Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Ninth Wave

I saw Kate Bush perform a week ago today, accompanied by my parents. It was an evening of pure spectacle – an entire, self-enclosed world of narratives - by turns joyful, by turns dark. A world peopled by birds, puppets, fish people, dancers, astronomers, family members – and, to re-purpose a T.S Eliot quote, “at the still point of the turning world”, Kate. Yet, really, she wasn’t that still. The stage was hers to dance upon and spin over and be hauled around. But, being the one we’d all ultimately come to see (and hear), there was of course a heady sense of the performance hinging on her presence – although she was quick to remind everyone (quite rightly) of the extraordinary work of the ensemble around her, from band members and backing dancers to all those hidden behind the curtains.

The first glimpse of her was ever so exciting, with whoops and cheers booming loud. The whoops were repeated on the opening chords of various songs in that thrilling instance of recognition as Running Up That Hill or Cloudbusting began. Applause became the stitching, with each song – so well known and adored by the audience – seamed together with our clapping hands.

I could spend pages discussing the minutiae of the show: the different stories enacted, the extraordinary combination of music and visuals, the striking set designs and lighting, the privilege of spending a few hours immersed in the inventions of a particularly dynamic imagination. But even attempting to condense down the scope of it to a few hundred words feels wrong.

What struck me particularly though is how, while everyone seated in the Hammersmith Apollo was seeing the same show, we were all viewing it with different eyes. Maybe some saw Kate perform on her original tour in 1979. Maybe some had particular connections with one album or another. Maybe some, like me, had discovered her afresh via a combination of family vinyls, CDs and Youtube videos.  All of us, in one way or another, were projecting our own image of ‘Kate Bush’ onto that stage – one based on, but not the same as that woman standing in front of us. She’s been mythologized and written about and discussed to the point that her public status can almost be seen in separation to whoever she may be in her private life.

This awareness of varied perspectives and projections held a particular weight for me that evening for two reasons. The first is that Hounds of Love has a continuing place of resonance for me, being one of three albums I listened to repeatedly while I spent a week in hospital recovering from spinal surgery. It became so charged that there were certain songs, such as Hello Earth, that I then found too unsettling to listen to for months afterwards.

The second, more immediate reason was that we had found out the day before the performance that my grandad was gravely ill. A very rapid decline following an illness assumed to be temporary meant that my mum was suddenly facing the loss of her sole remaining parent. He had lived in a residential care home for the last few years, leading a quiet, contained, relatively content life.

This news meant that the themes of the show suddenly took on an extra layer of poignancy. The Ninth Wave sequence – drawn from the second half of Hounds of Love – explores ideas of sinking, surfacing, drowning, movement, loss, love, letting go. A more perfect metaphor for what was happening within our family would be hard to find. Mum wept through the opening song, while I held her hand as it drew to a close. The entire sequence of billowing silk waves, helicopter lights, icy encounters and a single, flashing beacon was as beautiful as it was devastating.

It wasn’t merely about pathos. The absolute celebration of life and living was just as important. Kate Bush still strikes me as being an artist whose work is underpinned by heart and humanity in a way that few others achieve. But as the night drew to a close, following the exuberance and (occasional slight) menace of a Sky of Honey, our family returned once more to thoughts of grandad. The penultimate song, played by Kate on the piano, was Among Angels. It finishes:  

“I can see angels around you.
 They shimmer like mirrors in Summer.
There’s someone who’s loved you forever but you don’t know it
You might feel it and just not show it.”

My grandad was of the generation that didn’t display or verbalize emotion, but he was a good, kind, thoughtful, sensitive man who showed in all his actions that he loved my mum and us, fiercely. So, as he lay, warm and cared-for, in a bed miles and miles away from that show, we sat in the dark at the Apollo and marveled at how the songs on stage could have such an unexpected, personal connection to us that night. 

In the following days after we’d returned home, when mum was spending her time sitting with him; talking/ reading/ singing to him, she recalled another, much earlier, Kate Bush song – Breathing. The chorus is a series of cries of “out, in, out, in.” That was the rhythm of his room in those last few days, his breath the background sound. Finally that out, in, out faded slowly to silence on Friday. He died on a day where a sky of honey stretched above the hills.

In one of those weeks full of seeming coincidences and moments of concordance, Sunday began with the sea (in these photos) and six days later, Friday ended with sky. 
We'd chosen the watery location as a deliberate reference to the content of the show (knowing that The Ninth Wave would figure) - and what a perfect choice. However, there was a slight clash of time-period references, with the vintage 70s dress from eBay much more Wuthering Heights than Hounds of Love. 


mondoagogo said...

I've never actually been a fan of Kate Bush, but this made me wish I could have seen the show.

Death of a loved one is always hard, but you manage to find the light, and, appropriately, the light in these photos is glorious (as is the dress).

Ivana Split said...

I'm sorry for your loss and in this moment I can relate to it. Last Thursday my grandmother's brother died. Both of my grandfathers died quite young so he was perhaps the closest to a grandfather image that I had. His death was not unexpected but the worst part about it for me was that my family forgot to let me know about it until this Sunday. I feel like I had been robbed out of the opportunity to say goodbye from him and that really makes me ache inside.

It is so hard to let the love ones go, even when you know they had a fulfilled life and that is better for them not to suffer (in cases of illnesses that are horribly painful and incurable like it was sadly the case with him). I think it is impossible to avoid sadness and loss when a loved one is gone, no matter how old or ill.

I really loved your description of the concert. Music has such a power over our emotions, perhaps more than any other art form- Poetry comes pretty close, having the rhythm and similar characteristics that create that 'caught in the emotion' sensation. I can imagine how the concert must had been emotional for you-- for me concerts are always emotional (perhaps because I go only to those that have a personal meaning to me. I'm at age when one doesn't go clubbing at weekends and concerts become more and more food for the soul not places to drink and socialize) Sometimes I have a feeling like music transforms me to another place and time...

Similarly, I have never been able to listen to klapa ( a kind of accapella singing originating in Dalmatia and Istria) without tears. Here is a link of one song if you want to listen to it.


This particular type of singing always makes me quite emotional, probably because it is often sang at funerals...and there is this entire tradition and culture behind it...but that is another subject.

You look absolutely divine! The dress is really something<3 and the photography as always---so perfect!

Anonymous said...

Dear Rosalind,
I am very sorry for your loss. Yet your power of expressing emotions somehow always encourages me. Thank you for this post.

Willow said...

I am so sorry for your loss, Rosalind. And watching your mum lose her dad must be absolutely heartbreaking. Beautiful and poignant piece. Big love to you and your family, I hope you're all okay.



Sorry to hear about your family's loss Roz. As a long time fan of Kate Bush, I'm sure the performance was spectacular as well as poignant for you. Marvellous interpretation through these images and your beautiful words.

Melanie said...

I'm glad you and your parents could attend this concert together when Kate Bush is such a special artist for all of you. I'm sad to hear of your grandfather's death and my condolences to your family while you grieves.
I love your gown in the water.

Izzy DM said...

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. Your description of your grandfather's last days brought tears to my eyes. I have to check out Kate Bush! You talk about her so often; I don't think she's as well-known in the States, but I'm nowhere near as musically-knowledgeable as my sister or some of my friends (so don't take my word for it.).

Harper and I send you a hug and kiss!

Miu said...

I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.

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