The first song to have a demo completed for The Dreaming (“Sat In Your Lap” was initially released as a standalone single), “Leave It Open” introduces much of the album’s ambition and cadences. Another treatise on the nature of thought and repression, Bush develops and inverts her previous metaphysical ideas about the world, presenting it as a frightening and hostile sphere yet treating interaction with it as an inevitability, and even a relationship where a person’s interiority can have input. As the refrain stipulates with a degree of bellicosity, “harm is in us, but power to arm.” In “Leave It Open,” Bush creates an ethos of wondrous fear, where allowing the self to become a vessel for something Other is an act of submissive reclamation of human potential.
Let’s start counterintuitively (in the spirit of The Dreaming) with the coda of “Leave It Open”, which sees Bush proffering a rare, aphoristic thesis statement in the form of a repetitive double-backmasked chant: “we let the weirdness in.” Amusingly, upon release this was Bush’s most controversial coda, with listeners calling into Bush’s television and radio interviews attempting to guess what distorted words Bush is singing (“we paint the penguins pink” is the best one). “We let the weirdness in” sounds unlikely — it’s disjointed, with abstractions and syntactic ambiguity. As my friend Rohanne points out on the brilliant Kate Bush podcast Strange Phenomena, The Dreaming sees Bush shifting from writing character narratives to reorienting her songwriting around concepts and abstractions. What is “the weirdness?” And how are we letting it in? “Leave It Open” concludes on a note of imprecision and unknowability. But the song also begins there — the verses and refrains are similarly disjointed in their grammar: “with my ego in my gut/my babbling mouth would wash it up.” The clauses are unclear in their relationship to their object and subject, phrasing abstractions in a way that suggests they’re corporeal stimuli. “Wide eyes would clean and dust/things that decay, things that rust” suggests bodily fluidity. The aversion to coherent speech and language is almost Burroughsian: language is a virus, and can only be allowed through in a broken, primal form, taking after a rhythm track. The Dreaming’s incipient nucleus of uncertainty creeps forth.
Moreso than “Sat In Your Lap,” “Leave It Open” emphasizes a theme that pervades The Dreaming in its exploration of madness as a feminist liberation. It sees Bush unharnessing herself from the tyranny of rational thought and conventional speech in favor of “letting the weirdness in.” An infusion takes place, with the song mostly looking at forms of opening and closing (“my door was never locked/until one day a trigger come cocking”). “Leave It Open” describes physically allowing unknowable things into one’s mind and body. Bush’s vocals are an entourage of different voices, with her lead vocal a tremulous inhalation (“watched it weeping/but I made it stay”), and her B.V.’s a series of childlike, high-soprano shouts (“but now I’ve started learning how!”). She uses extreme parts of her vocal range, the muscular and traditionally masculine “deep” end, and the (allegedly) feminine voice she’s often caricatured as having. There’s no single, definitive “Kate Bush voice” at work in this, nor a traditional idea of how women in pop music are supposed to sound. As Bushologist Deborah Withers writes, “becoming is an empathetic, expansive act and pivots on issues of receptivity and interconnectivity.” In the verses, Bush sounds afraid to breathe. “With my ego in my gut” even suggests the holding of breath (quite a departure from two songs ago), as the first verse describes a fear of unleashing one’s psyche on the world: “my door was never locked,” “wide eyes would clean and dust,” a series of declarations each ending in “I keep it… shut.” You can’t harm me, she says. I’m not saying a word.
“Leave It Open” flaunts its abnormality, from its weird syntax to its mix mostly consisting of heavily processed vocals, a booming rhythm section, and a rather agonized guitar part even by Alan Murphy’s standards. Once again, it’s built around its primal 4/4 drumbeat (somewhat reminiscent of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”), mostly locked into Preston Heyman’s shells. Bush’s vocal clearly tracks it, as her emphasis continually meets the downbeat (“WITH my ego IN my gut…”). Even the piano is a percussive instrument here, offering stabbed chords mostly to accentuate the drums, sticking to a narrow and mostly conventional chord progression in G minor, i-V-IV-VI (although it’s not without Bush’s chromatic flare — she plays D and C, the respective V and IV degrees of G melodic minor, and end the progression on Eb, the VI of G natural and harmonic minor).
The results are both claustrophobic and resounding, hemming itself in to create an atmosphere of confrontational release. A purging happens: rather than knowledge being something that you never have, Bush allows it to seep in on its own time, declaring throughout the second verse “I leave it open.” The body becomes a kind of tap for outside forces and radical change, letting them through with patience and silence. Queer people might relate to “Leave It Open’s” description of keeping the closet shut, and letting the exponential strangeness of their minds and the world harmonize. At once, the body stops tensing and so does the mind, letting the unknown pour through (“narrow mind would persecute it/die a little to get through it”). Despite being more intense and discordant than “Sat In Your Lap,” “Leave It Open” is weirdly anthemic and optimistic: allowing the weirdness is a way to discover new ways of being. Rigidity gives way to tranquility. Maybe the weirdness is the crack in everything, as Leonard Cohen once said. It’s how the light gets in.
Bodily inertia has been a focal point of these last few songs — even “Army Dreamers” is about death and loss. Specifically, bodies become inert as a form of self-defense. “Leave It Open” offers an alternative: perhaps it’s OK to let the body rest and allow outside forces through; “I kept it in a cage/watched it weeping/but I made it stay,” as if the body is a vessel for the mind and the things external to it. Bush touched on this idea in a newsletter at the time, writing “like cups [what is it with The Dreaming and cups?], we are filled up with feelings, emotions — breathing in, breathing out. The song is about being open and shut to stimuli at the right times. Often times we have closed minds and open mouths when we should have open minds and shut mouths.” One wonders if Bush has ever encountered meditation or contemplative spiritual practices, as this is pretty much the same premise. It’s also the crux of dissociation, the psychological reaction where the brain shuts down to protect itself from triggers. There’s a reason the brain is both able to shut down and be alert — varying defense mechanisms react to different stimuli.
Bush is far from alone in her treatment of women’s creativity as a psychological flood. The 1970s had been populated by such literature, including French feminist writer Hélène Cixous’ classic 1975 essay “The Laugh of the Medusa.” In the essay, functionally an artistic feminist manifesto, Cixous expounds on the trauma inherent in women’s subdued role in patriarchal history, calling for women to “put [themselves] into the text — as into the world and into history — by her own movement.” She frames writing as a radical act that gets performed in private (not dissimilar to the crux of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own), serving as a reclamation of history and a subversion of the Western canon, treating the true capabilities of women as “luminous torrents,” and at once point shockingly paralleling “Sat In Your Lap” with the declaration “I too, overflow.” Most striking is the way “The Laugh of the Medusa” frames women’s liberation as a way of dealing with trauma; that unleashing one’s self into the world is the way to combat misogynistic suppression. History is made of women’s silence and private lives, she argues: “A world of searching, the elaboration of a knowledge, on the basis of a systematic experimentation with the bodily functions, a passionate and precise interrogation of [one’s] erogeneity.” Most tellingly, she observes that women have been made to think of their own femininity as monstrous and fight it in the finite but immense arena of the mind.
The self-proclaimed non-feminist Kate Bush taps into this idea aptly. She may not think her ideas are feminist (and indeed, they often aren’t), but the number of liberationist feminist missives she inadvertently pens over the years are countless. As Cixous declares “we have been turned away from our bodies,” Bush turns the body inside out. She suggests a new mode of being, allowing whatever may come into one’s presence to fill a person up. It’s not quite an act of expulsion, but nonetheless “Leave It Open” prescribes a sort of bodily tranquility, allowing one’s body to welcome the world and quit shutting it out. Perhaps this exposure to the Other will allow us to unleash ourselves on the world more fully. Trauma and queerness will not be silent. They will rend the ether. We’ll let the weirdness in, but afterwards the weirdness is going to need serious therapy.
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: Kate Bush — vocals, piano, Fairlight. Preston Heyman — drums. Jimmy Bain — bass. Alan Murphy — electric guitar. Ian Bairnson — acoustic guitar. Hugh Padgham — engineering. Image: Sheryl Lee as the late Laura Palmer experiencing a beatific (?) vision in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, dir. David Lynch/D.O.P. Ron Garcia.)