Pop Playground
Robot Tornados: The Videos of Kate Bush



for me, the iconic Kate Bush video sequence will always be from “Hounds of Love,” where Kate, handcuffed to a stiff, dashing man in an overcoat who is dragging her, caveman-style, through the woods, arrives at a party, is definitively solemn and nervous about the handcuff situation, then magically loses the man and their shackles to his friends; when she tries to run to the door to catch him (an impulse that doesn’t seize her until he left), he’s already waiting; he gives her his hand, and she smiles a smile that says king me (in the splay-legged sense) and cuffs him with the casualness of turning off a nightlight. In the video they always dance, and in the room, I almost always crumble.

In a lot of ways, it’s a pretty literal way to act out the song’s conflict: we are lil’ foxes darting through the woods. Love is a pack of dogs that will inevitably, gloriously ravage us. We are afraid. We can’t enjoy the most bone-rattling of human feelings without letting ourselves go limp and take the teeth. Kate’s a kept woman and then a woman who wants to keep. It’s unclear whether she likes it or not. The courtship takes place at a crowded party; people around her don’t really understand her predicament, and she might’ve made her decision to give in under duress.

It’s a theme of a lot of Kate Bush songs and videos. Kate herself talked, in a 1989 interview with NME, about the violence of the tug: “It's very important to try and learn to love people as much as you can. But we all get so scared. It's only when people are at points in their lives when they get such shocks that they take it as it really should be. The rest of us just seem to piss about.”

I’d never had a pinup before; I wasn’t ever someone who crushed on rock personalities, save my brief, unsubstantial fling with the cover of Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth at age five. Seeing “Hounds of Love” for the first time at age 20, I was struck by something much more than just wanting someone: I wanted to be someone. Which, well, was cause for some alarm. In those videos, Kate Bush not only sang about the same problems I had with relating to the world, she acted them out. Fearlessly. I was from the suburbs, liked beery camaraderie, hated theatrics, liked sex with women but idealized them to a point where, in practice, I came closer to hating them. (A point I mention, by the way, only because my first experience with Kate Bush was having The Dreaming played to me by a gay friend who, though usually excessively mannered, gushed like a wound when he put it on—I can’t believe you’ve never heard this record. I wouldn’t have survived high school without it.) I’ve never had a single dirty thought about Kate Bush. I haven’t even had a single normal dirty thought.

What culminates in “Hounds of Love” had started years earlier. Before 1985, there’s almost always some goofy thespian tableaux—a soundstage with some effects here and there, but rarely a full-on narrative—because the show is as simple as watching Kate, and watching her toil in the heat of a feeling: her eyes, balloons expanding in front of her hot mind; her weird gesturing; her inimitable swaying and crackjob dances (personal favorites: the “zombie pianist,” from “Them Heavy People”; the “robot tornado,” from “Running Up That Hill”). But what shines is an incredible paradox: Kate always looks most convincing when she’s unselfconsciously acting out being trapped. Nobody looks as enviably free as Kate Bush running in place in “Suspended in Gaffa,” or Kate Bush suffocating in a plastic bubble in “Breathing,” or Kate Bush trying to swim away from the arms of her lover in “Running Up that Hill,” or making hopeless circles with her arms in “Wow,” or kicking in the embrace of her masked assailant in “Hammer Horror.” Even when that assailant reaches for her throat as the picture fades out, I usually think, Hey, she put up a good fight, he deserves that throat.

I never really envied Kate Bush in those videos, until she got to “Hounds of Love,” and even then, it was a fucking pill, that canny, overly symbolic visual metaphor of the handcuffs. I’ve never been a particularly brave person, romantically speaking, and whenever I’ve been called upon to surrender, I usually offer practiced variations on meanness until it kinda appears that they’re coming from self-assurance rather than fear. I puff out my chest like an idiot bird. I never bothered to look good when I was trapped because I never let myself get trapped. Anyway, I did this at least once before; it’s just a matter of learning my lessons. Seeing Kate Bush struggle away from love was a validation; seeing her slap the cuffs on Waistcoat in “Hounds of Love” was cold water on my face. Kate Bush said shut up and give in.

My friend and Stylus editor Alfred Soto once weathered a long spiel about my romantic confusions and arrested me with a first-hilarious and then not-so-hilarious question: “So, would you say that you think of women as dark, wet labyrinths of mystery?” The thing about Kate Bush is that, unlike the Joanna Newsoms and Liz Phairs and even Stevie Nickses and various lady monoliths who’ve inspired my queasy fascination in the past, she never seemed like a mystery to me. Other women were busking tangles of nerves; Kate was too polite to act out anywhere other than her art. Other women seemed like kooks and liars and generally crazy people, but I always felt like I could actually learn something from Kate Bush. And maybe, you know, get some of those problem thoughts out of my head.

There are other great Kate Bush videos, for sure. “Army Dreamers” should be the standard-bearer for an antiwar statement. “Cloudbusting” cramps a two-hour triumph flick about a boy bearing his father’s torch in the face of persecution—complete with Donald Sutherland!—into several minutes, and the United-Nations-on-art freak-out of “Big Sky” is a melter, right down to the two giraffe heads that kinda unexpectedly pop out from behind the Brazilian flag. But it’s watching the early Kate struggle in the arms of a slew of nameless, sometimes faceless men—representing not only passionate love, but the weird, adult formalities of the game (Prince Charming in “Hounds of Love” looks about as fun as wood)—that made me feel, finally, like there was a woman I could stare at for hours without fear creeping in.

TO WATCH

“Army Dreamers”


“Hounds of Love”


“Wuthering Heights”


“Hammer Horror”


“Cloudbusting”


“Running Up That Hill”


“Babooshka”


“Wow”


“Sat in Your Lap”


“Them Heavy People”


“Suspended in Gaffa”



By: Mike Powell
Published on: 2007-04-20
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