At nineteen years old Kate Bush performed on Top of the Pops for the first time, with a song from her debut album ‘The Kick Inside’. The song was ‘Wuthering Heights’, and hence the world was introduced to an artist whose obsessions and interpretations of literature would be hugely influential in shaping who she was.
Although seemingly obvious to talk about ‘Wuthering Heights’, as a Kate Bush fan it would be ridiculous to ignore it. In under four minutes Kate Bush manages to capture the entirety of Emily Bronte’s tragic love story. Not only do the lyrics tell the story, but the music and her voice embody the atmosphere and passion of the novel; from that first performance from a nineteen-year-old Kate on Top of the Pops, her obsession with literature was made clear and only continued to flourish.
‘The Sensual World’ was influenced by James Joyce’s Ulysses and directly quotes from the novel. Through these songs the audience sees Kate Bush developing her own characters based on those she already loves and understands. ‘Hounds of Love’ as an album is split into two halves, the second entitled ‘The Ninth Wave’- a quote borrowed from Tennyson and his epic Idylls of the King. During her live shows this year, this quote was catapulted into the air from canons- demonstrating just how important this artist feels literature to be.
Although you could go through most of Kate Bush’s songs and discover some form of literary reference or influence, that would take a while- it seems much more interesting to instead look at the way in which this musician creates and embodies characters within her work. Often seen as elusive, it doesn’t feel like Kate Bush writes as Kate Bush until her 2005 album ‘Aeriel’, in which she discusses personal issues such as her relationship with her son. Up until then she has been the master of empathy and understanding, creating multiple characters and writing from their point of view.
From ‘Breathing’ where she imagines being a foetus under the threat of a nuclear explosion, to ‘The Wedding List’ where she embodies the widowed bride looking for revenge, Kate Bush is able to imagine and empathise to the highest degree. She appears to have a distinct understanding for human feeling and emotion, and invites us all to experience these different perspectives with her. And one really has to wonder, would her imagination and experience be as exciting or as able to be expressed so vividly without her love and influence of literature? Her most famous song, ‘Wuthering Heights’, really was just the start of something much more sophisticated and exciting.