Clodagh Finn: Resurgence of Kate Bush shows we are more connected than ever

A timeless classic unites fans of all ages: maybe we could even listen to the lyrics and adopt its central idea
Clodagh Finn: Resurgence of Kate Bush shows we are more connected than ever

Kate Bush snuggles up on a lion skin rug. Picture: Evening Standard/Getty Images

I love the way time can sometimes fold back on itself to catapult a past gem into the present. Take Kate Bush, for instance; not only has the resurgence of her 1985 hit ‘Running Up That Hill’ introduced the singer to a new generation, but it has also returned her to an older one.

I listened to her speaking to Emma Barnett on Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 and thanked the collection of strange forces that prompted her to do her first interview in six years.

And ‘strange’ is the operative word, because her haunting song has returned to the public consciousness after featuring in the Netflix series Stranger Things, a sci-fi show set in the 1980s. Its main character Max Mayfield listens to the track — on her Walkman — to help her to summon the strength to escape a terrifying demon.

As a result, the song has whipped around the world and become a global streaming sensation. It has made the number-one slot in several countries and has given the artist her first top-10 hit in the United States. In the process, it has also given us this glorious statistic: “Kate Bush is currently the youngest (19 with ‘Wuthering Heights’) and oldest (63, with ‘Running Up That Hill’) female artist to have a UK number one with a self-written song.”

There is so much optimism in that single sentence. It tells the story of a supremely talented young woman whose creativity crashed through barriers in the male-dominated pop world of the 1980s, but it also shows that life goes on and, at 63, it is still possible to attract new audiences.

If Kate Bush is a little surprised by the turn of events, she is also pleased. She speaks with the kind of upbeat matter-of-factness that provides a welcome antidote at a time when it feels as if we have returned not only musically but politically to the world of the 1980s with its hyper-inflation and deep division.

Max in 'Stranger Things'.
Max in 'Stranger Things'.

If you’re a fan of Stranger Things, you’ll know that central character Max uses Running Up that Hill “as a kind of talisman”, as Kate Bush put it in her recent interview. The singer also reminded us that, more generally, music has the power to take people on a journey and evoke powerful memories.

“I think music is very special,” she said. “It’s different from all other art forms, isn’t it, in a way? 

All art forms sit in their own space, but music has a way of touching people.

Witness the recent high of Glastonbury, where 80-year-old Paul McCartney’s near three-hour set was hailed as one of the greatest headline performances of this generation. A blow for the enduring mood- and mind-altering power of good music, no matter how old, if ever there was one.

There is also something very special about anything that provides a point of contact between TikTokers and a generation who mastered the art of using Bic pens like chopsticks to unspool tangled tape cassettes (older readers will wince and understand).

It has been touching, too, to see little ‘welcome’ notes on videos of Kate Bush’s hits. “Doesn’t matter if you came from TikTok recently, YouTube a few years ago, or if you loved this song 37 years ago. We can collectively agree that [‘Running Up That Hill’] is wonderful and that Kate did an astonishing job with the lyrics,” reads one.

Different things to different generations

Of course, there are those too who think that fandom is ranked and only original fans can truly appreciate the joys of an artist who broke new ground when, gossamer-clad and ethereal, she lifted the gloom of the 1980s.

That is rubbish, of course, because songs break free of the era they were written in and come to mean different things to listeners of new generations. I’m just hoping that the global Kate Bush Appreciation Society gathers force and continues to sample her work, dipping into albums such as The Dreaming (1982) and Hounds of Love (1985).

Who knows how it will reach them, but that is one of the points that Kate Bush herself made last week. She said she hopes that people will hear a song and take what they want from it. ‘Running Up That Hill’, for example, was originally written as a plea to God to allow a man and a woman to swap places so they could feel what it was like from the other side.

As the lyric goes: “And if I only could make a deal with God and I’d get him to swap our places.”

“It’s saying,” Kate Bush once explained, “if the man could be the woman and the woman the man, if they could make a deal with God, to change places, that they’d understand what it’s like to be the other person and perhaps it would clear up misunderstandings. You know, all the little problems; there would be no problem.”

It might provide a useful prism to address some of the bigger problems, too. 

If men could swap places with women — and vice versa — would need a €363m Government plan to tackle domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence?

If politicians could imagine themselves living the lives of people who are forced to flee their homes because of violence, would we still be waiting to have a refuge in every county in Ireland?

Likewise, if the services helping those affected by violence were properly funded, would Women’s Aid need to be asking us to walk 80km in July to raise much-needed funds?

Mitzi Rivas, left, hugs her daughter Maya Iribarren during an abortion-rights protest at City Hall in San Francisco. Picture: AP Photo/Josie Lepe
Mitzi Rivas, left, hugs her daughter Maya Iribarren during an abortion-rights protest at City Hall in San Francisco. Picture: AP Photo/Josie Lepe

It’s fitting that the organisation is holding a walk because we might, for a moment, imagine what it is like to walk in the shoes of others.

And to address the issue making global headlines: I wonder what might happen if one of the Supreme Court judges in the US who overturned the Roe v Wade ruling spent a week as a woman facing a pregnancy-threatening medical emergency?

We have never had more access to data to allow us to imagine these swapped scenarios and yet, it seems, we have never been less able to understand the other point of view. Perhaps it’s a hangover from successive lockdowns. Are we still living in little bubbles that reflect back what we want to see and hear?

It’s hard to say, but for all the advances in technology, we seem to have become less connected rather than more.

That’s why it’s such a joy to see an old song unite old(er) and young and give us a cause to celebrate.

Who knows, we might even listen to the lyrics and adopt its central idea. Think of what might be gained if we allowed ourselves to imagine, at least, what it would be like to experience the life of another.

Stranger things have happened.

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