of God in me,” while future Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant observed Bush’s efforts to “become less commercial.” Record Mirror’s Daniella Soave curtly acknowledged Bush’s ambitions while saying “until I’ve heard it another 50 times I haven’t a clue.” What stands out in the majority of reviews is their areas of accord: everyone agreed that The Dreaming was defined by multiplicity, weirdness, a distinct non-commercialism, and a willingness to try everything. Even if listeners couldn’t agree on whether The Dreaming worked, everyone had a grasp on what it was.

This degree of unified disagreement speaks volumes on the nature of The Dreaming. For a pointedly (and willfully) unkempt LP, its nucleus of formal ambition and complex emotional catharsis is remarkably consistent. The album boils down to an exploration of fairly close-knit concepts: the liberatory effects of madness in women, the untethering of the subconscious, the symbiosis of body and mind, and the aching voice of repressed people. Its ethos is a cathartic one, about freeing one’s emotions from self-imposed bondage. The resulting emotions can be scary, but The Dreaming treats that as neither positive nor negative, merely a fact of having emotions.

One perspective that appears throughout The Dreaming is that of childhood and play — it treats the untethering of the subconscious as revealing a small, confused child. From one perspective of maturity, people can be viewed as complex adult emotions and cynicism burying a repressed inner child. “Suspended in Gaffa” certainly lends itself to this reading. Panto-like in its musical qualities (and certainly in its music video, which we’ll get back to shortly), it’s a waltz in C major, playful and initially parsimonious. Par for the course in The Dreaming, the verse’s chord progressions follow the rhythm in shape, particularly with its descending patterns of two major chords followed by minor chords (V-IV-ii, then V-IV-vi-iii), with a result of nearly staccato chipperness and a less cheerful supertonic or submediant. Its buoyancy is something of a ploy though — Bush’s vocal, while acrobatic in its emphatic lunges towards certain syllables (“OUT/in the GARden/there’s HALF of a HEAVen”), maintains a certain reservation often running lyrics together (“Whenever I’ve sung this song I’ve hoped that my breath would hold out for the first few phrases, as there is no gap to breathe in,” Bush wrote later), as Bush sings primarily from the back of her throat with results that sound like she’s gulping the lyrics, likely a frustrating move to listeners with less patience for Bush’s sometimes unintelligible lyrics. “FEET Of MUD” and “IT ALL GOES SLO-MO” are certainly B.V.s for the ages.

Yet at the core of this excess, there’s a simplicity to “Suspended in Gaffa.” It has the same expansive and consumptive obsessions as its sister songs — youthful aporia, an obsession with an unreachable god, a desire to unite with the subconscious. Yet it filters this through a childlike, somewhat Carrollian filter, with a surfeit of internal rhymes, abstract nouns, and ambiguous pronouns like “out in the garden/there’s half of a heaven/and we’re only bluffing,” “I try to get nearer/but as it gets clearer/there’s something appears in the way,” “I pull out the plank and say/thankee for yanking me back/to the fact that there’s always something to distract.”

The lyric is an endless series of prevarications, often relating to knowledge, or the unattainability of it (see “Sat in Your Lap”). The refrain’s “not till I’m ready for you,” “can I have it all now?/we can’t have it all,” “but they’ve told us/unless we can prove that we’re doing it/we can’t have it all” speak to an “all or nothing” approach, not identifying exactly what’s at stake so much as its urgency. Desire gets codified as an end in itself, often for a god (“I caught a glimpse of a god/all shining and bright”) — “until I’m ready for you” gives away the game (constructive spiritual union with a deity is impossible if one is unready to consent). “The idea of the song is that of being given a glimpse of ‘God’ — something that we dearly want — but being told that unless we work for it, we will never see it again, and even then, we might not be worthy of it,” Bush explained to her fan club. Tapping into the subconscious is a difficulty — when one has a glimpse of something wondrous, there’s a desperation to retrieve the feelings associated with it. “Everything or nothing” can be a neurodivergent impulse, but it’s also how a taste of the sublime works.

The nature of aporia in “Suspended in Gaffa” is cinematic. There’s the title, obviously, referring to the line “am I suspended in gaffa?,” itself a reference to gaffer (or “gaffa”) tape, which is commonly used in film and stage productions. The laboriousness of cinema is inferred a few times (“it all goes slo-mo”), as reflections and manipulation, staples of cinema, get pulled into the mix. Bush even goes quasi-Lacanian at one point; nudging herself with “that girl in the mirror/between you and me/she don’t stand a chance of getting anywhere at all,” a moment of amusing self-deprecation.

The music video, while counterintuitively simple in its setup of Bush dancing on her own in a barn, is similarly weird. Bush’s hair is made up to twice the height of her head as she dances in a purple jumpsuit, slowly jogging in place and thrashing her arms on the floor like an adolescent Job on her rural ash pile. In a pleasantly domestic turn, Bush’s mother Hannah appears (shockingly) as Bush’s mother. The resulting video is both tender and discordant, the ethos of “Suspended in Gaffa” in microcosm.

Bush’s fight with aporia moves forward. She mixes religious metaphors like a hermeneuticist in a Westminster pub (“it’s a plank in me eye,” taken from Matthew 7:5, is adjuncted by “a camel/who’s trying to get through it,” a quiet subversion of the Talmudic “eye of a needle” axiom, cited by Christ in the Synoptic Gospels and additionally by the Qu’ran 7:40), grasping fragments of faiths, mediums, and metaphors in their simplest form. The results are crucially inchoate, as the perspective of a child so often is. Yet through that rudimentary perspective comes a different understanding of emotional truths than one usually finds from an adult point-of-view. Fragments and naïveté are by no means inherently less scholarly than a more mature perspective; sometimes, they’re the most efficacious tools a person has for exploring the ridiculous and sublime.

(Bush.) Personnel: Bush, K. — vocals, piano, strings. Elliott — drums. Palmer — bass. Bush, P. — strings, mandolin. Lawson — synclavier. Launay — engineer (backing tracks). Hardiman — engineer (overdubs). Cooper — engineer (mastering). Backing tacks recorded at May/June 1981 at Townhouse Studios, Shepherd’s Bush. Overdubs recorded at Odyssey Studios, Marylebone, West End and Advision Studios, Fitzrovia from August 1981 to January 1982, 4-and-a-half months. Mixed at the Townhouse from March to 21 May, 1982. Issued as a single 2 November 1982. Photo of Kate and Hannah Bush by Kindlight.