Kate Bush is known as one of the most elusive figures in pop history.
At the age of 19, she had the first number one hit single on UK charts written by a woman for her 1978 song “Wuthering Heights,” a haunting, mysterious melody based on the classic novel. She was also the first British solo female artist to enter the album chart at number one with the 1980 album Never for Ever.
Bush is the kind of musician who has often been cited as an inspiration for other musicians, by everyone from St Vincent to Big Boi. In late 2014, ahead of a highly anticipated comeback concert after almost two decades out of the public eye, BBC did a retrospective documentary on her called The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill. In it, several well-known musicians and public figures talked about her uniqueness as a singer, songwriter and producer, and about her far-reaching impact on music over a 30-year career, despite her notable reclusiveness. Says Elton John in an interview in the documentary:
“She’s unique, she’s a mystery, she’s the most beautiful mystery. Her earlier shows were so sensational, the ones that she did at the Palladium for example, were the benchmark for people’s shows in the future. Orally she was who she was, but visually she created a new standard for people.”
The thing that is consistently said about Kate Bush is that she is an original – from her unique voice, to her lyrics, to her musical arrangements and the way she inhabits very distinct and diverse voices in her work. She herself acknowledged in a rare interview from her early career that she didn’t expect her music to gain mainstream traction:
“The direction I’m going in with my art is the way I want to go because for me it’s a little bit deeper, it’s got more meaning, and it’s not so poppy I suppose. But of course maybe that won’t be so widely accepted, especially in the singles chart.” – Kate Bush
But despite this inclination to work against the current artistically – or maybe because of it – Bush has gained a lasting reputation for striking originality amongst creative people of all stripes.
“One of the things that I love about Kate Bush is her absolute ability to take things, to pluck things that you would never expect to see on a rock album, and put them there and make them work.” – Neil Gaiman, fantasy writer
“You can hear one note of a Kate Bush song, or one note of her voice even, and know immediately what it is,” – Annie Clark, St. Vincent
This switching between characters is evident across Bush’s albums. She was overtly political in her songwriting, proving that success doesn’t have to mean toning down one’s convictions. Defiantly experimental in her sound, and at the height of her fame when most would be riding the wave of momentum to push out further musical projects, she retired from the public eye to focus on her family.
Outkast’s Big Boi, a.k.a Antwan Patton, recalls being irresistibly drawn in by her song, “Running Up That Hill” as a child, after his eclectic uncle introduced him to her music.
“I was in like 6th, 7th grade and used to ride my bike to school and just listen to it, and I just got deeper and deeper into it. That’s one of my biggest musical influences, I love her.”
Peter Gabriel, one of many notable music legends who she’s worked with, had this to say about her:
“Creativity comes from the freedom to fail, and a freedom to fail comes from experimentation, and that’s what gives something its individuality, and I think her courage – which is the positive way of interpreting it – or bloody-mindedness, which is the negative, is part of what gives her real value as an artist.”
At a time when a lot of mainstream pop culture is defined by people latching onto one thing that worked once, and then reproducing it endlessly past the point of good taste, Bush’s life and work ethos serve as a reminder. Each of us has something particularly unique about ourselves that we must identify and harness as a potent source of power.
If you’re going to succeed at whatever you do in life, you need to first decide what that is. As Dolly Parton, another famously unique performer once said, “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.”
Dimitri Ehrlich interviews Kate Bush for Interview Magazine
Image Credit: Interview Magazine