In Search of Peter Pan

(127 comments)

In Search of Peter Pan
Tour of Life

In recent entries, we’ve addressed that Lionheart is a heavily recycled album. Pressed for time to read an album after months of promoting The Kick Inside, Bush did the sane thing and salvaged songs she’d already written. The result is largely to the album’s detriment, with the overall sound being a step backwards from The Kick Inside’s iconoclasm. Yet the overall retro feel makes Lionheart an interesting album in its own right, with a relative lack of confidence which in some ways makes it more compelling than its predecessor. Lionheart retreats often to the recesses of childhood and theater in the face of worldly adult duties. It’s an album constructed from a terror of being thrust onto the world stage and working in narrower confines than one was allowed in adolescence. Worse, it’s being asked to fall back to keep yourself afloat. Imagine if you had to submit your associate’s degree essays for an undergraduate program, and you have something akin to this album.

Resultingly, Lionheart is apprehensive and often lyrically tense. “In Search of Peter Pan,” an odd track loved more by Björk than the general public, is rife with tension. It’s one of the more shapeless songs on Lionheart, starting the verse with a Bushian piano sweep, and moving into a clunky “they took the GAME/right out of it” section underscored by David Paton’s thudding bass, which awkwardly segues into Bush’s ebullient declaration of “I will be/AN ASTRONAUT and find Peter Pan.” It’s an awkward song that consists more of segments of melody than a consistently hummable piece of music. Yet it’s hard to say this isn’t a compelling piece of work. The creeping synthy parts under “she makes me sad” are hair-raising, and Bush’s harmonic vocals on “second star on the right/straight on ‘til morning” are genuinely beautiful. Whatever musical stage “In Search of Peter Pan” places its story on, it’s one with a sense of dramatic juxtaposition, however flawed it is.

Of course we have to talk about the song’s titular character. Peter Pan is effectively popular culture’s favorite anthropomorphization of adolescence. As he will never grow up, he embodies childhood as an endless state which actively revolts against growing up. Given that Bush had been writing fairly adolescent songs not too far back, it’s clear to see why she’d use Pan as a touchstone. Yet her path differs from Pan’s: in the chorus, she declares her desire to grow up and “find Peter Pan” (perhaps as some kind of star sailor) and escape from the trap of adult life. The departure from Peter Pan is that Bush states that she will become an adult instead of just flying to Neverland. Part of being an adult to Bush is being able to enjoy childlike things. More pertinently, as a child you believe you will hold onto childish things forever, and as an adult she holds onto this belief. The culture of children is an important part of Bush’s ethos — it presents an alternative to the tedium of adulthood. She’s never let go of childhood as an ideal, letting it play a role in her work as late as Aerial.

Bush’s quotation of Disney in the outro is an extension of this. The quote she knabs is the most famous part of Pinocchio: “when you wish upon a star/makes no difference who you are/when you wish upon a star/your dreams come true.” This is the Disney theme song, the saccharine aphorism on which their brand is constructed. Bush is quoting the most fantastical idea of childhood possible. Yet she takes this overused quote and turns it into the song’s most interesting musical moment. She sings the quote in a minor key, slowly descending as she does it. It’s not a straight quote; Bush outright warps the song. As Bush won’t pretend childhood is without pain, depictions of it must reflect some kind of wrongness and pain.

 “In Search of Peter Pan” has no shortage of adolescent agony. At the start of the song, Bush has given up and declared that she “no longer see[s]” a future. Throughout the song she sings about a child whose life has been derailed by adult interference, taking the game right out of it. Modes of escape are flights of fancy, whether it be the singer’s friend Dennis who fancies himself beautiful (a queer part of the song) or flying away to be Peter Pan. Fantasy is a refuge for Bush: when in doubt, remember your inner fantasist.

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