Queen Eddie

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Also called “The Gay Farewell” and, plainly, “Eddie.”

Queen Eddie (Cathy demo)
Queen Eddie (Phoenix demo)

“I found [gay people] more simpatico. A year ahead of everybody else. Being so close for so long to the art world, my friends have nearly always been gay. …It’s your fashion-society type scene, who I happen to get on with very well… because they’re interested in style…”

-Bryan Ferry, 1974 interview with Gordon Burn.

It remains astonishing that we have 31 of Cathy Bush’s demos. This is the happy product of some tapes changing hands several times. The first person to circulate these songs was music publicist Ricky Hopper, a friend of Cathy’s brother Jay, who was given between twenty and thirty songs to send to record companies. No luck was had attracting labels, although Bush would eventually get lucky via other avenues. None of Bush’s demos were publicly available for years until tapes made their way into the hands of DJ John Dixon, who had acquired them at EMI around the time Bush signed to the label in 1976. Six years later, he broadcast twenty-two of the songs from his Phoenix-based KSTM radio station (this was around the time Bush was putting out The Dreaming. For David Bowie fans, this would be like hearing “The Laughing Gnome” when Scary Monsters came out). Gradually, the earliest demos were released, with the Cathy demos surfacing in 1997. So there’s our point of origin.

There is no First Kate Bush song. We established off the bat that “Wuthering Heights” is not the beginning of the Kate Bush story by choosing to begin the blog with “Something Like a Song.” This is designed to give a fuller picture of her music. In its beginnings, the Bush story is tumultuous and malleable. It’s reasonably well-documented for what it is, but still trying to shape itself like any young person trying to express themselves for the first time. Recording dates are uncertain — we have a small handful of demos recorded in 1973 called the Cathy Demos, and several more dating from around 1976 dubbed the Phoenix Demos (after the aforementioned broadcast). There’s an overlap in material from the two sessions, leading to us having two demos each for some songs that were never professionally recorded. Even the titles of the songs were applied retroactively, and not by Bush herself. To navigate this labyrinth of obscure music, the Bushologist must choose a trajectory and follow it. I chose “Something Like a Song” for the first post because of its relative malleability and accessibility; there’s not a lot to unpack in it, which allowed me to sketch out the approach of the blog. With “Queen Eddie” (or “The Gay Farewell,” whatever you wish to call it), another early Cathy song from both the Cathy and Phoenix sessions, we’re free to play around a little with ideas.

“Queen Eddie” is a surprisingly sharp and melancholy song. It’s multifaceted in its thematic concerns and has a grasp of rhythm and melody that “Something Like a Song” doesn’t quite. In “Something,” we had a singer who admired someone from a distance, who they didn’t quite understand. “Queen Eddie” is more mature: it’s about the singer finding out that someone they already know is more complex than they previously realized. In short, it’s a song about learning to empathize.

And Eddie in dire need of empathy. “I’ve never seen/such a sad queen as Eddie,” ponders the singer. “I’ve seen him raving/maybe even in pain/but never weeping like a baby.” Eddie isn’t some macho hero to sweep the damsel off her feet (indeed, he may not even swing that way). He’s a frightened young person whose life is falling apart for reasons not specified in the song. He’s a person who’s noticeably pretty, and on Saturday evening transforms into a drag queen. Bush’s music often displays a strong interest in the feminine side of men, and this is the earliest musical manifestation of her concern. Eddie is someone with no time for masculinity. Everything from the effeminate adjective of “pretty” to the fact he’s saying goodbye to “his boy” points to that (who’s his boy? Is he breaking up with a boyfriend, or is he transitioning?) Even the song’s varying titles, in all probability not penned by Bush, point to a queer reading of the song (“The Gay Farewell” is a pretty wretched pun even by my standards). There’s an element of fetishization here — Eddie is denied an identity outside of his gender and sexuality in a way that’s genuinely harmful. For all that the empathy on display is genuine, so is the singer’s privilege.

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Yet for this song’s flaws, it feels like something that needed to be written in 1973, even if it wasn’t heard outside 11 East Wickham. An LGBT rights movement was booming in the UK at the time — The Gay Liberation Front was new and alive, and the First British Gay Pride Rally had been held in London, not too far from the Bushes, a year previously. But these movements were responded to by things like the Nationwide Festival of Light, a puritanical attempt by notorious professional bigot Mary Whitehouse and others to suppress the existence of gay people, as well as any expression of sexuality that didn’t pertain entirely to procreation. The LGBT community needed some allies, and Kate was willing to step into the ring early on. Kate’s complex championing of the queer community has begun. Thus we get “Queen Eddie,” her first camp song.

Ah yes, camp. We may as well define it now, as this won’t be the last instance of discussing camp on this blog. Turning to Susan Sontag’s classic but controversial essay “Notes on Camp,” we discover that camp is the ultimate reification of style over substance. It’s not so much a coherent style as a sensibility; one that revels in the debasement of established tradition. Sontag rightfully comes under fire for her backwards idea that describes camp as something gay people were drawn to, rather than something they shaped from the beginning and used as an engine for sociopolitical change. Still, for flaws, the essay is a good starting point for discussing the camp aesthetic.

So how did Cathy, an ostensibly well-behaved young person bred by a respectable middle-class family and educated at a nun-administrated Catholic school, discover camp? She was unlikely to be hitting London’s gay clubs where camp culture flourished. It’s possible there was some gay literature sprinkled around the house (she was always an Oscar Wilde fan), but it’s far more likely Cathy got in tune with the gay world via her brothers’ record collections. Jay and Paddy were Cathy’s first dealers, bringing home a variety of records — everything from prog rock like King Crimson to contemporary folk music by A. L. Lloyd. Cathy was always by captivated the music, and eventually started independently developing her own taste (the first album she ever bought was Bridge Over Troubled Water).  But what really seemed to stick with her was the glam rock she heard, particularly the more baroque artists — David Bowie, Roxy Music, Elton John (some of you might dispute how glam John is, but come on, “Philadelphia Freedom” is unquestionably draped in glam trappings). Their often melancholy but always glamorous sound clearly caught her ear, and made their way into her songwriting.

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So “Queen Eddie” ends up as a mellow glam rock song, closer to “In Every Home a Heartache” than “Get It On.” It’s a song about a glamorous man whose life is falling apart (arguably a Goth rock song in that sense), and thus is mid-tempo and quiet, as such collapses often are (the vocal livens it up though —young Cathy’s vocal model is Elton John. That swinging pop voice is reminiscent of “Tiny Dancer,” which this song is arguably a spiritual successor to). The 1976 re-recording is a bit livelier and more urgent; it sounds like a halfway point between the Cathy demos and The Kick Inside. Cathy can’t be entirely sad — if Eddie is sad, she must dance with him. Thankfully, the song does little to explain just what’s happening to Eddie. The singer is quick to listen to his story but not to speak for him. Instead, they’re Eddie’s friend and ally. In the intervening years, Kate has become a guiding light for queer people. There are plenty of reasons for this. There’s a Guardian article in which singer Rufus Wainwright calls Kate “the older sister that every gay man wants,” and points out that she “connects so well with a gay audience because she is so removed from the real world.” Being removed from material reality in this sense is a product of privilege. The song doesn’t refrain from tokenizing Eddie. Its approach to the reality of queer people is flawed, but the fact that a 15-year-old is already attempting to empathize with minorities and being at least partially successful is impressive. Already, this is an impressive body of work. Let’s keep exploring it.

Recorded 1973; re-recorded 1976. Personnel- Kate Bush: piano, vocals. Sources- Ferry interview quote from Simon Reynolds’ Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy; Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp”; as always, thanks to the indispensable Gaffaweb for their help on all matters Kate, particularly their history of the demos. Pictures: David Bowie and a French railway guard (photograph by Joe Stevens); The Coleherne, the UK’s first leather bar (recovered by Charlie Dave); Cathy and Paddy Bush dressed to the goddamn nines (from Cathy by John Carder Bush.)

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Something Like a Song

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Also called “Garden by the Willow” and “In My Garden.”
Something Like a Song (Cathy demo)
Something Like a Song (Phoenix demo)

Let’s establish off the bat what “Something Like a Song” isn’t: it is not a Kate Bush song. It’s an AKAI tape machine-recorded home demo of 15-year-old Cathy Bush, daughter of Robert and Hannah and sister of John and Paddy, playing on the family piano at 11 East Wickham Farm in Welling, Kent. This song has never had a commercial release: it’s a bootleg from the vaults of an upper-middle class English family. Perhaps this is an inauspicious starting point for a critical exegesis of an important artist. But to get where we’re going with this story, we must understand the shape of its prologue.

Before we dive in, I’ll provide a brief explanation for why we’re starting off with “Something Like a Song.” Simply, it’s just a smoother point of impact. It’s accessible and fairly simple; the lyrics are easily made out and the whole thing’s pretty easy to decipher. It also introduces a number of long-running themes in Kate Bush’s music, so we’re eased early on into her writerly concerns. Now we can start. Our story begins, as any half-decent story does, in the imagination of a teenage girl. Indeed, the creative mind of a 19-year-old woman was what eventually got the public hooked on Bush. She created a space where strange folks could dwell. These early posts are going to explore that space when it housed more or less a single inhabitant: young Cathy of St. Joseph’s Convent Grammar School. What we’re listening to isn’t a pop song, but a look into Cathy’s world with no expected audience except for whoever happened to be in the house at the time of recording. Indeed, this is as close to the real Kate Bush as we ever see, before she gains a sophisticated idea of spectatorship and how to subvert it.

So what is Cathy’s world like, and more importantly, what kind of music exists in it? Removed from all context, “Something Like a Song” is a surprisingly good composition from a young person with a very nice voice. In historical context, it’s a bit more complex than that. Its composer who hasn’t yet quite figured out how to shape a song: the melody is nice, but every time the song starts to build to something, it tapers off and fails to deliver (she hasn’t yet learned the art of building anticipation and decimating expectations.) There’s a shapelessness to the vocal as well: the singer is clearly in that early stage of her career where she has to essentially sing the piano melody rather than singing in harmony with it (she swallows up “in my garden, by the willow/a piper” in a way that makes it hard to decipher, depriving the line of its punchline shape.)

But really, what kind of awful person would begrudge a song written by a precocious teenager for being a little clumsy? This is a perfectly fine tune; listenable enough, and with a strong gasp on the piano as a musical object (the song seems to be played in C minor, with some possible modulation in there.) Kate must have liked the song well enough herself; she recorded two takes of it a couple years apart (with the second take mercifully lopping the song in half, greatly improving it.) And there’s plenty of foreshadowing to be found: “Something Like a Song’s” melody points to “Oh To Be In Love,” and its cooing to… well, everything.

So what’s to be said about “Something Like a Song?” Well, it sets up Bush’s long-running theme of distance: the singer sees someone or something fantastic and transcendent, and cannot reach them; “I’ve called him by every name I know/by every name I know/but he won’t answer me.” The poetic voice is trapped within their own world- their own head- and cannot move outside it. They try to name it, calling it many things, attempting to trap and pin it down with language, but the stranger leaves nothing but an aura. Thus is the central dilemma of this music. But who is it they’re trying to reach? I’ll point to one of Cathy’s childhood favorite books, Kenneth Grahame’s classic novel The Wind in the Willows, and in particular its famous chapter The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (and yes, its fame is due in no small part to being the namesake for one of the greatest psychedelic rock albums of all time.) In this chapter, the aptly named characters Mole and Rat encounter the Greek god Pan, who is alternatively called the Friend and Helper. Pan strikes profound adoration and fear into the hearts of Ratty and Mole, leaving them in tears when he departs. It’s easy to imagine this scene stuck in Cathy’s head, as it’s stayed in the imagination of many generations of young readers. Admiring someone from a distance is a theme we’re going to revisit, as it’s one every living person can understand. And in becoming a theme of her music, Bush seemed to predict the artist she’d become too: an artist people would hear and admire but never quite reach.

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Recorded in 1973; re-recorded c. 1976. Personnel: Kate Bush- vocal, piano. Released: 1982; KSTM radio broadcast by DJ John Dixon. Pictures: John Carder Bush from Cathy; Pál Szinyei Merse, “Faun and Nymph.”