Hi, all. Little announcement here. At this point, blogging is virtually my only income. Even short of COVID-19 and its disasters, I’m functionally disabled by severe trauma and ADHD, which prevents me from being able to work traditional jobs. I’m working towards being able to afford an apartment, but I need a little push to get there. Currently I have 37 patrons, which is great, and I’m hoping to get to a minimum of $300 per post, which would put me on track to bare minimum financial stability. At present, the Patreon is at $139 – not quite halfway there, but not so distant from $300 as to be hopeless. Any help is hugely appreciated.
Additionally, I am resuming my old tradition of cross-posting Dreams of Orgonon to Eruditorum Press, thanks to the support of my adoptive mother Elizabeth Sandifer. Her own work is sublime and among the best non-fiction writing available today, so you get two transfemme writers for the price of one. See you on the other side.
The senseless homicide, epistolary self-cuckoldry, and generational trauma in Never for Ever is a sort of horror writing from Bush. Her reverence for family and domesticity is clear throughout her work, and in how she lives — she stepped mostly out of public view for many years after the birth of her son. In Never for Ever, Bush explores what happens when families are torn apart by the infrastructure of modernity: weaponry, dissociation, social pressure, celebrity. Preliminary sketches of The Dreaming surface in the record’s soundscape of classical instruments and synthesizer innovations, underlined by trauma and madness. If Lionheart was Bush’s inward retreat in response to the world’s frightening instability, Never for Ever turns that lens outwards, exploring the impact of violence on families and survivors.
Bush has dabbled in folk music before, through engagements with parabolic theming, classical acoustic instrumentation, and straight-up rewrites of folk ballads. But “Army Dreamers” is a straight-up folk song, the apotheosis of Bush’s relationship with traditional British music. With a smattering of the distaff tragedy of a bereaved mother (“I’ve a bunch of purple flowers/to decorate to mammy’s hero”), whose enlisted son has perished while serving abroad (“four men in uniform/to carry home my little soldier”). Bush practically whispers the vocal, a hushed, mournful hiss with a mock Irish accent. The song’s hook, a “ck-ck” of Jay Bush loading guns sampled through a Fairlight CMI, gives the affair an understated yet harsh percussive flavor. The 3/4 rhythm of the guns is matched beat-for-beat by matched Paddy Bush’s mandolin, which begets a dirgeful, four-note figure (A, F… A, C…). Accompanying Paddy in the track’s roster of folk instruments is Stuart Elliott with a bodhrán, another beat grounding “Army Dreamers” in Irish folk music.
Bush’s Irish heritage surfaces tangentially throughout her career. The daughter of an Irish nurse, Bush has long dabbled in Great Britain’s folk music, with much quality time with her brothers spent listening to them playing folk songs (her family pastimes turned into a career: as an adult, Catherine still plays folk music with Paddy and Jay). Her debt to folk music has been repaid in full — The Kick Inside ends by rewriting a Child ballad, and “Violin” is goofy folk rock. The mandolin and bodhrán imbue “Army Dreamers” with an acoustic thickness, splinted together by a lugubrious waltz and sleepy B.V.’s (“he should have been a rock star” sound like it’s being sung by Eeyore). Its subject matter is no less dismal and rustic: a mother grieving her beloved soldier is a classical image of modern balladry, as is the proletarian culture and lack of opportunities faced by the mother and her son (“he should have been a rock star/but he never had the money for a guitar,” “he should have been a politician/but he never had a proper education”). There’s much to be said about Bush’s understanding of class through the lens of folk. Her treatment of the working class often yields mixed results — she’s a middle-class white woman who landed a record contract as a teenager. Bush’s understanding of poor people and the victims of colonialism is restrained in ways she seems unaware of. The matter of dabbling in Irish folk music and warfare in 1980 (when that thing called, hmm, what’s it called? Oh yeah, the Troubles) while hardly exploring the political conflicts of the matter comes across as ignorant.
Since we’re used to Bush being asleep to political infrastructure and class, we can at least turn to her complex politics of domesticity. While she doesn’t interrogate the structural causes of political violence, she’s still centering a song around the vulnerable people whose lives are destroyed by it. Never for Ever is populated by mothers and wives. Five of its eleven songs explicitly focus on maternal and uxorial figures, and that’s if we don’t count the broadly familial “All We Ever Look For.” Bush’s wives and mothers tend towards fatigue over their familial roles, experiencing emotions that contradict their outward actions or social operations. Bush’s mothers are an intrinsic good whose absence or loss is a tragedy, and whose losses are a social catastrophe. Key to the mother’s characterization in “Army Dreamers” is absence. She bemoans not merely her lost son, but his lost opportunities and the things she couldn’t provide for him. “What a waste of army dreamers,” muses Bush, in a ritual mourning of military casualties, which treats them as a cessation of dreams.
Most impressive is the way “Army Dreamers” treats the mother as an individual while also stressing her importance to her family. Stripped of her duties to her son, she is left with no more motherhood to perform. This suggests that while war is horrible, the people who are left behind have their own experiences of it. Men get sent off to die, and the women they leave behind are expected to grieve dutifully. Yet they’re prescribed a performative kind of grief — the actual effects of trauma are widely besmirched and ignored by the jingoistic reactionaries who send civilians off to die. Women are usually seen as broken when their soldiers fail to come home — this isn’t quite what Bush does. Is the mother broken? No, of course not. Has she had a vital part of her life snatched from her? Utterly.
There’s a touch of sentimentalism to this, if at least a grounded and humanitarian one. Violent deaths are often devastating because they cut short the lives of unsuspecting civilians who’ve been planning to go live their lives as usual the next day. Bush’s anti-militarism is hardly strident, but “Army Dreamers” has an edge to it even in its understatedness, blaming the services of “B.F.P.O” for overseas tragedies (although interestingly, her son’s death appears to be an accident — there’s little fanfare of death, no suggestion of the glory of battle). The horror of the death is largely its silence — all the things that couldn’t happen, no matter how much saying them would make them so.
The politics of the situation are left understated, as is typical for Bush, and yet with a light inimical rage, as if Bush is finally turning to the British establishment and shouting “look at what you’ve done!” While “Army Dreamers” is far from an indictment of the military-industrial complex (indeed, it has more to do with the British Army’s consumption of Irish civilians than anything else), its highlighting of war as futile is striking. “Give the kid the pick of pips/and give him all your stripes and ribbons/now he’s sitting in his hole/he might as well have buttons and bows” is a line of understated condemnation that spits on military emblems (pips are a British Army insignia) and consolidates trenches and graves. “B. F. P. O.,,” intone Bush’s backing vocalists again and again. In interviews, Bush backpedals from any perceived anti-militarist sentiments in her work (“I’m not slagging off the army…”), but her song tells a different story: nothing comes with B. F. P. O. except carnage.
In the song’s music video, Bush’s final collaboration with director Keef MacMillan (the two strong-willed auteurs could only collaborate together for so long), the visceral glimpses of departed loved ones that plague mourners gets captured in one devastatingly simple moment. Bush, a soldier stationed in a forest and surrounded by men in camo, turns to a tree to see her lost son. She runs to embrace him, and he’s gone before she reaches the tree. There’s a hard cut to Bush’s eyes flashing wide open. There it is: trauma and grief in a glance. Waking up, but still living the same dream.
Recorded in spring of 1980 at Abbey Road. Released with Never for Ever on 7 September 1980; issued as a single on 22 September 1980. Performed for television numerous times, including on programs in Germany and the Netherlands. Personnel: Kate Bush — vocals, production. Stuart Elliott — bodhrán. Brian Bath — acoustic guitar, backing vocals. Paddy Bush — mandolin, backing vocals. Alan Murphy — electric guitar, acoustic bass guitar, backing vocals. Duncan Mackay — Fairlight CMI. Jon Kelly — production, engineering. Photo: BTS picture from music video (cred. John Carder Bush).