CW: mention of domestic violence.
Aka “Surrender into the Roses” and “Coming Up.”
“Carmilla” is the shortest of the Phoenix demos, with a miniscule run time of 1 minute and 26 seconds, and its base-under-siege scenario is a bit hair-raising. Bush sounds like she’s trapped in an airtight room—it’s almost as if she’s afraid to not finish the song quickly. After two short verses and choruses, the song abruptly ends, leaving her in a standstill.
To find out what leaves her in a standstill, let’s explore what seems to be the only extensive analysis of a Phoenix demo in print, Felicity Toulson’s essay in the Bush-themed fanzine Homeground. Toulson makes the so-compelling-as-to-be-obviously-right argument that the song is an homage to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Gothic lesbian vampire novella Carmilla, and frankly makes her case right away by pointing out that the lyrics are totally vampiric—the song literally mentions covering a room in garlic flowers. It’s a horror song in its tropes and atmosphere.
It’s also a lover’s quarrel gone horribly wrong. Carmilla is largely famous for its sapphic attributes, with the relationship between the characters Laura and Carmilla being an explicitly lesbian one (this is made explicit in the Hammer horror film adaptation The Vampire Lovers—a fun connection to a song we’ll cover here soon). This sexual-romantic tension is expressed in the song too: “before it’s too late I must get away/but both of us know you must stay.” It’s a mildly startling little recording, one that foreshadows Bush’s various engagements with intertextuality and queerness (bonus: it’s one of at least two Kate Bush songs to rhyme “roses” with “posies.” In the later song she even pronounces “posies” in a way that makes the rhyme parse on record). Our time exploring the Phoenix era is ending, so we may as well go out with lesbians and vampires.
Aka “On the Rocks.”
“Where Are the Lionhearts” has nothing to do with “O England My Lionheart” or Lionheart, funnily enough. The songs have nothing in common except the shared term, which here refers to the ubiquity of heroes, unsung or iconic ones. The notable guest star in the song is Joan of Arc, here to mourn the archaic status of icons (“are all lionhearts put in parks, apart?”) An interesting little experiment mostly notable for what it foreshadows, as is the case with most of the Phoenix songs.
Aka “Ferry Me Over.”
Refreshingly, Bush’s “Dali” isn’t about Salvador Dalí. Instead it gives the stage to Gala, Dalí’s wife. Gala sits in “Castille” (here likely a mystical analogue for “Spain” in the same way “Albion” is for England), living on her own, surrounded by art. Gala was, in spite of her 48-year-marriage to her husband, not close to him—the two lived in separate houses, and he physically and emotionally abused her to the point of putting her in the hospital. Bush doesn’t convey these historical details—she never does—and instead explores Gala’s loneliness. “Dali” is melancholy and full of longing—she wants an escape, but isolation gives her time to dream as well. While I was editing this post, my friend Zoey P pointed out that rather than contributing to the cultural hagiography of a Great Man of History, Bush takes the more feminist route and delves into the experience of his unfairly overlooked wife (not the last time Bush will do this). A small song, but a valuable step forward for Bush’s songwriting.
In “While Davey Dozed,” we’re given one last glimpse of Davey from “Humming.” He’s already moved on, it seems, but Bush has a little more time for his loveliness. Decidedly a minor song, “While Davy Dozed” seems content to contribute little that’s new to the Bush canon and stays where it is.
Finally we can treat ourselves to the best unreleased song of the Phoenix era. “Frightened Eyes” is marvelous—it could easily have been retooled to work as a studio track (frankly, Bush should have cut “Room for the Life” from The Kick Inside and recorded this song instead). It’s coherent, mature, and introspective, truly an overlooked minor classic of the Bush catalogue.
“Frightened Eyes” launches something of an attack on English high class society—maybe Bush wasn’t entirely deaf to the politics of Pink Floyd and Oscar Wilde. She rails at the performative banality of it all (“everyone here loves cheap wine/we all know good taste/we just get too busy trying to find/the right games to play”). The stiff upper lip is a nightmare to her—it only masks an acceptance of dullness (“they’ve all got frightened eyes/saying ‘leave me alone/I’m perfectly safe here inside/please don’t surprise me’”).
It’s a horror song: Bush is terrified because all these bourgeois people are like herself. The fear of being seen overwhelms all other emotions and drive to live in social circles, and keeps one from living as oneself. Insightful and startling in its adolescent way, “Frightened Eyes” is as good as Bush’s early work gets.
Aka “Before the Fall.”
“Organic Acid” is an unprecedented piece of Bush’s catalogue: it’s a hybrid erotic spoken-word narrative poem/musical duet with her brother John Carder “Jay” Bush. Bush provides a melody and bits of lyrics, while the bulk of the vocals are Jay’s poem. In addition to providing a number of photographs we’ve seen in the blog so far, Jay is a poet in his own right, perhaps most notable outside of his sister’s music for his book The Creation Edda. In “Organic Acid,” he tries his hand at spoken word erotica:
There was no premonition of the wet Hog’s Back
The sportscar slumped, snout into a beech
Their corpses giving the vehicle arms
Petrol and blood at last dripping together
But quick flashes of a planned lunch
Cold red beef, white cloth by a cherrywood fire
Game pie, and for him two pints of colder beer
The winter air tucking under their eyelids
As they spun on the gravel at Clandon
Their hands steaming from quick moisture
The aromatic finger drawn up to his nostril
Dazed after mutual masturbation
They zigzagged into a conservative end
It’s not terribly sexy. If anything, it’s a stream of consciousness that has to be heard to in order to be believed as it swerves between pastoral Englishness and Ballardian gore. A complete oddity, but not the last time Jay’s poetry will appear in his sister’s music.
Recorded 1976 at 44 Wickham Road, Brockley. Personnel: Kate Bush (vocals, piano). John Carder Bush (vocals). Images: Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith in The Vampire Lovers (1970, dir. Roy Ward Baker), Renée Jeanne Falconetti in La Passione de Jeanne d’Arc (1928, dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer), The Flesh of the Décolleté of My Wife, Clothed, Outstripping Light at Full Speed (c. 1954, Salvador Dalí), Kate Bush x 2, John Carder Bush.