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Deborah M. Withers: Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory (2010) April 25, 2010

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Deborah M. Withers: Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory

There’s been a boomlet in Kate Bush writing over the last few years. 33 1/3 has a book on The Dreaming in the works. Ron Moy’s Kate Bush and Hounds of Love appeared in 2007 (I missed it, but it’s on order). Rob Jovanovic’s solid and straightforward biography, called Kate Bush: The Biography, came out a few years ago, as did a second edition of a collector’s guide.

And just this year Deborah M. Withers published Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory.

Withers says she called the book that because she wanted to write a book about Kate Bush using various types of critical theory but she wanted it to be fun, too. Unlike some writers of pop culture criticism I can think of (like Enterprise Zones, a collection of essays on Star Trek) she pays a lot of attention to the actual subject instead of just stringing together a lot of quotes from Cixous, Deleuze, Guattari, etc. Her interpretations are guided as much by close reading of Kate Bush’s lyrics and listening to the performances (and watching videos) as by theory, and I’m actually learning interesting new things about a musician I’ve been listening to for over thirty years. Plus, as Withers points out, pretty much everything else about Kate Bush has been written by middle-aged straight white guys, so a book by a young lesbian is going to offer some new perspectives.

The book looks at several of Bush’s albums, following the progression of what Withers calls the Bushian Feminine Subject, looking more at the personas represented in Bush’s songs than Bush herself. The Kick Inside is about the human body, Lionheart about performance, camp, and artificiality (except when it’s about English nationalism, in the title song, though why that can’t be something of a performance in itself isn’t really addressed), Never For Ever about transition, and so on. It’s an approach that works pretty well.

The book sometimes moves a bit too quickly for its own good; if Withers is going to address the ways in which Bush moves from the English nationalism of “Lionheart” or the Orientalism of “Kashka from Baghdad” to the more relative anti-colonialism of The Dreaming, why not discuss “Pull Out the Pin,” which appears to be from the perspective of a Viet Cong guerilla?

The section on The Red Shoes has some good commentary on the album’s related video The Line, the Cross, and the Curve in the context of the fairy tale “The Red Shoes” and the Powell and Pressburger movie based on it. However, it has less discussion of the actual music on the album. That’s unfortunate, because with all its celebrity guest stars (Eric Clapton, Prince, Nigel Kennedy, etc) it seemed to be trying too hard to connect with the mainstream and sell more records. But that may not tie in neatly with Withers’s narrative of the Bushian Feminine Subject.

The Aerial section seems rather rushed, too, skipping the first disc entirely and again not really spending much time on the music.

Overall, though, this quirky mix of playfulness and critical theory is a surprisingly accessible read, and one with a fair number of interesting new insights. It’s more relevant (and much more current) than Fred Vermorel’s The Secret History of Kate Bush (& the Strange Art of Pop), for longtime fans who remember when that was almost the only book on Kate…



1. Nik - October 29, 2010

Adventures in Kate Bush & Theory Event

We have an event coming up at Housmans Bookshop, London on November 6th. Deborah M. Withers presents a Queer, feminist and critical studies reading of Kate Bush’s music. Hope you can make it.

For more information look on our website, http://www.housmans.com

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