Is Kate Bush a Rosicrucian?


From The London Review of Books:

We know all the essential passport application stuff about Bush, and down the years she’s dutifully done the odd unrevealingly bland Q&A, but there’s an immense amount we don’t know. Has she ever taken psychedelic drugs? Has she had therapy? (Reichian, Jungian, marriage?) What music makes her cry? Is she actually a lifelong Rosicrucian? I could make a list fifty items long. Her appeal crosses age, gender, taste; she’s taken on a quite distinct mythic life in our collective dreaming. People who would usually have nothing to do with mainstream rock music (like Rushton) are smitten. She has a huge gay following (queer pagans, radical faeries). Ex-punks and one-time surly troublemakers line up to hymn her praises, when not so long ago she would have been the very model of everything they professed to despise, what with her taste for fuzzy ‘spirituality’ – ley lines, yetis, orgone energy – and tendency towards heavy concept albums. (One side of Aerial has both a Prelude and a Prologue.) Women of all political stripes adore her for the control she has exerted over career and image, for all the easy options she refused; though in fact, she may be the bloke-iest woman in rock. (More of that in a moment.) Rock blokes themselves seem to have an en masse crush on her, though how much this is to do with the real middle-aged mum and canny businesswoman, and how much is down to a long-ago teenager’s tight-leotard dreams, is sometimes hard to judge.

Kate is perceived to be more ‘one of us’ than other pop/rock figures, one of the extended family. There’s a feeling that she’s ‘stayed the same’, that success ‘hasn’t spoiled her’. She’s someone you might have known at sixth-form college, or at your Saturday job (the artier kind, obviously: knick-knack stall at the local market); but definitely a scream down the pub, with her packet of Silk Cut and pint of proper scrumpy. At the same time, people are drawn to her peacock’s-tail otherness, the slightly recherché taste for odd bods like Ouspensky, Gurdjieff and Wilhelm Reich. She has the soul of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but the robust mien of Mrs Thatcher at a 1980s cabinet meeting. Obviously, no one maintains a position somewhere near the top of the music biz for three and a half decades by being entirely nice and floppy and whichever-way-the-wind-blows. From the off, she was the beneficiary of her parents’ middle-class smarts. A precociously dreamy, sky-eyed teen daughter, she was wisely shepherded. Family and management were merged, became one and the same: Kate Inc., a well-tended cottage industry. Her decision, after 1979’s one exhausting and ill-fated outing, not to tour again, removed yet another plank from the algae-hued drawbridge over the moat. (Consider a few tropes from Aerial: fond dreams of invisibility; pained bafflement at Elvis’s trashy reclusion; the self-imposed exile of Charles Foster Kane; and Joan of Arc, ‘beautiful in her armour …’) Ever since, she has lived a life in many ways more like a writer’s than a modern pop star’s: pop’s own J.K. Rowling. (With her Roman Catholic background and taste for bittersweet mysticism, other names suggest themselves here too: Muriel Spark, Penelope Fitzgerald, Angela Carter, Fay Weldon.) She slowly assumed the status of national treasure, despite or maybe precisely because of the cannily maintained, resonantly low profile. There are forms of politesse and prevarication that can slot very well into a wider tactical scheme. Pragmatic business smarts and keeping the wider world at one remove: why shouldn’t they go hand in hand? Other rock stars may be called out for losing touch with real life; when Bush betrays the same distance it’s thought admirable, soulful, apt. Whatever the soil that sustains this particular English Rose, we obviously consider it healthy.

She gets away with (indeed, gets praised for) things which, presented by other members of the rock aristocracy, would be strafed with scorn. All her albums from The Sensual World to Fifty Words for Snow got far kinder reviews than the patchy material really merited. (I had to consult the track listing of The Sensual World when I realised the quietly awesome title song was literally the only thing I could remember.) It’s hard to dispel a suspicion that were she one more Rock Bloke (a Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters or Brian Pern), critics would be far less kind to her mistakes. Imagine a reclusive Rock Bloke foisting on his impatient public the following: long waits for concept albums full of ‘great mates’ from the 1970s; songs about Bigfoot and snowmen and Stephen Fry reciting daffy gibberish; unadventurous marking-time remixes of old material. Someone, in sum, who displayed every symptom of having let zero new music into his manor house for twenty or thirty years. I’m not convinced our huffy Rock Bloke would get the same across-the-board critical hosannas as Bush. There’s a song on Aerial about her son Bertie: ‘Lovely lovely lovely lovely Bertie! The most wilful, the most beautiful, the most truly fantastic smile I’ve ever seen!’ Would Sting, say, be as gently indulged, should he trill something similar? Granted, we may look more kindly on a mother’s paean to her first child; but there is a line between a song about maternal psychology and just plain yuck, and Bush comes perilously close to country dancing all over it. (The song is smarter than it might at first seem, and involves balancing her shameless gush against a rigid classical line – an interesting idea that suggests both selfless love and disciplined nurture. But in the end that’s what it remains: an interesting idea.)

“Sonic Foam”, Ian Penman, London Review of Books