Sunday, October 12, 2008

Kate Bush: underrated genius?

I must admit that Kate Bush is one of those artists that I have always quite liked but never got as far as buying any of their records. Partly I think that this was a reaction to the distrust of my motives: did I just like her because she was beautiful?

Having spent some time looking at YouTube clips and their comments, I see that I was unusual in worrying about this. No wonder she distanced herself from her fans: I would. Not that she really was a recluse. It's funny how easy it is these days to become a recluse: stop going to film premieres, refuse to appear on quiz shows, move outside the M25, and suddenly you'e Simeon Stylites living up a pole in the desert.

But as I say I mostly liked her work. Looking back now, you can see that the unusual side to it is not its variation in quality, but in its ambition. She avoids straightforward autobiographical narrative. You can argue whether she does manage to evoke Joyce's Ulysses in The Sensual World, but how many other artists would you even think of asking the question?

Which is not to say that great rock needs to have literary pretensions: but it does need to have some form of intellectual complexity if it aspires to be more than good time rock and roll. I like Oasis, me, but would be the first to admit that their lyrics are basically:

some stuff here
some stuff here

In interviews she is eloquent and polite; this is enough of a rarity to make her sound like a genius in the context of music programmes. She might be a genius; but more to the point she is thoughtful. You can see how she reponds to questions: she thinks it over, then tries to get from a mundane fact 'You learned the violin, didn't you?' to something worth saying, like how this taught her music theory and discipline.

Listening to something like Aerial requires a degree of attention unusual these days, both in terms of the music and in the lyrics which are diffuse and referential; but it is precisely this complexity that provides the intrigue.

Perhaps it is a sign of genius that you are cleverer than your fans: certainly Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen are.

So are Metallica, but that's not quite the same thing.

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