The Japan Trip

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Following the release of The Kick Inside, Kate Bush undertook an astonishingly busy 6-month promotional campaign. In addition to topping charts and appearing on what seemed like every TV program in the UK, Bush did an extensive amount of traveling, visiting West Germany, the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, France, the United States, Canada, and Japan. One could unpack any one of these tips individually, but they mostly consist of Bush performing songs from The Kick Inside. As Dreams of Orgonon is a song-by-song blog, we analyze episodes in Kate Bush’s career through the lenses of new songs as they come. Bush’s promotional visit to Japan in June of 1978 not only offers a couple songs we haven’t heard her sing before, even if they are covers, but it gives a chance to see what Kate Bush does when she’s not doing Kate Bush things.

You see, Kate Bush wasn’t in control of her environment. She didn’t have her own band, gigs she planned, and she was undertaking activities she wouldn’t do again until the Eighties and Nineties (we will cover Let It Be on this blog again). But even more paramount to the uniqueness of Bush’s Japan trip is the firsts it uncovers: it is the first time Bush performs to a major audience.

On the 18th of June, 1978, Kate Bush performed “Moving” to an audience of 11,000 people at the Nippon Budokan for the 7th Tokyo Music Festival. This is just the number of people watching who were present, however. About 33 million people watched Bush on TV, a staggeringly large number. Japan and its huge physical music market had its eyes on Bush, and she was suitably terrified. For all that the lead track status of “Moving” makes it a fitting opening number for a performance, Bush is visibly terrified while singing this song, her voice wavering as a band she’s never met before coming to Japan played her music.

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The entirety of the trip consists of Bush doing not-very-Kate-Bush things, and she’s visibly ill at ease with this. A studio artist with no tour experience was going to be out of sorts performing to thousands of people 9 and a half thousand kilometers away from home. Yet Bush was clearly set on getting as much done in a short period of time as she could. She respected Japanese cultural norms, attending a Shinto shrine and (apparently) conducting herself with characteristic etiquette. Sadly few details about the shrine visit are known, as history has generally not recorded Bush’s time in Japan well.

Bush’s relationship with Japan is slightly vexed. She’s… well, Bush is a bit rough on the issue of cultural appropriation. The cover of The Kick Inside is famously orientalist, and we’ll have lots to talk about when we talk about The Dreaming. Bush certainly has respect for other cultures, but takes the European artist’s path of lifting cultural touchstones rather than delicately conversing with their creators — indeed, she slightly flubs her one English TV interview discussing Japan when she refers to Japanese people as “not saying how they feel.” It’s a cryptic moment and some of the messages it sends aren’t great.

Even Bush’s performances, the primary record for this period, aren’t terribly well documented. There are low-quality recordings of them, but seeing as Bush’s usual bandmates didn’t accompany her to Japan and interviews in which she discusses the trip are nigh on impossible to come by, it’s hard to find any behind-the-scenes insight into this period, which renders Bush’s work in Japan ever stranger. In addition to “Moving” and a performance of “The Man with the Child in His Eyes,” she stages the most bizarre dance number rendition of “Them Heavy People” ever on a TV show called Sound in S, with co-lead vocalists and a host of dancers. It looks nothing like any other performance of the song ever — it’s genuinely bizarre a song that mentions G. I. Gurdjieff would be treated like this. Sure, Bush has a poppy edge, but this is showbiz, not her own brand of pop.

The most jarring moment of all comes in the form of… Kate Bush doing Japanese watch commercials. That’s not a shitpost, that is a thing that literally happened. Twice. And they use “Them Heavy People,” which didn’t seem to catch a break in Japan (as it was released as a Japan-exclusive single and reached #3 on the charts, this is understandable). “We have many varieties of mood within us, but it’s up to you to choose,” Bush enunciates possibly the most animistic commercial slogan ever. It’s a strange pair of adverts, and there’s probably a reason Bush did commercials so sparingly her next foray in the business wouldn’t be until the Nineties.

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In addition, Bush performs a surprising amount of Beatles songs. As a solo act, she sings “She’s Leaving Home” and “The Long and Winding Road.” As part of an ensemble, Bush performs “Let It Be.” The results are mediocre at best: Bush whoops the relatively silent “She’s Leaving Home,” runs into the basic problem of nobody ever having made “The Long and Winding Road” work exacerbated by saccharine orchestral accompaniment, and across three takes of “Let It Be” struggles to maneuver her way into the song (we’ll deal with another version in the Tour of Life post, and her final recording of “Let It Be” is too big for this blog post). Perhaps the most notable common element of these songs is their writer, Paul McCartney (John Lennon wrote the chorus of “She’s Leaving Home,” but the bulk of the song is McCartney’s). McCartney is certainly the poppiest of the Beatles —Harrison and Lennon would never have penned something like “Let It Be.” A number of his songs can be described as feelgood (this is the man who would write “Ebony and Ivory,” you understand). This suggests Bush likes a certain degree of pop in her music, with emotional characters and sweeping melodrama. She’s long staked her flag in the ground as a Sgt. Pepper stan. This explosion of pop showmanship can be considered a Beatles tribute, Bush’s dabbling in Marianne Faithfull waters for a day.

It doesn’t entirely work out for her. I mean, Bush won a silver medal at the Tokyo Music Festival, but the highest honor went to Al Green (which is hard to get upset about. If Kate Bush is going to lose to any singer, Al Green is an honorable choice). Yet she never engages with mainstream pop in the same way again. Bush will remain popular in the charts, but she doesn’t pursue the festival circuit as an artistic path. Soon she’ll retreat even further inward, abandoning a career that involved touring for a studio-bound career. Yes, this has led to tragedies like no songs from The Dreaming ever being performed live. Yet with the slightly hollow and rushed showmanship of her excursion to Japan, it’s hard not to feel like Bush benefits from staying close to home.

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Strange Phenomena

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Strange Phenomena (demo)
Strange Phenomena
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In “Strange Phenomena,” we have another statement of intent from Kate Bush. Unlike most of Bush’s songs, it’s a purely conceptual rather than narrative work. “Strange Phenomena” is populated by the esoteric and the inconclusive, dwelling in the liminal spaces of everyday life and exploring its unexplained coincidences. It nods to the physical and the supernatural in equal turn, suggesting the two aren’t separate entities but different compartments of life, in league with one another, conspiring to make life exciting. In short, it’s everything The Kick Inside takes stock in and values.

“Strange Phenomena” famously begins with an arpeggiating (A/F) ode to menstruation, “the phase of the moon when people tune in.” In her typical fashion, Kate Bush refers to menstruation as “the punctual blues,” suggesting both a musical quality and a natural rhythm to this particular bodily function (she also refers to it as something “every girl” knows about, but in her defense trans issues were not a topic of national conversation in 1978). Throughout The Kick Inside, Bush has made a case that all functions of the body are a thing of beauty, whether those be love-making or flying. With the opening of “Strange Phenomena,” Bush has extended her invitation of bodily functions into the fold beyond the pleasurable or fanciful and to parts of life women and other menstruating individuals aren’t encouraged to discuss in everyday life. Even more intriguing is how Bush frames menstruation as an almost musical act. In addition to her quasi-musical coinage of “the punctual blues,” she calls a period the phase “where people tune in.” To be sure, menstruating a subject people discuss in private, bringing discomfort to cisgender women and often triggering severe bouts of dysphoria in transgender men. It’s an aspect of life that unites lots of people in their unease by widespread patterns and, more importantly, rhythms of nature. Bush dignifies menstruating by making it a musical process. If there’s a central idea to The Kick Inside, it’s that everything is music.

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This exercise of defining musicality as a unifying force isn’t confined to physical planes in “Strange Phenomena.” Bush described the song as being “about the coincidences that happen to all of us all of the time. We can all recall instances when we have been thinking about a particular person and then have met a friend who — totally unprompted — will begin talking about that person.” She more or less paraphrases this in the song, referring to “a day of coincidence with the radio.” Texts are a source of coincidence as well, such as when “you pick up a paper/you read a name/you go out/it turns up again and again.” There’s a sense Bush is being haunted by text, that the spoken word will accompany her wherever she goes. This is where Bush differs most radically from, say, Burroughs or Foucault, in that this constant presence of language and strangeness is a comfort to her, something to tip her hat to.

There’s a philosophical dimension to this as well: Bush once referred to Synchronicity while discussing “Strange Phenomena” in an interview. In short, Synchronicity is psychoanalyst Karl Jung’s concept of the interconnectivity of coincidences. Coincidences bearing similarity but no common cause are termed “meaningful.” This is a pretty easy way to argue for paranormality, and Jung did so (this is not the last time a psychoanalyst will influence Kate Bush. If you’ve read this blog’s title, you already know how). Bush picks up on this, heartily saluting the spectres and weirdness of everyday life.

“Strange Phenomena” is textured with little mysteries and details. Without the Internet at one’s disposal, listeners would go years not understanding some of the song’s allusions. There’s the obscure line “G arrives/funny, had a feeling he was on his way,” which seems inexplicable in context (apparently G was a person Bush knew, while my initial guesses were that G was the Almighty Herself, John Berger’s character G, or David Gilmour himself, most plausibly) yet brings a social instinct to the song, suggesting that people can be just as mysterious as events. The presence of people is mystical to Bush — the living can be ghosts as well. In many ways, “Strange Phenomena” is about clustering: when people gather and events happen close together, magic occurs. “We raise our hats to the hand a-moulding us,” sings Bush, nodding to spiritual forces beyond human understanding.

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Sheer abstraction isn’t the only sort of mysticism that surfaces in “Strange Phenomena,” as Kate Bush will often decorate her lyrics with obscure cultural references. The chorus’ emphatic declaration of “soul birds of a feather flock together” is a sweet mystical touch. The most delightfully off-kilter part of the song is the end of the chorus, which has Bush repeatedly singing “om mani padme hum.” This is a Sanskrit mantra, hardly the sort of language you’d hear in a 1978 pop song. Apparently it means “the jewel in the lotus,” but Bush was unaware of this. When pressed on the meaning of the phrase, she admitted up front she had no idea what it meant (although she later published its definition when a fan sent it in). There’s a certain Caucasian ignorance to this, yet the charm of including Sanskrit on a popular album is nonetheless high.

Beyond its opening arpeggio, “Strange Phenomena” is a fairly consistent song, traversing through simple of chords of C-A minor 7-F, then to E7, and then a descent through sevenths as F7, 67, and E minor 7 appear. The chorus is similarly melodically basic, utilizing progressions like C-G-F and E minor-A minor-F. The result is a melodic clarity that not every song on The Kick Inside has, yet enough musical turns to remain exciting throughout.

Such is The Kick Inside as a whole. What it lacks in presentation, it more than amply makes up for it in ambition. If you have a song like “Strange Phenomena” on your album, you’re in good shape. If you have that, “Wuthering Heights,” “The Man with the Child in His Eyes,” and “The Kick Inside,” you’re more than set for a career of strong music. The Kick Inside is one of the strongest debut albums of its era, and I’m looking forward to seeing where we go from here.

Recorded 1977 at London AIR Studios. Performed on the Tour of Life in 1979. Personnel: Kate Bush — vocals, piano. Stuart Elliott — drums. David Paton — bass. Ian Bairnson — guitars. Duncan Mackay — synthesizers. Morris Pert — percussion. Andrew Powell — electric piano, production.

Scares Me Silly

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Scares Me Silly

Throughout her career, Kate Bush has retained an unusual level of creative security. Outside of her demo era, there’s not a large number of Bush bootlegs in circulation. There’s no empire of lost Bush songs like there are lost Bob Dylan or Beatles tracks. Fans are mostly left to speculate on tidbits of information one gets about lost Bush songs, such as the Cathy demos’ “Go Now While You Can” and the title track of Never for Ever. Following the arc of Bush’s career entails sticking almost entirely to her studio work.

Bush retains a huge amount of creative control over her work. One of the reasons she releases music so slowly is her need to hone her work to be exactly how she wants it. Losing control over her circumstances certainly hasn’t led to her finest albums being created. Perhaps setting her own parameters is an active terror to Bush.

The Kick Inside sessions seem to only have one outtake: “Scares Me Silly,” a bootleg rather than a bonus track from some official release. Listening to it in 2019, it’s not hard to understand why it was never released. “Scares Me Silly” is loopy, particularly in its calypso-esque It’s a ridiculous track, something Elton John might have cut on a drunk night at the Château d’Hérouville. “Scares Me Silly” is loopy, beginning with frantic up-tempo glam rock, moving into a wordy calypso of a pre-chorus (“they try to put me on the tapes begin to spin/I feel a little sick and hope my notes are in”), and slowing down for a poppy chorus, repeatedly declaring “it scares me silly, but it gets me gooooiiiiin’!” There’s no sense Bush is disciplining herself, and the result is firmly outtakes material.

Curiously, the lyrics of “Scares Me Silly” are a pretty straightforward reflection of what kind of song it is. Bush describes a character working in a recording studio for the first time, feeling the anxiety that comes with pop music and how it separates the artist from themselves (“I lick my lips to start the first line/how can this girl be me?”). The prevailing mood is one of giddiness and dizzy nausea, with Bush singing energetically of “vertigo, the need to lose.” Music is a force which carries her away — “I feel a little sick and I hope my notes are in” — to some other place. In “Scares Me Silly” the journey is the focus, and it’s more of a speed trip than an odyssey. Terror and exhilaration often go hand-in-hand for Kate Bush — go back and read my favorite post “Hammer Horror” to see more of that on display. Bush’s melodic experiments, off-beat songwriting, and idiosyncratic vocals all unite to create one major statement: that pushing your limits is fun and worthwhile.

Yet “Scares Me Silly” feels incomplete as an iteration of this thesis. It makes a lot of noise, but it’s not particularly clever, fun, or interesting. It’s too rock ‘n’ roll: all about making the biggest ruckus in the studio, which Bush was never going to do. “Scares Me Silly” manages a collage of images, which isn’t the sort of thing Bush writes well.

With the images she sings about, Bush drifts to cinematic metaphors, as she often will in future, singing of “swimming amid the cans,” “goad[ing herself] into another take,” and even saying “it’s like a film — such balance.” Bush is almost as much a visual artist as a musical one (as her videos will demonstrate), often creating images to accompany her writing words. “Scares Me Silly” contains some of Bush’s recurring ideas in microcosm, but it’s hard to imagine it functioning on an album. Perhaps it’s an inadequate thesis statement. Despite its allusions to cinema, there’s nothing particularly visual or aesthetically pioneering about the track. Luckily, we’ll get to revisit some of these ideas soon. Soon we’ll be covering Lionheart, one of Bush’s most thematically complex albums, yet also the albums he had the least creative control over. It’s a record full of angst, desire, and fractures. Soon we’ll get to see what happens when Bush can’t run her own timetables.

Recorded at London AIR Studios in 1977. Personnel: Kate Bush — vocals, piano. Presumably Ian Bairnson, David Paton, and Stuart Elliott on guitar, bass, and drums.

Feel It

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Feel It
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Tour of Life (London)

Out of the 13 songs on The Kick Inside, 12 are fairly maximalist in their productions, sporting a few musicians on each track. Even the quieter piano ballads like “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” and “The Kick Inside” are accompanied by orchestras. The result is an album that, while not necessarily carried by its production, measures itself by a standard of heavily produced and instrumentation-based albums.

It’s long been remarked that Kate Bush’s primary instrument is her voice. Even when her melodies are idiosyncratic and sprawling and her albums’ productions demand an audience’s ear, listeners always talk about her voice first. Even an instrumental track like “Night Scented Stock” is guided by Bush’s vocals. Her most recent collection of new songs, 50 Words for Snow, takes a back-to-basics approach of voice-and-piano that Bush started her career with. While the Fairlight will guide Bush towards her best work, there’s hardly a more powerful duo in popular music than Bush and her piano.

“Feel It” is an exceedingly intimate affair, the only song on The Kick Inside to have no session musicians. It’s Bush alone at her piano, saying “no props this time, just hear me play.” “Feel It” is one of the more realist tracks on the album — rather than teaming with mysticism or high concepts, it has a fairly common down-to-earth situation: a one-night stand between two people who don’t know each other very well. “Well, it could be love/or it could be just lust/but it will be fun/it will be wonderful,” sings Bush. It’s a song of pure hedonism, consequence-free and absorbed in the moment.

Notable is how “Feel It” takes The Kick Inside’s approach of youthful attitudes to adult subjects to its zenith. Its tone is secretive, subtextually whispering “be quiet — this is a sacred moment.” It’s relatively low tempo, with the piano guiding the song in a lugubrious, creeping G minor (with unexpected appearances of F minor and B diminished), almost laughing anxiously with an upward turn on “a little nervous laughter.” To hear a young female British singer to sing so frankly about matters like this in the Seventies must have been astonishing at the time. There’s a sense Bush is as nervous as she is giddy to be writing a song like this and putting it out on a major label.

As Zoey Peresman points out, “[Bush] stretches out the word ‘more’ with her inimitable voice for as long as she can, mimicking the sound of a woman in ecstasy.” Bush stresses the sexual nature of the song, punctuating the calls of “feel it” with sharp “ohs,” making it clear how far she’s taking this exercise.

For a Seventies song about love-making, “Feel It” is unusually explicit. Bush equates sex with music, using phrases like “synchronizing rhythm” and “keep on a-tunin’ in.” She marries her skill at crafting melodies to her love of the sensuous with remarkable ease, but adds an extra factor to the mix: bluntness. (For a similar song, listen to Tori Amos’ astonishing track “Icicle.” Really, play the two songs back-to-back. You’ll thank me later.) The clear references to penetration and other sex acts (“feel your warm hand walking around”) are startling by themselves, but Bush provides them with rhythm, quietly singing the verse and makes the chorus a burst of passion. By the end she trails off with “see what you’re doing to me,” as a song like “Feel It” must. It’s one hell of a track, an underrated Bush triumph of the Seventies. Let’s hope it surfaces on more “best of Bush” lists soon.

Recorded 1977 at London AIR Studios. Performed live on the Tour of Life in 1979. Personnel: Kate Bush — piano, vocals. Andrew Powell — production.