"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? Who 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.

16 comments:

Howard Mellor said...

Fabulous!

Paolo said...

Beautiful!

Jeff said...

Thanks Howard!

As you can see, the piece means a GREAT deal to me, and I was beyond thrilled to see her perform it live in BEFORE THE DAWN last month in London!

Best,
JEF

Jeff said...

Thanks Paolo!

As you can gather, Kate's piece means a lot to me personally. If you are interested, she is releasing a DVD of her staged version of it from her BEFORE THE DAWN show...

Best,
JEF

Michael said...

I can see a little KT symbol in that B&W shot.

Jeff said...

Michael,

I have found KT's in lots of her album covers but not in this one! I've been told it is by her elbow among the seaweed, but I can't make it out...

Best,
JEF

Anonymous said...

"Just being alive; it can really hurt"

I have survived now for 40 years living with major depression, so the concept of just keeping my head above water, close to drowning; is something I can relate to all too painfully. The struggle to stay awake when all I want to do is give up and to drift into an eternal sleep, is a theme that resonates particularly strongly.
I have always loved the music of Kate Bush, as you obviously do.
Her art brings me the 'Moments of pleasure' that evade me in my (at times), torturous existence. I have been able to cling to her music as a lifeline of hope.
The beauty, insight, wisdom and wonder that she offers has saved my life, (for what it is worth) on more than a few occasions.

Thank you, for your interpretation of one of Kate's (unjustifiably), least celebrated pieces. It only makes me appreciate her more and more.

eli said...

thank you so much for this thoughts on the 9th wave, I first discover it when i was in highschool and until this day I kept wondering about these songs, this helped me a lot, I will also read the 50 words for snow one.

wicked Hobbes said...

Jeff, I have really enjoyed your peice on the "Ninth Wave" I have loved this peice of music of Kate's for many a year. Your artical just adds more to the enjoyment.
Thanks,
Eric

Jeff said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your struggle with us. Kate's music IS one of those reasons to stick around... I too know from personal experience, so I can not only sympathize but empathize with you...

Wishing you strength,
JEF

Jeff said...

Hi eli,

Thanks for reading my "Ninth Wave" piece--hope you enjoy the "50 Words For Snow" survey as well.

Best,
JEF

Jeff said...

Hey wicked Hobbes,

Glad you liked my piece on "The Ninth Wave." You should read my review of Kate's concert "Before The Dawn" in which she presented a stunning, beautiful staging of "Ninth Wave."

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

Best,
JEF

Cheryl said...

Jeff~ I discovered your blog through some Kate Bush forum or another. I love your writing. I wonder if you'd consider submitting a proposal for a 33 1/3 book about one of Kate's albums? It's a crime there isn't one already: http://333sound.com/how-to-submit/

Thanks for the blog - which I now read regularly, and not just the Kate entries!

Jeff said...

Hi Cheryl,

Thanks for the kind words and for visiting my blog. I have indeed thought of tweaking this "Ninth Wave" essay and submitting it to 33 1/3 for consideration... but it seems so daunting. They want it to be 33,000 words and I think I am at around 5,000 here. But perhaps I could add and expand. It really is like writing a shorter novel.
We will see.

In the meantime, thanks for reading!
Best,
JEF

Michael MacNeill said...

Jeff - this is great stuff. If you can Believe it or not I thought I was Kates biggest fans but never bought the Hounds of love because I had the whole story and all of her other albums......but about two months ago I bought it and fell in love with the ninth wave. Never heard one of those songs until then. What a discovery!!!!! And now of course we have her new live album out (and I saw that you were able to go to the concert - lucky). Anyway, TY I got to read your blog on the meaning etc. etc. and love it made it even more meaningful. great job thanks. Michael M

Jeff said...

Hi Michael,

Hail fellow Kate fan! Thanks for reading and for the kind words. "The Ninth Wave" means so much to me and I am glad to spread the word. And I am loving the new live album--brings me right back to the magic of that night.

Thanks again!
Best,
JEF