CW: This entire blog post discusses domestic abuse, sexual violence, and severe emotional manipulation at length and in triggering detail.
“The little fucker had thrown my papers all over the floor. All I tried to do was pull him up… a momentary loss of muscular coordination.”
Jack Torrance, The Shining.
The woman who raised me had seemingly few qualms about shrieking her disapproval at me several times per day. Usually she accomplished her purpose with words, but sometimes she would punctuate her castigations with a punitive strike of her hand. It was unclear to me what this accomplished beyond making me afraid of my own parent. If that was her purpose, she succeeded impressively.
In the summer of 2015, I learned that there was a familial precedent for my birth-giver’s violent tendencies. For a couple months, I stayed with her parents while she worked abroad. After a minor argument in which I told the family that an extended episode of severe depression would impair my ability to join the family on a daytrip, my grandfather trailed me to my guest bedroom and aggressively pushed me through the door. As I attempted to raise myself from the floor and understand what had just happened, my grandfather stormed into the room, leaned on the floor, and pinned me down with his thumb close enough to my windpipe to be threatening. I recall little of the following altercation, except for when I was called an “evil little shit,” “an unruly child,” and worth reporting to the police. When the cops eventually arrived at the house (a process that entailed my grandfather disconnecting the landline while I barricaded myself in my room as my then-mother pounded on the door and begged me not to call the police), they concurred with my family. I was told later that my ambiguously defined ill behavior was out of line and repeat incidents could call for juvenile detention. The event was left unaddressed.
Months later, my birth-giver pressured me into emailing her father an apology. At that point, I acquiesced to the idea that I was a delinquent whose behavior disrupted and hurt the whole family. It felt like a resolution. I was at peace with my family, insofar as one can maintain a truce with a person who remorselessly assaulted them. The fatuousness of viewing abuse stories as having a clear-cut beginning or ending did not occur to me. I could do nothing but retreat inward and shrink, hoping desperately that I could be small enough to escape from the small-minded capriciousness of the people who should have raised me.
The Dreaming sees Kate Bush turning towards an epistemological centering of subconscious and repressed emotions. It calls to the listener, inviting them to unleash their trauma, rage, and fear in torrents of vital and horrible catharsis. Bush reveals that the adolescent optimism of her previous albums, while real and legitimate, masked deep-rooted emotions beyond neophyte positivity and bravado. While those other albums (particularly the doleful Lionheart and sometimes Delphic Never for Ever) contain great darkness themselves, The Dreaming sees Bush unleashing the id, allowing the powerful emotiveness of her work to reveal its full breadth and ability to be furious, wretchedly disconsolate, and full of hurt. As Deborah Withers describes it, the album is about “the deconstruction of certainties.” It may not be Bush’s magnum opus, but it is possibly her artistic apotheosis, a traumatic wound to culture and popular music that the world never recovers from.
The set of songs curated by Bush with engineer Hugh Padgham (which we’re completing with this blog entry) centralizes this embrace of the subconscious and the id. As new songs and engineers enter the picture, The Dreaming’s core ideas metastasize into disparate and musical thematic territories. But the Padgham session is arguably the “pure” version of TheDreaming, in its nascent stage of unleashing one’s id. The mélange of sounds and traumas contained in these first three songs is emblematic of the entire album. Before the global politics and lush excesses of instrumentation found on later tracks emerge, there’s the dark heart of The Dreaming in the Padgham-engineered tracks. Much of this consists of Bush forging her way through the early 1980s. Padgham coined the gated drum sound which emblematized 1980s pop music, and these early songs contain a self-abnegation, uncertainty, and reverberating over-mixing that can be found throughout the decade. As the age of neoliberalism collates into an obelisk of nuance-less accumulation, the broader culture is throw into an afflicting gale, less sure of itself than ever.
Uncertainty pervades “Get Out of My House,” The Dreaming’s brutal culmination. Catalyzed by its beleaguering yet urgent drumbeat and a lacerating lead guitar part from Alan Murphy, it is confrontational and purgative in its spectacular vocal menagerie, all in dialogue (often call-and-response) with one another yet seemingly not of an accord, as the bombastic and tremulous delivery of “when you left, the door was…” is answered by the siren-like, low-mixed B.V.’s crying “SLAMMING!” Adhering mostly to 4/4, “Get Out of My House” revolves through dizzying sequences of repetitive chord changes, with its first verse in G# melodic minor, confined to a progression of i-IV (G# minor – C#), moving to the natural minor in Verse Two with a progression of i-iv (G# minor – C # minor), signaling a domination of brutal repetition and minor keys without catharsis. With one of Bush’s most agonized vocals carrying the refrain (a genuinely harrowing and throaty “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”), the song emits agony, trauma, and expulsion.
The man who was my father often pontificated about his love for me. Shedding the crocodile tears of a consummate sentimentalist, he would frequently expatiate about how proud he was of me and what a good person I was. This would inevitably happen after he mocked me for my everyday behavior, berated me for having opinions contradictory to his own, treat himself as an authority talking down to a stupid and helpless buffoon, call me a prick, and shooting down pretty much every attempt I made to be my own person. Such is paternalism masquerading as parenting.
In the latter half of 2017, as I was inching away from the upbringing I’d endured and the boy I once was, I was bundled up in my then-father’s living room, watched The Shining for the fifth or seventh or tenth time. I was intimately familiar with the movie, but something felt different this time. I was emotionally attuned to the nuances of Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson’s performances that went beyond visual literacy. The scene that deeply impacted me this time around was Jack’s one scene alone with Danny. It is loveless, leering, and utterly terrifying. “You know I’d never hurt you, don’t you?” says Jack to the child whose arm he broke three years ago. It is not a question, but at once a lie and a threat. Jack clearly means “You’d BETTER know that.” I shuddered, and for the first time I wept over a horror movie. In the tepid comfort of my sperm donor’s living room, Jack Nicholson’s sneered declaration of love struck intimately close to home.
Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining touches on intergenerational abuse, trauma, systemic violence, and spatiotemporal dyschronia more than Stephen King’s novel does. While King labors under the delusion that his story is about a broken alcoholic’s tragic descent into madness, Kubrick’s film presents washed-up writer, domestic abuser, alcoholic, and axe murderer Jack Torrance as a capricious, mean-minded, narcissistic, mendacious, gaslighting bastard. While King has railed against Kubrick for bowdlerizing Jack’s humanity, Kubrick and Jack Nicholson in fact make Jack a more rounded character. While Stephen King’s idea of characterization is two-dimensional (consisting of a crucial flaw and a noble virtue), Kubrick and his actors sketch character in terms of behavior and small gestures that reveal the nature of the Torrances. As a result, Jack’s smug maliciousness in the film is more psychologically choate than his counterpart in the book.
But more crucially, Nicholson and Kubrick make Jack adhere closely to the experiences of abuse victims. Abuse manifests in small acts of cruelty, smug patronizing, snide comments that sting just enough to subdue the victim into silence, exploding at victims when they assert themselves, and sometimes gaslighting or outbursts of physical violence. Jack corrects his wife Wendy when she so much as comments on her feelings about the Overlook Hotel (“I liked it right away”), explodes at her for walking into his study while he is writing (he is later revealed to have typed “all work and no play makes Jack a dully boy” for ages), gaslights her about Danny’s injuries after encountering a decomposing sex ghost in Room 237, and eventually screams at her for being supposedly useless while swinging an axe at her. He’s a fundamentally pathetic figure — broken, saddled with delusions of his own worth, a complete failure of a man. There is no one type of abuser. But every survivor knows the abuser who wears on one’s self-esteem over time with microaggressions and pervasive belligerence.
Influenced by The Shining and Alien (but The Shining in particular, albeit more the book than the film, despite her work’s keener thematic accord with Kubrick’s Shining), Bush has wrought a visceral portrait of abuse survival. It emanates panic over the domestic familiarity, with the first verse describing a scenario where someone is barring a hostile presence from reentering their home, commencing with their reverberating departure (“slamming!”) which rocks the house on its foundations. Bush frantically secures the house (“I run into the hall,” “I hear the lift descending/I hear it hit the landing” “WITH MY KEY, I-I-I-I/lock it up”), attempting to prevent the menacing figure from re-entering the house. The sheer panic in Bush’s vocal, unmatched by anything else she’s ever recorded, is astounding — this song is a work of horror about someone who’s deeply afraid of seeing a person who hurt them. The coda is a dialogue between Kate and Paddy Bush, her attacker, exchanging meek, triggered defenses (“I will not let you in/don’t you bring back the reveries/I turn into a bird/carry further than the word is heard”) and Paddy being positively menacing, creepily whisper-singing “woman, let me in/I turn into the wind/I blow you a cold kiss/stronger than the song’s hit.” The distressing candid lyrics matched by the martial rigidity of the music convey a clear situation of domestic abuse and self-defense. “Get Out of My House” deals with the reclamation of body and home, treating it as dramatic and harrowing as that experience can truly be.
“Conjecture: hauntology has an intrinsically sonic dimension. The pun — hauntology, ontology — works in spoken French, after all. In terms of sound, hauntology is a question of hearing what is not here, the recorded voice, the voice no longer the guarantor of presence. Not phonocentrism but phonography, sound coming to occupy the dis-place of writing.”
Mark Fisher, “Home Is Where the Haunt Is: The Shining’s Hauntology”
I stumbled out of the apartment, nauseous and disoriented. Did that just happen? Why did it happen, and why am I so scared? Where can I go? This shouldn’t be affecting me so aversely. But my body wasn’t mine. I dragged what felt like my husk of a body through the neighborhood, failing to find a haven. I wanted to vomit my soul out and liberate my consciousness from this dysphoric, frail flesh that had been weaponized against me. Soon I lost the energy to walk, or even to feel sick. I sat in a suburban field, failing to see my surroundings. I knew I was catatonic. That wasn’t new to me. Catatonia is when you sit in a field and stare at the grass for several minutes at a time because that’s the extent of your abilities. It wasn’t better than wanting to regurgitate my soul from my body. But it was as close to an escape as I could manage.
It took time for me to say that I was sexually assaulted. How could someone who’d been so kind to me be a predator? Surely I’d failed them by not perceiving their noble intentions. Their extensive sexual comments and aggressive praise and requests for emotional favors towards me didn’t feel like grooming. Surely what I perceived as gaslighting and predatory manipulation was simply misunderstood attempts at relationship-building, or so they told me all too convincingly. I thought I owed them for their kindness, even if they had made me weep profusely moments before I gave myself over to them. It was voluntary, so I consented, right? Power imbalances can be unclear in the moment. I thought I was doing a favor for a friend. In retrospect, I was paying off what I perceived as a debt. It was extorted sex. There was no debt. I was deceived and allowed to do things which I believed were for the good of another person. Instead I lost a part of myself, forever. Even if I’ve healed somewhat, I haven’t stopped wanting to flee my body.
The Overlook Hotel, the demiurgic setting of Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film The Shining where the fractally broken Torrance family spends a traumatic winter, is a hauntological terror whose living infrastructure resembles an organism more than a work of architecture. Kubrick’s alarmingly symmetrical Steadicam shots, capturing the width of the halls, define the movie. The Overlook is frequently synonymous with the camera, as the camera uses tracking shots that include the width of the Overlook’s hallways, focusing on the space and not the characters, who are slowly enveloped by the hotel.
“But I think it most likely that the Orphic poets gave this name, with the idea that the soul is undergoing punishment for something; they think it has the body as an enclosure to keep it safe, like a prison, and this is, as the name itself denotes, the safe for the soul, until the penalty is paid, and not even a letter needs to be changed.”
Plato, Cratylus (trans. Harold N. Fowler).
In a newsletter, Bush wrote of “Get Out of My House” that “the house which is really a human being, has been shut up — locked and bolted, to stop any outside forces from entering. The person has been hurt and has decided to keep everybody out.” There are many things going on with this quote, but there are two points I shall make about it that pertain directly to “Get Out of My House.” Firstly, there’s the metaphor of the house as human body, which has appeared in semiotics and literature for millennia. Various accounts of this motif exist, but to a degree, the reasons are obvious. Houses, like bodies, are places where things are stored — memories, minds, belongings. They’re where a person is supposed to safe. As Bush observes, bodies (largely through with the help of the mind) will sometimes shut out malign presences, detaching themselves from hostile environments. When the body is incapable of overcoming an obstacle, it expires and resigns from continued organic living. There are limits to the metaphor, to be sure — for example, historian Peter Brown observes that the Old Testament speaks of tents with favor for emblemizing “the limitless horizons of each created spirit, always ready to be struck and to be pitched ever further on,” while houses are “symbols of dread satiety.” Yet what body doesn’t spend a portion of its time surfeited and dwelling in one place due to physical exhaustion or psychological dissociation? When we’re under duress from an external force, do we not instinctively protect our bodies? Pushing back and securing ourselves is difficult, but often instinctual. Even if we don’t know that we’re fighting back, our bodies and minds often do. Our duty is merely to listen to what our bodies and minds tell us.
My second point is how tremendously “Get Out of My House” deploys the house-as-body motif to address abuse and sexual violence. The meekness expected from women singers is absent from the song — Bush’s attitude is expulsive and agonized. Enough, she says. This epidemic of violence has lived with me too long. The song’s repetition conveys personal history and traumatic residue in its refrains of “slamming!” and “lock it!” The houses stands in for the body to an obvious degree throughout, through suggestive lines such as “this house is as old as I am.” An intruder is barred. They’ve broken through the barrier before — this isn’t Bush’s initial conflict with them. But it is a last stand.
My second observation can be introduced by an enlighteningly goofy detail in the bridge — with a Pythonesque French accent, Bush protects the house saying “I’m the concierge, chez-moi, honey!/Won’t let ya in for love, nor money.” One can delight in the silliness of the French, or that the concierge literally puts time into disjunct (he has the song’s only measures in 2/4), or even that he can be read as a cipher for The Shining’s debonair murderous ghost Grady. But there’s some quiet darkness to this comic beat too — the house has to project another persona in self-defense. It shrieks “get out of my house” from the back of the mix, behind the concierge. It sneaks up on the listeners, daring them to fuck off and try to return. “Won’t let ya in for love, nor money” is a discordant statement — one that suggests love or money have helped the intruder into the house before. The house can’t fight anymore, so it sends the concierge in self-defense.
All this is clear-cut and blunt. The house is protecting itself from violation. Bush’s defense is cathartic madness, flamboyantly hee-hawing her way out of the song (evocative of Jack Nichsolon’s brays of “Daaaaaaannyyyyyyy!” near the end of The Shining). Trauma is unleashed as a weapon against its instigator. The house has a chance to fight back at last, or realizes it has the gumption to. The sexual abuse metaphors don’t need to be expanded on greatly — having a woman scream for her freedom from a hostile man or, chillingly, say “no stranger’s feet will enter me” speaks for itself. It is frightening and immediate, even moreso than “Breathing,” and a culmination of Bush’s sometimes half-baked and flawed but usually noble revolutionary instincts. A person listening to “Breathing” in 2020 may not directly identify with its fears of nuclear war. Yet for the long-suffering abuse survivor, “Get Out of My House” is a cry of reclamation and freedom that spares none of the horribleness of liberating oneself from a predator. It’s horrid, upsetting, and the most revolutionary act of Kate Bush’s career.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
— Paul of Tarsus, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NRSV).
I looked out the car window at the night sky over a state I had never seen before. For the first time, I had a future. It felt barren, empty, and inhospitable. My real mother’s affirming, supportive presence in the driver’s seat barely resonated with me. Casting off the yoke of a traumatic household that nearly killed me didn’t feel liberating in the moment. When all you know is cruel acts of violence, the alternative is alien and frightening. The catharsis is real, but catharsis isn’t definitionally happy. I looked at a geographic region that was unfamiliar to me and knew everything had changed forever. I had expelled myself from the haunted house. Healing would be just as frightening, but for the first time, it would be a dialogue on my own terms.
Backing tracks laid down at Townhouse Studios, Shepherd’s Bush, London in May ’81. Overdubs recorded at Odyssey Studios, London in August ’81, and at Advision Studios, Fitzrovia, London from January through March ’81. Mixed at Advision from March through May ’81. Released on The Dreaming on 13 September ’82. Personnel: Bush, K. — vocals, piano, Fairlight. Heyman — drums. Bain — bass. Murphy — electric guitars. Bairnson — acoustic guitar. Bush, P. — backing vocals. Sheikh — drum talk. Hardiman — “Eeyore.” Padgham — engineering. Pictured: Shelley Duvall in The Shining (1980, dir. Shelley Duvall).