Like Wears The Trousers, author Deborah M Withers is a champion of independent publishing. Adventures In Kate Bush & Theory is her first title, an expanded version of her graduate thesis released via her own recently created DIY imprint, HammerOn Press. The tome is a dedicated journey charting “the polymorphously perverse Kate, the witchy Kate, the queer Kate, the Kate who moves beyond the mime”. As Withers pertinently points out in the press release, most of the critical writing on Bush was set down decades ago by middle class, middle aged, male critics – not necessarily the most informed demographic to tackle Bush’s complex, unorthodox and highly female-centric body of work. Withers, a white, queer woman in her late twenties, prisms this dust-layered vision fantastically, offering a fresher, informed and intuitively perspicacious reading.
Her polemic is created through the use of a symbolic representative she names the BFS – “the Bush Feminine Subject”. This being is “found within Bush’s music….but is not the same as Bush herself”, and its through this multi-gendered, multi-aspected persona that Withers applies a deep, layered exploration of Bush’s songs and their coded/more overt meanings. Single songs are analysed with dedication, integrating lyrical content and contextual information with musical architecture, fitting them within the framework of their respective album and placing the albums themselves as stages of growth and transition in the ever transforming spiral of the BFS’s evolution.
Her analysis of Bush’s lyrics are backed up with extensive research, quotes from Bush and her critics, and a wider, dexterously applied knowledge of ancillary areas, reeling in everything from the psychology of fairy tale and the politics of girlhood to the symbolic use of traditional Irish music and the paradoxical elements of British colonial identity. The subjects Withers calls upon are broad but always relevant, and only serve to decode and animate Bush’s equally complex and far reaching soundscapes. Some of the interpretations may fall in places toward the intuited rather than the explicitly confirmed, but this is to be expected as music as a form will always be partially subjective. Withers’s interpretations make for incisive, innovative reading regardless, engaging perspectives of Bush’s work that have been silently felt by fans but undocumented specifically in the written history of music theory.
Special attention is afforded to the works that have become frequently neglected and discounted by critics, such as The Dreaming, The Red Shoes and her 1993 film ‘The Line, The Cross & The Curve’. In doing so, Withers not only honours but reclaims the parts of Bush’s career that have been deemed too weird, messy and ‘hysterical’ to be considered worthy of critical (male) gaze. She captures the twisting, evolving nature of the BFS, and also manages to pin it quite effectively to the time-specific consciousness of its conception, opening out the cultural, era-specific conditions that Bush’s work cultivated within, and simultaneously reveals just how innovative her work was/is, both spiritually and musically. Excitingly, Withers ties past to present (and future) by successfully applying modern, queer/feminist/social theory to a body of music and film that spans from 1978 to 2005, unveiling Bush’s enduringly radical artistry and emphasising its magnificent relevance to the emerging theories and thoughts of today’s world.
Though Withers is undeniably inspired by Bush’s work, an emphasis is placed on deciphering her music as content, so analysis and discussion correctly preside rather than self-serving fangirl gushing. Withers’s lexicon is decidedly intellectual and may be a little too dense for those unfamiliar with the language and challenge of academia, but her style is linear and well-structured despite its obviously passionate directive and the wild and diverse nature of its source material. Through Withers’s study, we may marvel at the power and effect of Bush’s art, but also the sheer worth of music at its most potently genuine. Queer and feminist theory allow us to view, interpret and understand art in a bolder way, and applying these ideologies to Bush’s music allows the listener/reader to enjoy and appreciate this art in a way that will feel more authentic and realised to many.
Withers investigates the mysteries of Bush’s music with an academic vision, but intensifies the courageous spirit of the subjects rather than turning them into case studies. It helps if you have a basic knowledge of Bush’s music, but if you have yet to lose yourself in the raptures of ‘Hounds Of Love’ or ‘Wuthering Heights’, this book will inspire you to undertake your own adventure. Longstanding fans will undoubtedly benefit from hearing time-honoured favourites in a new, more dynamic light, and may even give albums they had missed or songs that they’d had trouble connecting to a new found attention and admiration. Adventures In Kate Bush & Theory is a stimulating and absorbing text, and provides a dedicatedly comprehensive reading of an artist who has been lauded and revered but perhaps never fully appreciated until now.
[HammerOn Press; March 15, 2010]
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