Here’s something for you to chew on: Madonna and Kate Bush are the same age. I always have trouble reconciling this – they never seemed to exist on the same planet, let alone at the same time, but it’s true – The Material Girl and our ethereal goddess have both turned 60 this month. I have always been a fan of both of them and am not here to put down one over the other. I love them for different reasons – to hold one up to the other would be like comparing apples and umami. Diversity among the divas, right?
Madge has garnered plenty of press upon turning 60, so I wanted to focus on Kate, specifically her early gay-centric songs. Two appeared on her second LP, Lionheart, which came out 40 years ago this November – another number I can’t quite wrap my head around. Lionheart may be her least-known LP, rushed out just 9 months after her acclaimed debut, The Kick Inside. Many of the songs were written by Kate throughout her teens, including “Kashka From Baghdad” and “Wow”.
Prone to obscure literary inspiration, Kate would (often reluctantly) explain the origins of her lyrics by vaguely pointing the listener in the right direction and allowing them to fill in the blanks for themselves. “Kashka From Baghdad” is not a song that needs much explanation. The opening line:
Kashka from Baghdad lives in sin they say / With another man / But no one knows who
Kate sings the song from the perspective of a person watching their shadows “Tall and slim in the window opposite / I long to be with them.”
The chorus, if you can call it that, is: At night they’re seen / Laughing, loving / They know the way / To be happy
Awfully progressive for a catholic teen writing songs in the mid-70’s British suburbs, don’t you think?
“Kashka From Baghdad” is one of Kate’s forgotten early songs – overlooked in favor of all the brilliance that came after. On the other hand, every Kate Bush compilation contains the song “Wow”, which became her third UK top 20 hit song. “‘Wow’ is about the music business,” she said at the time. “Not just rock music but show business in general, including acting and theatre.” Fill in the blanks yourself.
In the book Kate Bush, A Visual Documentary, authors Kevin Cann & Sean Mayes go a bit further in explaining the lyrics: “… people working together hype each other’s spirits up with their enthusiasm and admiration. But as most performers know this can be deceptive – ‘still we don’t head the bill.’ And this actor has a problem: many successful performers are gay, but some are too gay – ‘He’ll never make the Sweeney (a popular UK TV program at the time), be that movie queen. He’s too busy hitting the vaseline.’ For many gay actors, there is no place in the mainstream – we’ll call you – ‘but don’t hold your breath.'”
In the original video for the song, Kate punctuates the ‘hitting the vaseline’ line with a pat on the bum, which was suggestive enough to get the video censored by the BBC.
There is a song called “Moving” on Kate’s first LP that was written about Lindsay Kemp, her dance teacher and mentor. Kemp was/is an openly gay dancer/actor/mime, a highly influential British artist who was involved personally and professionally with David Bowie. He staged and performed in the Ziggy Stardust stage show among many other acclaimed theatrical productions with his own dance company.
“I couldn’t believe how strongly Lindsay communicates with people without even opening his mouth;” Kate said in a 1979 interview. “It was incredible, he had the whole audience in his control, just with his little finger. And it was amazing. I’d never seen anything like it, I really hadn’t. And I felt if it was possible to combine that strength of movement with the voice, then maybe it would work, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
I’m not going to pretend to know how vigorously Kemp pursued a film career, but a glance at the IMDB shows a list of film roles that seldom had character names: Pantomime Dame, Jester, Cabaret Performer …
“We’d give you a part, my love, but you’d have to play the fool….”
Well, she did give him a part. In 1993, Kate cast Kemp in his biggest film role costarring with her and Miranda Richardson in The Line, The Cross and the Curve.
Here’s wishing Kate a Happy 60th Birthday. I still hope that she might bring her triumphant 2016 stage show to Broadway for a limited run. We shall see. Whatever her next move, oooh yeah… it’ll be amazing.