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Heat Waves: Something Good is Gonna Happen

Read Friday, 2 Feb 2018

Our Heat Waves summer series invites musicians to reflect on song lyrics that are forever lodged in their heads or hearts. In our final piece in the series, Sam George-Allen lingers among laundry and cloudbusting machines with Kate Bush.

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Washing Machine

I wish I could remember the first time I heard Kate Bush. I would have been at least 22, probably slumped in front of my computer, clicking without conviction on a link sent to me by my friend Stephanie. I wish I could remember it, because it changed everything.

I was a nerdy, arrogant, self-consciously strange young adult. Discovering Kate Bush was like seeing the face of God appear through a Vaseline-coated lens.

Her guileless weirdness, and her astonishing success despite or because of it, laid new foundations in me. Her biggest hit is sung from the perspective of a ghost from a 19th-century Gothic novel, for Christ’s sake. To this day, at the heart of every song I write is the mantra: if Kate can write about dirty shirties in a washing machine, I can write about this.

Bush’s lyrics are history, poetry and philosophy. They are intimate, ethereal, scholarly and playful – covering topics from romance to witchcraft to computers. They are a glimpse of the entire world as though viewed through a prism, breaking everything down into its individual hues.

Discovering Kate Bush was like seeing the face of God appear through a Vaseline-coated lens.

My favourite Kate Bush song is ‘Cloudbusting’, from her immersive, wildly successful 1985 record, Hounds of Love. A retelling of the relationship between Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and his son, Peter, the song describes Peter’s desolation after his father’s arrest and subsequent death. Here, as with all her lyrics, Bush is not afraid to deal in specifics: 

I still dream of Orgonon

I wake up crying

You’re making rain

And you’re just in reach

When you and sleep escape me

You’re like my yo-yo

That glowed in the dark

What made it special

Made it dangerous

So I bury it – and forget

Photo of Wilhelm Reich's tomb and one of his cloudbusters
Wilhelm Reich’s tomb, and cloudbuster

Orgonon was a 280-acre farm in Maine that Wilhelm Reich bought in the 1940s after fleeing Nazi Germany. An eccentric, and a borderline mystic, he believed in the power of a biological/divine energy called ‘orgone’ and named his own house after it. The yo-yo Bush references in the song is a glow-in-the-dark toy Peter owned. His father made him bury it in the garden because of its ‘negative energy’.

I know all this because after hearing ‘Cloudbusting’ for the first time, and watching the music video, I spent hours learning everything I could about Reich and the song and Bush’s process. In the video, Bush – always teetering between sylph and clown – plays Peter, shooting cloud-seeds into the sky with his father to make it rain. I had never heard, or seen, anything like it. It was like waking up from a dream I couldn’t remember, with only the emotions lingering: loss and hope. I just know that something good is gonna happen, she croons. Just saying it could even make it happen.

Her songs do this: they transport you. It sounds cliché, but how else do you explain the sensation of being tumbled into another life for three minutes at a time? Consider ‘Mrs Bartolozzi’, possibly the most sensual pop song ever written about doing laundry. (Possibly the only pop song about laundry?) Regardless:

… a glimpse of the entire world as though viewed through a prism, breaking everything down into its individual hues

I watched them go ’round and ’round

My blouse wrapping itself around your trousers

Oh and the waves are going out

My skirt floating up around my waist

As I wade out into the surf

Oh and the waves are coming in

Oh and the waves are going out

Oh and you’re standing right behind me

Little fish swim between my legs

Later, she sighs the refrain: Washing machine … washing machine …Her voice – that plummy accent, that silky soprano – turns this tool of domestic labour into a thing of beauty. The soft gnash and keen of it is hypnotic – like watching the washing go ‘round.

Bush elevates housework into artwork, treating the domestic with the aesthetic attention it deserves. She allows the fugue of endless laundry to take on the gravitas and grandeur of philosophical meditation. She lets us follow Mrs Bartolozzi from the laundry to the ocean and back to the washing line. She shows us that the inner lives of women doing chores in the home are rich, enigmatic, worth singing about.

Little boys missing their fathers; housewives daydreaming at the laundry sink; ghosts at the window; witches trapped under frozen lakes. There’s no better role model for peculiar young women with a propensity for creative drama: the mime-influenced choreography, the reclusiveness, the hair. Everything I write, I write for her: Kate Bush, witch priestess of my heart; God in a red or white dress.


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