Art Doc of the Week | The Kate Bush Story

Without even meaning to, and by simply being herself, Kate Bush managed a neat hat-trick with her music and persona right out of the gate. She was the (female) pop star that tight-buttoned, repressed English Lit majors, men and women, could openly swoon over without placing asterisks of justification or rationalization next to their pleasure. Bush not only wrote songs that referenced classic literature (“Wuthering Heights,” “The Sensual World”), but her own work was heady, literary, rewarding for being challenging.

At the same time, she broadened the palate of pop for the casual pop fan by delivering irresistible hooks (“Running Up That Hill”) within the arty world she’d constructed around herself: interpretive dance, visual installations, performance art and theater. And then there was that voice, which was by turns sensual and commanding – “It’s all like fire just coming out of her mouth,” enthuses St. Vincent at one point in The Kate Bush Story.

The 2014 BBC documentary (see final clip below) was tagged to Bush returning to the concert stage after years in self-imposed exile as a private citizen. It’s a chance for some of her high-profile fans (St. Vincent, Steve Coogan,  Brett Anderson of Suede, Viv Albertine of the Slits, John Lydon, and Neil Gaiman, among them) to gushingly explain what she means to them and British pop culture.

“The music speaks for itself, but liking her makes you feel a bit clever,” says Steve Coogan in one of the most astute bits of commentary about her music and the ways our relationships to pop stars and their music function from the inside. Tricky explains how her music served as a release valve in his youth “taking me away from my stress,” when he locked himself away in his bedroom and plunged into the music through headphones. “They’re not normal songs, none of her songs have been normal,” observes Elton John, as St. Vincent gives a breakdown of the structure of Bush’s music, how atypical it was and is, and how thrilling an experience it is for fellow musicians.

Clips from her music videos, interview and performance footage from throughout her career, and laudatory testimony from fellow musicians flesh out her biography, her musical roots and career trajectory (she wrote “Wuthering Heights” when she was just seventeen,) while the subject of her personal life – about which she’s very guarded – is respectfully addressed.

What soon becomes clear is that Kate Bush has been one of the lucky pop stars (an unlikely pop star) who could sketch out her own terms and actually be able to live by them, to make art she wanted to make, the way she wanted to make it, and without having to play the games of media and industry that have subsumed so many. Her music resonates because it is so exquisitely crafted. She resonates because she’s a such a powerful example of a left-of-center artist fully knowing who she is as a woman and an artist.


Previously on Art Doc of the Week:


Top photo by Peter Mazel/Sunshine