The Wuthering Heights of July 1978
I have just sold a piece to a music magazine about an old record that’s part of my youth.
I am quite happy, thank you.
And now, I don’t often speak about music on Karavansara, but when I do, it’s about artists that tell stories with their songs. In the end, if I look at the records and artists that I consider part of my education (for better or for worse) I find that, while often very different for genre and approach, they all are, in one way or another, storytellers.
Case in point, Kate Bush, and her record The Kick Inside, the 1978 debut album I have just retro-reviewed for a magazine.
I will not get into an in-depth analysis or whatever. Re-listening to it I realized the amount of storytelling, and the sophisticated, jumping-POV technique Kate Bush used.
Now, truth to be told, my favorite Kate Bush record is Never Forever, from 1980. It was the first Kate Bush record I bought, and I had to smuggle it in my house, because my mother hated Kate Bush, and this is the story I want to tell you. Because it’s fun, it’s weird, and I couldn’t put it in my article.
In the summer of 1978 I was 11 and my brother was 5, and our family rented an apartment by the seaside in July, because my father worked in August, and rents were cheaper in July. Our apartment overlooked a big courtyard in which an open-air cinema had been built. This meant that through the month we were able to see two movies per night – quite a bonus, after a whole day spent at the beach or exploring the hills at the back of the town.
And in that month of July, 1978…
OK, there was this guy. After a few days we were able to pinpoint his apartment. He lived on the other side of the courtyard.
Every night, exactly at 8 PM, this guy would put Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights on the stereo, pump the volume up to 11, and play the song three times.
At the same hour.
For a month.
Now the first evening we were baffled.
We were sitting at dinner and caught the first notes and then Kate Bush’s high-pitched voice and we went, what?
We had caught the song on the radio in the previous months, but never really paid attention to it. Sure, the voice was something unheard before, and it was intriguing, and it was inspired by a movie I had seen (and found boring) but, OK…
On the second evening, the reaction was, what, again?
On the third evening, same time, same song, repeated three times, the whole thing started getting weird.
And on the next evening.
And the one after that.
I got my father’s binoculars and I started looking at the windows of our neighbors, trying to pinpoint this Kate Bush fan. Very Rear Window, if you will. But I was reading a lot of Three Investigators, so it felt OK. I caught him, at length. A young guy, say around fifteen or so, too distant to resolve his face. He would open his windows, start the song, and lean out of the window, arms crossed, listening.
After a few days, the song started to grate on people’s nerves. My mother did not speak English, so to her there was simply the incomprehensible wailing of that British waif, echoing in the courtyard for a quarter of an hour while we dined.
People started shouting “Stop it!” and “Enough now!” from their windows, but the guy just cracked his volume up one more notch, and leaned back into his window.
People plastered notes on the gate of the building in which he lived. He was menaced with violence should he not stop playing Wuthering Heights.
He kept it up for one month.
Or maybe more, who knows.
By August the first we were back home in Turin, and from that moment on it was impossible for us to catch Kate Bush on the radio without my mother snorting angrily and changing station. Which was a problem, because by the time I was fourteen or thereabouts, I actually liked Kate Bush a lot.
So, one day I was browsing the LPs in a big record store in Turin, and I saw this incredible fantasy cover, and I thought, why not?
I bought a copy of Never Forever and then I discreetly brought it home and listened to it for about a month using my headphones.
By the time my mother found out and gave me her usual tirade about the incomprehensible wailing of that British waif, I had already bought both The Kick Inside and Lionheart.
And had escaped an attempted mugging in the proceedings. But that’s another story.