Monday, August 25, 2014

"The Ninth Wave" by Kate Bush

In 1985, Kate Bush released an album called “The Hounds of Love.” She had burst onto the music scene, a young sensation, in 1978. She released three albums in quick succession, but by the time she had released the self-produced “The Dreaming” in 1982, most folks thought she had run her course. The album “The Dreaming” was highly personal, idiosyncratic, and in my opinion, one of her best releases. But the public at large wrote her off, citing her increasing musical eccentricities as a sign of some sort of decline.

It had been a few years since she released “The Dreaming” when out of the blue (Kate likes to do things out of the blue, as we have seen with her stunning announcement in March 2014 of a 22 night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, her first concerts in 35 years!), she released another career highlight called “Hounds of Love.” This was back in the day when music generally only came on vinyl discs or on cassette tapes; and “side one” of “Hounds” featured five stand out and stand-alone tracks, but “side two” featured a first for Kate: a concept suite. Entitled “The Ninth Wave,” the suite consists of seven songs that tell the story of a young woman adrift at sea, drowning, waiting to be rescued.


I’ve been meaning to write about this very special piece of music for some time, and seeing that Kate has chosen to make “The Ninth Wave” the centerpiece of her upcoming 2014 concerts in London (I have tickets for late September and am beyond excited!) which begin tomorrow, August 26, now seems like a good time to revisit this glorious masterpiece rich in lyrics, meaning, and sound. It is nuanced, layered, complex, and one of the most profound pieces of contemporary popular music ever written. It was created to be listened to in its entirety; I simply cannot listen to any tracks individually and because of that, the massiveness and emotion of it never fails to reduce me to tears.


According to Kate, the suite is about “…this person being in the water. How they’ve got there, we don’t know but the idea is that they’ve been on a ship and they’ve been washed over the side so they’re alone, in this water. Now I find that horrific imagery, the thought of being completely alone in all this water. And they’ve got a life jacket on with a little light so that if anyone should be traveling at night, they’ll see the light and know they’re there. And they’re absolutely terrified. And they’re completely alone at the mercy of their imagination. Which again, I personally find such a terrifying thing, the power of one’s own imagination being let loose on something like that. And the idea that, they’ve got it in their head that they mustn’t fall asleep. Because if you fall asleep when you’re in the water, I’ve heard that you roll over and so you drown so they’re trying to keep themselves awake.”

In the liner notes for the release, she included the following lines from the Tennyson poem “Idylls of the King: The Coming of Arthur:”

“Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame:…”

In seafaring folk lore, there is the belief that waves come in groups of threes within a set of three, and that the last wave, the ninth, is the largest and most devastating, the kind that could perhaps wash someone overboard. And with this idea, we start our story. If you don't own it already, you might wish to purchase "Hounds of Love " to listen along to "The Ninth Wave" as you read through the rest of this essay.

Kate has said, “Really for me, from the beginning, ‘The Ninth Wave’ was a film. That’s how I thought of it.” All of Kate’s lyrics are so extraordinarily visual, that I have always seen, in my head, the film she must have imagined while writing each chapter of the story (song). And the introduction to this story, a piece called “And Dream Of Sheep” sets the stage so completely and brilliantly, that we are immediately drawn in.

A gentle note from the piano rings out as our narrator sings:

Little light shining,
Little light will guide them to me.
My face is all lit up,
My face is all lit up.
If they find me racing white horses,
They'll not take me for a buoy.
Let me be weak,
Let me sleep
And dream of sheep.
("Attention shipping information in sea areas...Bell Rock, Tiree,
Cromaty, gale east...Malin, Sellafield..."
"Come here with me now.")
Oh, I'll wake up
To any sound of engines,
Ev'ry gull a seeking craft.
I can't keep my eyes open--
Wish I had my radio.
I’d tune in to some friendly voices
Talking 'bout stupid things.
I can't be left to my imagination.
Let me be weak,
Let me sleep
And dream of sheep.
Ooh, their breath is warm
And they smell like sleep,
And they say they take me home.
Like poppies heavy with seed
They take me deeper and deeper.


As the tiny battery-powered light on her life jacket shines like a beacon, our narrator struggles to stay awake. Of course she hopes to be found; she says that if rescuers see her racing white horses, a reference to the white caps of fast moving waves, they won’t think she is a buoy, a lifeless piece of ocean equipment. Surely they would recognize her. But there is a lovely contradictory idea in her wish both to stay awake and her wish to be weak, to fall asleep and dream of sheep—a realistic wish to be granted an easy way out of her dire situation. She wishes she had a radio to listen to something, anything, even something stupid, to keep her awake. This song has a lulling, tiny, precious quality about it, punctuated with little heartbreaking rallies of half-hearted optimism (on the sections “If they find me racing white horses,” and “I’d tune into some friendly voices…”) that belies the bleakness. The most startling moment of the song, tellingly, comes from the sudden dramatic roll at the word “engines.” The entirety of “The Ninth Wave” is sonically rich with many layers of sound effects, as we will soon hear, but they are never heavy handed or intrusive. In fact, they play like sound track excerpts from a filmed version. Here we have a somnolent broadcaster giving shipping information for vessels at sea, seagulls, and Kate’s real-life mother delivering a line that foreshadows the rest of the suite as well as having deep personal meaning, which Kate explained: “When I was little, and I’d had a bad dream, I’d go into my parents' bedroom round to my mother’s side of the bed. She’d be asleep, and I wouldn’t want to wake her, so I’d stand there and wait for her to sense my presence and wake up. She always did, within minutes; and sometimes I’d frighten her—standing there still, in the darkness in my nightdress. I’d say, ‘I’ve had a bad dream,’ and she’d lift bedclothes and say something like ‘Come here with me now.’ It’s my mother saying this line in the track, and I briefed her on the ideas behind it before she said it.” It’s the familiarity of everyday life, the comforts of home, the things she can’t have that she wishes to lull her to sleep, the warm breath of mum saying “Come here with me now,” lulling like poppies…so she succumbs and enters a world of hallucinations and dreams that is the rest of her—and our—fateful experience lost at sea.

Each of her following hallucinations and dreams have something to do with water, drowning, or her oceanic fate. In a mind rattled by possible hypothermia, one’s imagination could possibly give rise to a scenario of cold and ice. And in “Under Ice,” the narrator dreams an alternate scenario filled in with a scene from her life, much like a fever dream when one is ill, where outer events and sounds are incorporated into an inner life reality…

It's wonderful.
Everywhere, so white.
The river has frozen over.
Not a soul on the ice.
Only me skating fast.
I'm speeding past trees,
Leaving little lines in the ice,
Cutting out little lines in the ice,
Splitting, splitting sound,
Silver heels spitting, spitting snow.
There's something moving under,
("Sonar says...[indecipherable]...deep...")
Under the ice,
Moving under ice,
Through water,
Trying to
(“It’s me.”)
Get out of the cold water.
("It's me.")
Something,
("It's me!")
Someone--help them!


This eerie track starts with an ominous, low, sawing sound, a musical representation of the pumping legs of the skater and the blades rhythmically incising the surface of the ice. The tempo increases and with it, our anxiety. Our narrator is alone on the ice, clearly headed for danger when someone calls out to her, at :48, in that sing-song way… that simple, brief sound effect is heartbreaking in its meaning: “I don’t know where you are, I’m worried about you, please come back, please return home, to safety.” But she continues on, speeding across the ice in a reckless way, flying further and further away, as a storm threatens: listen to the distant, cracking thunder at 1:13 when she sings “splitting sound.” The alliteration of so many hissing “s’s” in this section sounds like metal skates on ice, but it also contributes to the subliminal feeling of a relentless slashing, of a hardness, and of a deliberate infliction of pain, and an indifference to that pain. The sense of dread in this song is palpable with our skater, innocent but stubborn, insisting upon entering the mouth of doom, the storm lowering down, the sharp blades cutting the ice…

We have another seafaring sound effect here in a snippet of dialogue about sonar, along with its sweeping ping from a submarine… but the only thing that is actually underwater in this nightmare, it turns out, is our narrator. The moment she slowly recognizes the face peering up at her through the ice as her own is horrifying. “It’s me!” she wails.

The buzzing, hollow terror is jolted away by a voice instructing our narrator to “WAKE UP.” This next hallucination is tender and agonizing as her imagination collages together all the moments, situations, and people who woke her or tried to wake her in her life. Doesn’t a drowning person see their life play out in their minds? This touching section comes at us in a dreamy echo and proceeds in a soft, warm haze as her family, friends, random hotel operators, lovers, all replay in a kaleidoscope of life, something she might soon not have.

"Wake up!"
"A good morning, ma'am. Your early morning call."
"You must wake up!"
"[titter] Wake up! [titter]"
"Wake up, man!"
"Wake up, child! Pay attention!"
"Come on, wake up!"
"Wake up, love!"
"We should make the night, but see your little light's alive!"
"Stop that lyin' and a-sleepin' in bed--get up!"/"Ma needs a shower. Get out of bed!"
("Little light...")
"Can you not see that little light up there?"
"Where?"
"There!"
"Where?"
"Over here!"
"You still in bed?"
"Wake up, sleepy-head!"
"We are of the going water and the gone. We are of water in the holy land of water"
"Don't you know you've kept him waiting?"
"Look who's here to see you!”


Whale sounds float around this section (more native sounds from water) along with references to her little light—both the light on her jacket and the light from her soul. “Can you not see that little light up there?” But she can’t see it the farther from life she drifts. “Where?” “There,” comes the answer, the light right in front of you…“Where?” “Over here,” from a different space, a different meaning, a deeper place.

But this song is called “Waking The Witch” and this hallucination/dream plays like a past life memory where her spirit recalls the last time she was in the water, in danger like this, and comes up with a gruesome scene: in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women were routinely tried for the trumped up charge of “witchcraft.” The test to determine if a woman was a witch was to tie her arms and legs, weight her with a stone, and throw her into a body of water. According to the logic of the church at the time, witches float while the innocent sink and drown. “Don’t you know you’ve kept him waiting? Look who’s here to see you,”…The Inquisitor.

"Listen to me, listen to me baby! Help me, help me baby! Talk to me, talk to me please, please, talk to me…”
Inquisitor: "You won't burn."
"Red, red roses."
Inquisitor: "You won't bleed."
"Pinks and posies."
Inquisitor: "Confess to me, girl."
"Red, red roses, go down.”

"Spiritus sanctus, in nomine domini"
"Spiritus sanctus, in nomine domini"
"Spiritus sanctus, in nomine domini"
"Spiritus sanctus, in nomine domini"

Inquisitor: "Poor little thing,"
"Red, red roses,"
Inquisitor: "The blackbird!"
"Pinks and posies."
Inquisitor: "Wings in the water,"
"Red, red roses, Go down,"
Inquisitor: "Go down."
"Pinks and posies.”

"Deus et dei domino inferno"
"Deus et dei domino inferno"
"Deus et dei domino inferno"
"Deus et dei domino inferno"

Inquisitor: "What is it, child?"
"Bless me, father, bless me, father, for I have sinned. UHN! Help me, listen to me, listen to me, tell them baby! UHN! Help me baby, talk to them!"
Inquisitor: "I question your innocence!"
"Help this blackbird!"
Inquisitor: "She's a witch!"
"There's a stone around my leg."
Inquisitor: "Uh! Damn you, woman!"
"Help this blackbird!
There's a stone around my leg."
Inquisitor: "What say you, good people?"
"Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!"
"Help this blackbird!"
Inquisitor: "Are you responsible for your actions?
Oh-hoh-hoh!
Not guilty!"
"Help this blackbird!"
Inquisitor: "Wake up the witch!"
"Get out of the waves! Get out of the water!"


The sudden explosion of this section is startling. The rattled, choppy vocals are supremely unnerving. She begs to be listened to, to be heard, to be helped, to be saved as the upper register on the piano spasms high notes. A terrifying swirl of frantic pounding, Latin prayer and a demonic priest representing the church, snarling and taunting our narrator, engulfs us. But her “wings are in the water,” and her fate is decided here both in her hallucination and in reality: persecuted and condemned to drown. The helicopter that comes at the end of this particular hallucination holds a man who simply tells her, unhelpfully, impotently, to get out of the water. If only she could.

We now transition into one of Kate’s most beautiful, heart-felt, and heartbreaking songs, “Watching You Without Me,” as our narrator has what can only be a type of out-of-body experience. We are introduced to a highly measured, syncopated rhythm that conjures the repetitive sounds of a ticking clock, the dripping of water. Our narrator sings through blue, numbed lips that barely move:

(You can't hear me.
You can't hear me.
You can't hear what I'm saying.
You can't hear what I'm saying to you.)

You watch the clock
Move the slow hand.
I should have been home
Hours ago,
But I'm not here.
But I'm not here.

(You can't hear me.
You can't hear me.
You can't feel me
Here in the room with you now.
You can't hear what I'm saying.
You don't hear what I'm saying, do you?)

Can't let you know
What's been happening.
There's a ghost in our home,
Just watching you without me.
I'm not here.
But I'm not here.
(You can't hear me.)
But I'm not here.
(You don't hear me.)

. . . _ _ _ . . . _ _ _ . . . _ _ _ . . . _ _ _ . . .

(You can’t hear what I'm saying.)

[backwards?/indecipherable]

(You didn't hear me come in.)

"Help me, baby! Help me, baby! Talk to me! Listen to me, baby listen to me, listen to me! Talk to me! Help--please listen--"
(You can't hear me.) [backwards?]
"Listen, baby! Listen to me, baby! Help me, help me, baby! Talk to me! Talk to me! Please, baby, talk to me!"
(You can't hear me.) [backwards?]
(You won't hear me leaving.)


She stands, a drenched ghost in her own home, dripping water onto the rug, as her loved one stands watching the ticking hands of the clock, the two sounds blending together. This tableau is heart-wrenching because the slow tempo makes us stay with it, understand it, feel it. Our narrator is dying but can’t let her loved one know what is happening, can’t say that this is last time she will be here, that she loves, misses, is sorry, all the things that the dying rarely get to say to the rest of us who will be left behind. She is there, so close, but is unable to communicate that the most cosmically enormous event ever to happen to our narrator, aside from being born, is about to happen to her...and she has to do it alone. Over the years, I have come to a deeper understanding of Kate’s music, living with some of these lyrics and their meaning for many years. And I have realized that whatever metaphysical or psychological issues she may touch on, the underlying theme in nearly every song is the need to communicate, to reach out, to touch psychically, physically, spiritually (pretty much every song on 2011’s “50 Words For Snow” is about this yearning, which I wrote about here). And it doesn’t get bigger or more important than the situation portrayed here in “Watching You Without Me.”

Kate’s decision to sing parts of this song, as I mentioned, through blue, numbed, barely-moving lips might be a simple one, but the chilling result is far more effective than describing the current state of our narrator. It reflects one of the first tenets of good art: show, don’t tell. Indeed, the entire simple structure of this song and the basic way Kate presents it belies the immeasurable profundity at its core. The essence of this song is really about life and death. And not in an abstract way, in a “noble” way, but in a day-to-day way. I often think of the people who will wake up this morning, and will die later in car crashes, plane crashes, sudden heart attacks… the method does not matter. What does matter is that no one wakes up thinking, “Well, I should have an extra yogurt this morning because I am going to die in an hour, so I might as well enjoy it.” And I think of the connections that will be and are severed with such tragic occurrences. And I ask you to think about them now too. And now think about the inevitability of this happening to you. And you suddenly find yourself standing in the living room of… whose, your house, your parents’ house? To whom are you saying “I didn’t know I was going to die today, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to you, so…goodbye. And I love you.” Who are you saying this to? Who are you saying “I love you” to? And who is it that you will never…ever see again? THAT is what this song is about. It’s about our narrator. And it’s about you too.

And of course, by implication, the song is ultimately about the one left standing, waiting. Our loved ones are the ones who will carry on without us, in pain at our loss, at the empty space we left behind. Our narrator is somewhat resigned to her fate at this point, knowing she is on her way out of this life. The thing that is left at the end is love.

The tone of this song shifts the direction of the entire suite. We have left behind frantic drumming, anxious sounds, tense narratives. We do however get a Morse Code S.O.S. mixed in with some more ocean/seagoing sounds. A mysterious, otherworldly melody smoothed with a strange, restrained joy, and emanating from a place of compassion, is tucked inside rolling waves and seagulls. Apparently only Kate knows about this enigmatic section—it starts with her vocal line being played backward, but portions are clearly Kate singing without any effects. And we are presented once more with the choppy vocals of her begging to be listened to, to be heard, but listen carefully as the gaps become longer, the words become more distorted.

The bracing, dazzling “Jig of Life” pushes its way into our consciousness, vital, full of primal energy, determined, unyielding. Our narrator is now face to face with a very surprising special guest:

Hello, old lady.
I know your face well.
I know it well.
She says,
"Ooh-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na!
I'll be sitting in your mirror.
Now is the place where the crossroads meet.
Will you look into the future?
Never, never say goodbye
To my part of your life.
No, no, no, no, no!
Oh, oh, oh,
Let me live!”
She said,
"C'mon and let me live, girl!"
She said,
"C'mon and let me live, girl!"
("C'mon and let me live!")
"This moment in time,"
(she said…)
“It doesn't belong to you,"
(she said…)
“It belongs to me,
And to your little boy and to your little girl,
And the one hand clapping:
Where on your palm is my little line,
When you're written in mine
As an old memory?
Ooh, na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-
Never, never say goodbye
To my part of your life.
Oh no, no, no, no, no!
Never, never, never!
Never, never let me go!"
She said,
"C'mon and let me live, girl!'
("C'mon and let me live!")
She said,
"C'mon and let me live, girl!"
("C'mon and let me live!")


I put this moment.............here.
I put this moment.........................here.
I put this moment--
"Over here!
Over here!

“Can't you see where memories are kept bright?
Tripping on the water like a laughing girl.
Time in her eyes is spawning past life,
One with the ocean and the woman unfurled,
Holding all the love that waits for you here.
Catch us now for I am your future.
A kiss on the wind and we'll make the land.
Come over here to where When lingers,
Waiting in this empty world,
Waiting for Then, when the lifespray cools.
For Now does ride in on the curl of the wave,
And you will dance with me in the sunlit pools.
We are of the going water and the gone.
We are of water in the holy land of water
And all that's to come runs in
With the thrust on the strand."


Imagine if your future self were to come and tell you to hang on, not to give up or let go because what you do now matters not just to you, but to that future self as well. Kate has always loved to play with chronology in her songs, and this is a great example. Past, present and future all meet at this one fateful spot. Physics tells us that all time is simultaneous. If we could step out of the time stream and see it all at once, it might look like this. Our narrator’s future self implores her to let her live—what a powerful idea to contemplate, that our death means the deaths of all of our possible future selves. Wow. The old woman wants to live, and lets our narrator know that the future doesn’t belong to her now, it belongs to her future self… and to her little boy and little girl, even more powerful incentives. This implies that the future has already happened… that, as mentioned, all time is simultaneous. And that her future self has already lived a complete life.

This dance of life is relentless, serious, demanding: Kate chose a jig for many reasons. Not only does it represent her Irish heritage on a personal level, but it is an ancient, traditional sound that ties our narrator’s predicament to something else, a sense of history and roots, a sense of belonging to a place, a people…belonging here. It serves as a wake-up call (like the introduction to “Waking The Witch”) for our narrator: DON’T GO. You are a link in the chain that stretches from the past to now to the future.

I have always been intrigued and very moved by the brief sequence where our narrator says, “I put this moment here.” She is curiously detached, as though now she is freed from the time stream and a physical body, she is able to look dispassionately at her life and take stock of an existence full of moments. All of our lives are made up of moments and our narrator moves them around like building blocks. She puts a moment here, another here—but then she is interrupted by a command to put them all “Over here,” the exact same voice and phrase we heard in “Waking The Witch” when her hallucination was trying to turn her attention to the “little light.” That original conversation sounds like it was about star-gazing, but the stars stand in for life, for her own spirit. We will come across this idea again in the next song. But for now, it turns out that “over here” is composed of a gorgeous, inspired poem written and performed with urgency by Kate’s brother John Carder Bush, a poem that stands outside of time and uses water imagery to play with the cosmic idea of the simultaneity of time. And we hear the source of the spiritual observation from “Waking The Witch,” “We are of the going water and the gone. We are of water in the holy land of water.” In other words, we are made up of our surroundings. We are not only connected to the universe, we are the universe.

Abruptly, this driving force ends as we hear another set of sound effects, audio cues that help us—and our narrator—navigate the story.

"Columbia now nine times the speed of sound."
"Roger that, Dan, I've got a solid TACAN locked on, uh, TACAN twenty-three."
"The, uh, tracking data, map data and pre-planned trajectory are all one line on the block."


These authentic samples of communication between NASA and astronaut Dan Brandenstein on the space shuttle Columbia place us in orbit around our planet. Kate has said of “Hello Earth,” “…this is the point where she's so weak that she relives the experience of the storm that took her in the water, almost from a view looking down on the earth up in the heavens, watching the storm start to form - the storm that eventually took her and that has put her in this situation.” Our narrator is having another out-of-body experience but this time it’s not nearby, on terra firma, but literally out of this world, and it seems to be final. She is high up above our earth, looking down, and there is a shocking sense associated with that as so few human beings have ever left our world to look back on it. There is a disconnection from what is common, known. I am reminded of The Overview Effect, the very real psychological and cognitive shift experienced by astronauts and cosmonauts…anyone who has left the planet and gone a sufficient distance to look back and perceive our planet not as a familiar home, but as a tiny, fragile ball, barely protected by a thin membrane of atmosphere. This awed feeling is described as one of ultimate compassion and understanding of the imperative to preserve and safeguard the planet.

Hello, Earth.
(Hello, Earth)
Hello, Earth.
(Hello, Earth)
With just one hand held up high
I can blot you out, out of sight.
Peek-a-boo, Peek-a-boo, little Earth.
With just my heart and my mind
I can be driving, driving home,
And you asleep on the seat.
I get out of my car,
Step into the night
And look up at the sky.
And there's something bright,
Travelling fast.
Just look at it go!
Just look at it go!


[men's choral passage in Georgian]


Hello, Earth.
Hello, Earth.
Watching storms
Start to form
Over America.
Can't do anything.
Just watch them swing with the wind
Out to sea.

All you sailors,
("Get out of the waves! Get out of the water!")
All life-savers,
("Get out of the waves! Get out of the water!")
All you cruisers,
("Get out of the waves! Get out of the water!")
All you fishermen,
Head for home.
Go to sleep, little Earth.

I was there at the birth,
Out of the cloudburst,
The head of the tempest.
Murderer!
Murderer of calm.
Why did I go?
Why did I go?


[men's choral passage in Georgian]


Tiefer, tiefer.
Irgendwo in der Tiefer
Gibt es ein licht.

Go to sleep little Earth.


After the NASA samples, we join our narrator floating in space like the Star Child in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” of the earth, but no longer attached to it, in fact freed from it. The tether has been cut. She is detached from her life and its meaning: there is an innocent, bemused approach as she plays a little game. She is so far from home, she can hold up one hand and block the planet from her field of vision…the earth is a toy. And we shift place, time, and point of view (as Kate so often does in her music) to our narrator driving home in a car at night, looking up at the sky, her loved one asleep on the seat beside her (a sweet, gentle, highly cinematic image, and all the more moving when we understand where our narrator currently is and the loss ahead), when she sees something bright streak across the sky. As she watches it shoot through the stars, she sings, amazed, “Just look at it go!” And what is “it?” Shooting star? Satellite? Space shuttle? A “little light?” If all time is simultaneous, has she glimpsed her own soul shooting past the planet? It is her own little light, a mind-boggling and heartbreaking idea…the cry in her voice when she sings this line indicates that she understands the meaning of this object, and its finality.

At this point, something very unexpected happens. An ethereal, arresting male choir sing a passage based on a traditional Georgian folk song from the Kakhetian region called “Tsintskaro.” It is a shocking transition, one that makes us hold our breath so as not to disturb this sudden, delicate, transcendent moment. Kate on the men’s chorus: “They really are meant to symbolize the great sense of loss, of weakness, at reaching a point where you can accept, at last, that everything can change.”

Our narrator, in full Overview Effect at this point, watches storms form and move to threaten the lives she sees below. She cries out to them in vain, all of them, the sailors, life-savers, cruisers, fishermen, anyone on or near the sea, to protect themselves. We hear in this section a few of the Irish instruments, bringing in echoes of meaning from the previous song “Jig of Life.” Here I am reminded of the idea of the Asian goddess Kuan-Yin, or the Buddhist idea of a Bodhisattva, a human who has attained ultimate awareness (Buddhahood) but motivated by compassion, refuses to leave this plane of reality for the benefit of all sentient beings. Our narrator, moved by the end of her own life, is now able to perceive the ephemeral nature of all creation. Everyone can be exposed to danger, everyone can suffer, everyone can—and will—die. This truth is universal. But she is unable to prevent or stop this truth. No one can.

She then sings a passage that is full of several meanings. She says she was there at the birth, out of the cloudburst, the head of the tempest. This could be the storm that took her, or it could be, from her newly widened perspective of awareness, the start of life itself, the start of the universe. We were all there, we are all made of the matter from a singularity… we are all star dust. The murderer of calm is this physical reality itself. All that is born must die. Entropy exists. She understands this and cries out, “J’accuse.” Hence the ultimate compassion for this tiny little blue ball.

The piece ends with whale song, sounds of radar, and a very mysterious, arcane passage spoken in German which, when translated into English, means “Deeper, deeper, somewhere in the deep there is a light.” In German, the word “tiefe” can also mean “profound,” and I am reminded of the Latin phrase at the beginning of the Christian Psalm 130 “De profundis clamavi ad te:” “out of the depths I cry out to you.” In the depths of sorrow, in the endless well of suffereing, there is a light. Compassion is the light.

And indeed, somewhere in the dark, there is a light. Our narrator has spent the night in open waters, battling for her life, and almost losing. But at dawn (first light), she is rescued. Perhaps someone saw, in the blue haze of early dawn, her “little light.” I always felt the vagueness of the lyrics to “The Morning Fog” could indicate that our narrator died and is reborn, reincarnated. But Kate herself has said that her narrative at this point and her intention with this song was that her heroine is rescued. Yet the tired but optimistic sound and simple, unadorned joy of this song gives us a sense of much more than a rescue. She has endured a life-changing event. She was born, died, and has been reborn to this world, to the people around her, those she loves. She is falling like a stone, as she says, from the spirit world back to the physical world and brings with her the ultimate compassion that has become a part of her psyche. She sees existence itself differently now. And we see it differently too, from sharing this harrowing journey with her.

The light
Begin to bleed,
Begin to breathe,
Begin to speak.
D'you know what?
I love you better now.
I am falling
Like a stone,
Like a storm,
Being born again
Into the sweet morning fog.
D'you know what?
I love you better now.
I'm falling,
And I'd love to hold you now.
I'll kiss the ground.
I'll tell my mother,
I'll tell my father,
I'll tell my loved one,
I'll tell my brothers
How much I love them.


Perhaps now you can see why I said at the beginning of this post that the ambitious scope of this suite, its gravitas, its import, and its raw emotion never fail to reduce me to absolute tears.

Kate just this year recreated the 1985 photo session for "The Ninth Wave" to advertise her upcoming show "Before The Dawn" in which she is to perform, with special effects and film segments, "The Ninth Wave" in its entirety. I will be flying to London in a few weeks to see this once-in-a-lifetime event.


If you liked this, read my other essays on Kate's "50 Words For Snow" and "Aerial."

http://www.katebush.com/

Kate Bush is magic.
Kate Bush taught me how to fly.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I need never try and explain the Ninth Wave to anyone again. I'll point them here. Superb synopsis, Love it.

Anonymous said...

Totally brilliant and insightful. I am going to see Kate tomorrow and. I will carry a lot of your comments in my head x

Gail said...

Jeff, this is beautiful--you so eloquently describe the journey that is "The Ninth Wave." It's one of my favorite pieces of music, although I can't listen to it too often as it reduces me to a shambles (that and the Mozart Requiem and a few other pieces, mostly classical and jazz). Damn, I wish I were going to be there. I'm hoping she does actually create a film from her appearances in London. I suspect they will be magnificent.

Jeff said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks so much for your kind words. I really wanted to write something that would be worthy of the enormity of Kate's piece and that would truly consider her genius. It is a lot to take in and it actually took me a long time to write since I listened to each track to really explain it, and to accurately record what I was feeling and how it moved me. It was exhausting... but worth it.

Thanks again!
Best,
JEF

Jeff said...

Hi another Anonymous,
Say hi to Kate for me and I will be there in a few weeks! I am gong to try my best not to read any reviews or news of the shows since I want to take it in fresh when I see the show. Have a WONDERFUL time at the concert!

Best,
JEF

Jeff said...

Hi Gail,

Thanks for your lovely words. I appreciate it. Like I said in a previous comment, I really wanted to write something that would be worthy of the enormity of Kate's piece. Glad to know I am not the only one who is reduced to a puddle by this gorgeous suite.

I too am hoping Kate films the concerts and releases a DVD. Even though I will be there, I am going to be good and not take photos as Kate has requested. I want to drink it all in. A DVD would be a wonderful souvenir.

Best,
JEF

Rob Vlastuin said...

Dear Jeff.
You did a wonderful job with this blog. I sincerely must read the other blogs about Kate Bush too!!
Thank you so much!
I'm going to the concert tomorrow. So I'm very curious what the ninth wave will be and soun like after reading your article.
It's going to be a blast for sure.
After reading a bit of your article of Aerial I'm almost certain she is gonna play The Coral Room too. I think. I hope.
Anyhow. Thanks again. Hope you will enjoy the concert yourself!
Best wishes,
Rob
PS Did you also write something about David Bowie? Or David Sylvian? I really would love that too I guess!

Jeff said...

Hi Rob!

So glad you like my analysis of "The Ninth Wave." It has generated a lot of comments and notice today.

Yes, please do read my other writings about Kate: as you discovered, I wrote about "Aerial" but I also wrote about "50 Words For Snow" too...

I also hope she performs "A Coral Room" but frankly, I will be happy with anything she performs. Just to be able to be in the same hall and hear her voice... that is a dream come true.

Best,
JEF

PS--I do love the Davids, Bowie and Sylvian, as well. It might be fun to write about "Secrets of the Beehive" since that one is SO poetic...or maybe "Gone To Earth" but that one is SO abstract in places...

Anonymous said...

Utterly utterly brilliant review of what has always been one of my favourite albums. Makes me realise just how much of a genius Kate really is (although there are so many other pieces of evidence of this from her work) but I do agree, the Ninth Wave is particularly outstanding. Really can't wait to see this and other songs too in September....thanks for making the effort to write this - it's really helped enlighten me on some of the meanings behind the piece...Steve :-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and thanks for transcribing all the background voices!

Jeff said...

Hi Steve,

Thank you so much for your kind words and support. The reaction to my little essay has been wonderful: it got picked up by the Kate Bush News site and re-posted to Kate's official Face Book page on the side feed. Nice.

Yes, indeed there are tons of marvelous songs and pieces that are as great as "The Ninth Wave." In fact, I might delve into "The Dreaming" and uncover all that album contains. That one has some pieces that slay me too like "All The Love"... wow, just stunningly lovely.

Thanks again!
Best,
JEF

Amanda Labbett said...

Jeff, a fantastic essay! In 1985 I was in first year of Uni, away from home for the first time. I went to sleep every night listening to the Ninth Wave and it has always been my favourite.
I was at the opening night and I envy you going ...
Just wait 'til you see what she has done with Ninth Wave!

Jeff said...

Amanda,
Thank you so much and thanks for reading.

Yes, I cannot WAIT to see the show. I have purposely avoided reading the reviews...I want to see it all fresh and new. I want to be surprised. I want it all to wash over me.

Will report on the show at the end of the run.

Thanks again!
Best,
JEF

Paul said...

Hi Jeff,

just read this this evening after we discussed The Ninth Wave last night so thanks for sending the link. As I was telling you, Jenny and I used to listen to this in the dark and I was always completely captured by it, but now I realize I only understood about 10% of what was going on! Thanks very much for the extra dimension and I look forward to listening to it again!
Have a GREAT time at the concert - wish I could see it.
Paul.

Jeff said...

Paul,

Thanks so much for reading--glad it has added to your enjoyment of the piece. We should listen to this after we get back from her show!

Cheers,
JEF

Anonymous said...

I've been looking around for ages for someone to articulate my thoughts about/talk me through The Ninth Wave and you did it. I haven't met a lot (read: any) kids my age (college) that are into Kate Bush deep cuts, so I've been dying to run to someone and have a "But what did you think!? What did she mean by this?! What about that? Did you see the video"- moment. This essay is about as close as I've gotten, haha, and it's perfect. Thank you*.

*now i'm going down the rabbit hole of all your other essays which are equally insightful and amazing. glad to have stumbled upon this blog. :D

Jeff said...

Hi Anonymous,

So glad you found the in-depth survey you have been looking for! I am in the same boat with you: not many ADULTS I run into are interested in her music or even know who she is. But that has mostly to do with my location, in the States--of course everyone knows who she is in the UK, especially after her recent triumphant run at the Hammersmith Odeon (which was covered by every new outlet). I was lucky enough to get tickets, and saw the show last month. You can read my review of the show here
http://ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/kate-bush-before-dawn.html

And look for the DVD of the show--should be out sometime soon. Check her official website for updates.

Thanks for your kind words and reading, and I hope you like my other Kate pieces!
JEF

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Jeff, thanks for a truly great post and greetings from Caracas, Venezuela.

Hope you had a great concert. As always, she is a master of both visuals and of course music. For some reason I couldn't get off the photos of lady Bush in your blog without recalling some canvas inpired in Shakespeare's Ophelia (and in another note, the Bonny Swans lay as sang by Loreena McKennitt). She is a truly haunting (in a good way) artist.

Some time ago I accidentally got in a Kate Bush forum, and was really surprised those songs form an unity (I just learned about Kate Bush a couple years ago, you see). With your blog the unity became a beautiful entity.

Please be kind with my English.

Jeff said...

Hell to Anonymous in Venezuela! Your English is quite good! I am so pleased you like my piece about Kate's "Ninth Wave" but I am even more pleased that you have come to Kate Bush recently. She is such a special, unique, and yes haunting artist.

The concert was INCREDIBLE and I wrote about it at:
http://ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/kate-bush-before-dawn.html

And yes, as you perceived, the songs in "Ninth Wave" form a beautiful unity. You should also listen to "A Sky of Honey" from her "Aerial" release--those songs form a stunning unity as well. Read my review here:
http://ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/aerial.html

In the concert, it became apparent, since she performed "Ninth Wave" in Act One, and "A Sky of Honey" in Act Two, that those two pieces form a whole of the elements: "Ninth Wave" is about darkness in the water and earth... "A Sky of Honey" is about light in fire and air.

And of course since "A Sky of Honey" takes place on the Midsummer Day and Night, her opposite creation for that one is her lovely release "50 Words For Snow" which takes place, according to Kate, against a backdrop of falling snow, and according to me, on the Solstice, the longest night of the year.

Thanks for reading!

Best to you,
JEF

Anonymous said...

Hello again, Mr. Jeff, and thanks for both your kindness and your quick reply (I am "Anonymous" in Caracas).

As for reading your blog, it is well written so it is a pleasure.

Thanks for your recommendations on "A Sky of Honey", since I haven't paid enough attention to the Aerial disks. Is another suite comprised of several pieces?, if so, in which order lady Bush sang them?.

I don't know if I am stressing your kindness, but would it be possible for you to write down the program of the concert in order to follow the experience with YouTube?.

Sorry for being so pushy. In my country we are having some rough times, and is precisely in these conjunctions that precisely art is more in need. I didn't introduce myself, my name is Francisco.

And thanks again.

Jeff said...

Hi Francisco,

Yes, it's a tough time the world over and we ALL need art, now more than ever!

I reviewed Kate's entire concert here:
http://ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/kate-bush-before-dawn.html

But in case you can't get to the link, her songs for the show were:

Act One:

Lily
Hounds of Love
Top of the City
Running Up That Hill
King of the Mountain
The Ninth Wave (all songs in album order)

Act Two:

A Sky of Honey (from "Aerial," all songs in album order)

Encore:
Among Angels
Cloudbusting

The show was filmed over two nights and there should be a DVD of the concert coming soon!

Enjoy!
Best,
JEF

Gordon Strole said...

Dear Jeff
Thank you for your spot on analysis of the Ninth Wave. I still remember Kate's first exposure to Americans on Sat. Night Live laying on the piano performing "Wuthering Heights."I was gobsmacked & in love!"
I was lucky to see her perform in London and was blown away and still think about her performance. I hope she'll release a dvd of the show for the world to see. It was a magical moment.
Since you like imagery and symbolism in music,might I recommend Genesis with Peter Gabriel (Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) and Stephen Duffy & the Lilac Time's albums.

Jeff said...

Hi Gordon,

Thanks for your nice words and the recommendations (I adore Peter Gabriel). So happy you got to experience Kate live in London! I too went toward the end of the run. If you haven't already, you can read my review of it here:

http://ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/kate-bush-before-dawn.html

Thanks for reading!
Cheers,
JEF

kaja said...

jeff

this is amazing. i discovered kate when i was 17 with this album back in 87 when a girl played it over the phone for me, and it thoroughly changed me. thank you for this. i've been obsessing all day and plan on using kate songs in my play in april, now that you've reminded me of what's lived inside of me for thirty years.

tinka

Jeff said...

Hi Tinka,

Thanks for the kind words and for enjoying the essay. As you can see, I have very strong feelings about this supremely profound piece of music and Kate. Her London show "Before The Dawn" was simply incredible. You can read my review of it here:
http://ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/kate-bush-before-dawn.html

Good luck on your play and I am sure Kate's music will add the right touch!

Best,
JEF

GRAHAM SMITH said...

I fell in love with Kate Bush's music way back in 78 with Wuthering Heights (Aged 21) and never grew out of it. It has always been a fascination of mine to try and understand what the true meaning of the song is. It's easy to find the "basic" meaning but after reading this story I now realise the true depth that the song goes in to. It was a real eye opener and gave the song more levels for me to think about and enjoy. This is without doubt the best and most detailed synopsis of any song I have ever read. Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into it. I will be reading many more of your works. Regards, Graham

Jeff said...

Graham,
Thank you so much for your kind words. I appreciate it. It's nice to see that others have been captivated by Kate's BRILLIANT "The Ninth Wave" as I have been for so long.

I have some other writings on Kate you might like: a synopsis of "Aerial" and one of "50 Words For Snow" as well my review of her "Before The Dawn" show in London! Just enter "Kate Bush" in the search box on my blog, you'll find them all!

Best,
JEF

Jim O'Leary said...

Jeff, thanks so much for putting the time & effort into writing this brilliant accompaniment to one of my all-time favourite pieces of music. Like you, i traveled (from Canada) in 2014 to London to see the show, announcing to all my friends prior to any details of the show leaking that "if Kate performs The Ninth Wave" in its entirety I'll be able to die a happy man.

That she made this suite the centrepiece of the show was beyond amazing.

I was listening to some Kate this weekend in acknowledgment of her birthday and was curious about the short German lyric at the end of "Hello Earth" and stumbled upon your blog. After reading through the first song or two, i started over and read your blog as i listened to the suite. Added tremendous joy to the experience and much insight that i'd never had despite listening to this album for over 3 decades.

Kudos!

I'm off to read your other Kate blogs now.

Jeff said...

Hi Jim,
Thanks so much for the kind words. As you can see, writing this analysis was a labor of great love.

Hope you enjoy reading the other Kate album analyses/reviews I've written.
I know you saw it in person, but you might be interested in my review of "Before the Dawn" here:
http://ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/kate-bush-before-dawn.html

You might also be interested in my Masterpieces of Pop essay collection here:
http://ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com/p/masterpieces-of-pop-music.html

And let's hope Kate releases the DVD of the concert soon!!!!

Best,
JEF

Jim O'Leary said...

Hey Jef....LOVED the Before the Dawn review. Utterly transported me back to that magical night. By far the most incredible musical experience of my life. I attended the Friday night show, just ahead of you, on Sept 26.

We had the added excitement of a power failure in the theatre about 45 minutes before show time. The electricity in the air quickly turned to anxiety. I was almost beside myself thinking after all these years and 5000km of travel to miss my chance due to a blown circuit breaker!

Thankfully the fixed the problem and the show went on, albeit 90 minutes late.

So much magic. thanks for the brilliant reviews.
/jim

Jeff said...

Hi Jim,

So glad you read and liked the Before The Dawn review! I heard about the power outage the next day (I think it was in the news if I recall correctly) and I, like you, would have been out of mind with worry. So glad you got to see her after all.

Best to you, fellow Kate fan,
JEF

dbeata said...

I'm a profound fan of Kate Bush and found this article very useful. Kate's music and lyrics really touches me and the notion of the need for communication is detectable in several other tracks like 'Deeper understanding' and mostly for me in 'The Fog', the lyrics of which regulary makes me go cry out of the blue. It's the song of original separation from one's mother. Thank you for the essay, and glad I found it, and someone, who feels similarly.

Bea from Hungary.

jef jones said...

Thanks for your piece on the Ninth Wave, really insightful. Whenever i listen to it I'm left feeling like I've been through something that matters, something very tender, rather mystical and very real. I'm usually crying by the end and laughing too because it' so beautiful. I haven't played it for a while but the release of the live version of King of The Mountain sent me back to it. I can't quite believe that I didn't try to get tickets to Before The Dawn.

Jeff said...

Hi Jef Jones,

Thanks for reading and for your kind words. It is so nice to hear from other people who "feel" this piece the way I do. Your observations are spot on: it is tender, mystical and real! The power of it is incredible.
If you haven't yet, read my review of Kate's show here:
http://ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/kate-bush-before-dawn.html

And we all hope to have a DVD of the concert at SOME point!

Thanks again!
JEF

GILBERTO ASSUMPÇÃO said...

Jef, I am from Rio, Brazil and here Kate Bush is unknown. Nobody to change experiences or ideas about her. It was amazing reading your analysis that rearranged my point of views about this sequence. Your brilliant knowlege about all around the lyrics are very accrated. Sorry for my bad English. Thank you so very much.

Jeff said...

Hi Gilberto, Thank you for visiting. And thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it. If Kate is unknown in Brazil, please tell everyone about her!!!

Thanks again,
JEF

Oi Gilberto, Obrigado por visitar. E obrigado por suas amáveis ​​palavras. Eu agradeço. Se Kate é desconhecida no Brasil, por favor, conte a todos sobre ela !!!

Obrigado novamente,
JEF

Bolto said...

Terrific work! Thanks, Jeff.

– Andrew Marvick (IED)
(a Love-Hound)

Gonzalo said...

Hi, I'm Gonzalo from Argentina. I've been a huge fan of Kate and her music, ever since I discovered her in 1987, through a friend that had bought a Hounds of Love CD in the US (or the UK, not sure). I fell completely in love, and then bought all the other albums and became a huge fan. As with the previous guy who commented from Brazil, Kate is not very known in Argentina either.

I want to thank you for this fantastic "review" (or should I say analysis, better than review).
I am familiar with the Ninth Wave theme since that time. Throughout the years, I read Kate interviews, the old hound-of-love mailing list, and also did my own interpretations.
But still, I missed a lot. There were many things that I did not understand, that are now clearer from you analysis. (Like in Waking the Witch, I did not know that they did that to women accused of withchery -what a terrible thing to do - , so I did not understand the song, especially the "stone around my leg" thing. And many other things.

I came here because I just bought the Before the Dawn CDs, and it brought the Ninth Wave to me all over again. What a fantastic album HoL was, I put it among the best in music history.

I am so so sorry that I did not buy tickets for the Live show and took a plane to London. I'm so stupid, I should have done that. Consider yourself very fortunate to have seen her live.

Thanks again for the great post. I am gonna read your other ones when I have some time, especially your review of the Before the Dawn shows.

All the best, have a happy new year and a great 2017.
Gonzalo

Jeff said...

Hi Gonzalo,

Thank you so much for visiting and reading, but especially for your kind words. This piece of music never gets old for me, never fails to move me, and I am so happy to share it with other like-minded souls who understand. I am proud that so many people have responded to my words about Kate's astounding, miraculous creation.

I hope you are enjoying the live "Before The Dawn" CDs as I am! And I hope you read my experience at the show. It was truly one of the most special evenings I have ever spent. I have seen a lot of great, monumental concerts and tours over the years from many different genres (I saw The Smiths on their Meat Is Murder Tour...and at the opposite end of the spectrum, I saw Ella Fitzgerald about a year before she lost her legs)--but "Before The Dawn" is maybe #1 for so many reasons.

Happy New Year to you too! Let's hope that in 2017, more people in countries all over the world understand the type of compassion Kate is singing about in "The Ninth Wave."

Thanks again,
JEF

GattoGrigio said...

Thank you for the beautiful review. Let me just point out one minor correction; in "Hello Earth", the male choir is not in Russian but in Georgian. It is a completely different language from a totally unrelated language family.

Regards,
Stefano

Jeff said...

Hi Stefano,

Thanks for the note--all corrected. I say in the text that the song is Georgian but in my parentheses in the lyrics I had it as Russian.

Thanks!
JEF