Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory
Since the late 1970s, Kate Bush has been the original weirdchik in modern female pop music—press- and tour-shy, highly literate and culturally aware, witchy and Catholic, English and Eastern, masculine and high-femme. Above all, Kate has that voice, which she debuted at age nineteen with her song 'Wuthering Heights,' an eerie tale told from the point of view of Catherine Earnshaw's ghost. If there had been no Kate Bush, there would have been no Tori Amos, and most likely no PJ Harvey or Bjork either. Deborah M. Withers is unsurprisingly a big fan of Kate's body of work as well as a self-identified queer woman and academic who draws on Kate's music and the gender theories of Judith Butler, Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Adriana Cavarero, and Donna Haraway to present feminist and queer interpretations of Kate Bush albums.
Normally, this is the kind of ambitious academic project that I love and that my friend Brendan calls 'grad school crap.' Withers applies her everything-but-the-kitchen-sink theories to all of Kate's albums and her film The Line, the Cross and the Curve, mostly by cherry-picking fairly obscure lyrics and describing musical beats that she believes support her particular idea for that song or album. Withers has created the idea of what she refers to as the 'Bushian Feminine Subject' or the BFS, which is the 'I' in all of Kate's songs; the BFS can be either male or female, of any race, and refers essentially to the character that Kate becomes for each song. It's an interesting interpretation since far too often the casual music fan thinks that every 'I' in a song refers to the musician herself. (For example: Kate's song 'Cloudbusting' is sung from the point of view of Wilhelm Reich's son.) Withers also wants to provide her own view into Kate's music since Kate has long been interpreted via the white, male, heterosexual music critics of the 1970s and 1980s. I am certain that Kate's occasionally difficult lyrics and complex musical arrangements point to something deeper than what is perceived superficially, but I am unconvinced by Withers' hodge-podge of queer, feminist, post-structuralist, and post-human (a new one to me) theories. She makes much of the Bushian Feminine Subject's putative queerness, racial appropriation, male and female performance, suicide, and rebirth.
At 157 pages, Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory seems more like a particularly ambitious college thesis than a book-length treatise on an important female artist with far-reaching cultural impact. It isn't poorly written, but it does appear to reach too far in its quest to assign theoretical meaning to Kate Bush's records. I was more curious to delve further into Withers' source materials than into the book itself. I might still recommend it to fans of Kate Bush and those who are into high theory; it is a short read and interesting and entertaining in its own right.