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Fighting the Praise (Kate Bush, Wow)

30 July is Kate Bush’s birthday. You can wish her happy birthday on this MySpace page; view her MySpace channel; read a Wiki bio; track the tracks on Last.fm; catch up on the news; surf Gaffaweb; and, above all, visit her official website. The photo on the right was found on Last.fm.

I have really discovered Bush’s music around 2006, partly thanks to YouTube. Some of the songs you have to like or love: Wuthering Heights, Babooshka, Cloudbursting… I suppose we choose books and songs as “favourites” when they resonate with us or when they open us up to something. And although I could single out Moving and Them Heavy People as favourites, I chose Wow for this post. Why? Because, God knows, “we’d give you a part, my love, but you’d have to play the fool” sounds unbelievably familiar. I’m not complaining really; it’s all a part of life experience. Many of us find ourselves in the situation when someone draws you in their circle – or simply adds you to it. They appear to be genuinely “wowed” and nice. Then before long you discover that you’re a court jester or savant in the kingdom too small that secretly loathes your presence.

I remember reading the passage in The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi about a black actor: talented, he was kept in the background and not given much support, and in the end he broke down and committed a suicide. Sure, this is not the fate of every ethnic, unprivileged or otherwise “different” artist; but it takes to have some unfathomable inner resources to keep one’s cool amidst a lot of noise and niceties that often conceal the indifference (that often covers something else). Is it hard? Wow! Unbelievably so. This is partly why this poem by Kipling has long guided me. The good thing is when you identify the problem because then you’re in for a chance to do something about it.

We’re all alone on the stage tonight.
We’ve been told we’re not afraid of you.
We know all our lines so well, uh-huh.
We’ve said them so many times:
Time and time again,
Line and line again.

Ooh, yeah, you’re amazing!
We think you’re incredible.
You say we’re fantastic,
But still we don’t head the bill.

Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable!
Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable!

When the actor reaches his death,
You know it’s not for real. He just holds his breath.
But he always dives too soon, too fast to save himself.

He’ll never make the screen.
He’ll never make the ‘Sweeney’,
Be that movie queen.
He’s too busy hitting the vaseline.

Ooh, yeah, you’re amazing!
We think you are really cool.
We’d give you a part, my love,
But you’d have to play the fool.

Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable!
Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable!

We’re all alone on the stage tonight.
We’re all alone,
On the stage,

The song appeared on the album Lionheart, and a great article by Debi Withers explores performance and queer subjectivities on the album. This is what Wither particularly says about Wow:

The most obvious example of these strategies can be found in the single released from the album, ‘Wow.’ Based in the ruthless world of show-business, the song contains a teasing critique of the entertainment industry, its routines and the roles people have to play in order to get anywhere within it. Equally, the song can be referring to the roles we play in everyday life that often fall, when we begin to learn them, into predictable forms. […] The song also gently plays upon the hypocrisy of the industry and glamorises failure in the face of flattery and dissimulation. […] The chorus of the song with the repeated ‘Wows’ communicate the wonder and magic of showbiz, while the ambivalent ‘unbelievable’ at the end of the chorus points to the tension between fantasy and reality, that theatre and performance straddle. The chorus also demonstrates the vocal cross-dressing that Wood describes in ‘Sapphonics,’ as the ‘Wows’ oscillate through a scale in their repetitions, beginning the middle register before soaring impossibly high before going low again and then finishing astoundingly with the high release of the final ‘unbelievable.’ The song is also a comment on the very obvious artificial nature of acting, as if to assure those credulous viewers and listeners that what they see before them is not real, that it is rather, artifice. This of course relies on Bush’s audience being absolutely intoxicated by the magic of performance and points to a will that hovers between wanting and not wanting the spell to be broken…

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