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