Kite (Bios Bahnhof)
Kite (Tour of Life)
Kate Bush makes her television debut in a disused railway depot in Germany. Behind her stands the KT Bush Band, the musicians she chose to play her music, in front of a backdrop of green land and a volcano, apparently the German realization of a Yorkshire moor. Bush begins her idiosyncratic mime-shaped dance and the music follows her in a jumpy, facetious rendition of “Kite.” Bush uses her full body as an instrument, using shakes and poses to fill the stage.
It’s unsurprising “Kite” should be the runway Bush launches her television career on. The track is the B-side to “Wuthering Heights,” and a chirpy enough deep cut. “Kite” responds to “Wuthering Heights,” sharing its A-side’s fascination with stepping out of ordinary human experience; visualizing this process as a sort of skyborne anabasis.
“Kite” is a dance song in a different fashion from “Wuthering Heights”; whereas “Heights” is famous for the dance retroactively applied to it, “Kite” actually depicts a sort of radical bodily movement. “Kite” depicts an Icarus-type character: a person being drawn from the ground and towards the air. Over the course of Kite’s run time, Bush expresses ennui on the ground with quite possibly the silliest opening lyric of all time — “Beezlebub is aching in my belly-o/my feet are heavy and they’re rooted in my wellios” — swoops through the air like “a diamond kite,” and finally gets sick of her flight with “I’ve got no limbs/I’m like a feather on the wind.” Bush puts herself through a odd contrapasso (indeed, directed by a sort of god in the shape of eyeball in the sky) where a desire to ascend quickly becomes a descent into the fear of “shit, how do I get down from here.”
Which is to say that “Kite” is a psychedelic rock song. The track’s metaphor isn’t exactly subtle — indeed the song is constructed around an unspoken pun about being high. Bush has an out-of-body experience she’s been aching for and finds the force drawing her upwards won’t let her down again. A taste of the divine is inherently terrifying.
There’s a taste of prog rock to this — bands Bush enjoyed such as Genesis, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson were similarly enamored with playing surreal melodies and writing about off-beat, ethereal subject matter. “There’s a hole in the sky with a big eyeball” sounds like a missing lyric of “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The chorus inviting the listener to “come up and be a kite/and fly a diamond night” is about as blunt a nod to mid-Seventies prog as one can write. Bush wears her prog influences on her sleeve in the early days, and surprisingly “Kite” is one of the songs which heavily showcases this.
Leave this alone and you get a psychedelically tinged prog rock song about the hubris of transcendence. Nothing to write home about, but perfectly enjoyable fluff. Yet “Kite” moves into curious dissonance by playing itself as eccentric reggae (something acknowledged by Bush herself, who called it “a Bob Marley song.”) On its own merits, this isn’t a idiosyncratic move — every white rock artist in the Seventies was attempting and failing to do reggae songs in a fatigue (a trend perhaps most prominently realized by Eric Clapton’s nauseating rendition of “I Shot the Sheriff.”) But with its moderato tempo and time signature shifts, “Kite” isn’t straight reggae. It utilizes the trappings of the music for its own ends to create conflicting juxtapositions, such as the bass’ cannabis-like rumble under Bush’s acidic vocals. In the end this doesn’t save “Kite” from being silly faux-reggae, but Bush is good at enough at dazzling her listeners to keep the tracks’ seams from showing too much.
The result is that “Kite” ends up as a jigsaw puzzle. It’s full of little details and gems: Bush is well on her way to developing her trademark habit of obscuring her lyrics with big vocal sweeps, such as her rapid switches between high and low notes on bits like “I feel a rush along my body like a bullet/I’m 2-D, after a push and pull feeling.” Hence “Kite” becomes more than the sum of its parts — not quite having the courage of its convictions, or perhaps the right amount of ambition, but certainly getting all the pieces right. What remains is for Bush to move them forward in the next few albums.
Recorded between July and August 1977 at London AIR Studios. Personnel: Kate Bush — vocals, piano. Stuart Elliott — drums. David Paton — bass. Ian Bairnson — guitars. Duncan Mackay — organ, clavinet. Morris Pert — percussion.
January 25, 2019 @ 12:28 pm
What an unexpected and delightful article! Always loved this song, and though it’s maybe her simplest album, The Kick Inside remains an absolute favourite of mine among her many, many great works. I’d like to tip a hat towards the sequencing on the album, because “Kite” sits between the dissonance of “Strange Phenomena” (a song about co-incidence and menstruation – an unusual combination it’s fair to say) and the more straightforwardly melodic and somewhat self-serious sounding “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”. In other words, “Kite” acts as a bridge between the more radically unusual style of the former and the more traditional construct of the latter, while containing both elements of radicalism and traditionalism within it – a really masterful way of guiding the listener along the path Bush is mapping out.
January 26, 2019 @ 1:39 am
Many thanks for the insights, and also for the link to that amazing German TV performance.
Although I was a prog fan when this was released, and there did seem at the time like some sort of natural kinship (not least Gilmour’s role in her breakthrough), in later years I’ve struggled to identify her early work as prog. It seems to me more like ‘pop with complexity’. She never got hung up on any of prog’s more annoying tics.
January 30, 2019 @ 3:26 am
Nothing insightful to add, just wanted to say that I had no idea I needed this feature in my life until I started reading it. Nicely done and I look forward to reading more.
February 1, 2019 @ 11:53 am
Interesting. I wouldn’t have suspected Kate Bush to be interested in prog rock. Thanks for this great essay, please keep up the good work!
June 9, 2019 @ 4:56 am
Your article is accurate and I benefit. I have read many articles, but I found a lot of
ideas in this article.