Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Hounds of Love

This is a post about Kate Bush's album, Hounds of Love.  Before we get to the piece itself, just one note of interest:

- Last Friday I put up a piece about Cobble Hill. As part of that day, I also wrote a review of the restaurant Prime Meats, which you can now see at Brooklyn Exposed.  There should be more articles of mine appearing on the website in the coming weeks and months.

That's it.  Now, on to the main event.

The Hounds of Love

Women are slowly infiltrating my life.  That might sound completely arrogant – and there is no way to truly write or utter that sentence without seeming completely arrogant – however, I am going to try to explain. 

This is supposed to be an article/post/piece about Kate Bush and her album Hounds of Love from 1985. As I was preparing notes on the album, I realized that I didn’t know exactly what the album was about as a whole and I didn’t want to end up just giving a rundown of the album track by track. Then, I began thinking about the last music piece that I posted on the blog, which mentioned how different women singers have effected me as well as chronicle how much time I had put into listening to Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me and She & Him’s Volume 2.  As I rehashed those feelings, I began to laugh thinking about all the Gilmore Girl nonsense that is occurring on the blog and in my world as of late – and when I say nonsense, I mean that in the sense that Gilmore Girls is vitally important and completely frivolous all at the same time and will develop into one of the top ten cult shows of all time.  When the laughter faded – as it always inevitably will, annoyingly so – it was already Mother’s Day weekend and I was heading home in order to treat my mother to a $50.00 gift certificate to Marlow & Sons and a day out touring the Long Island wineries; that bill would be footed by my father.

At the beginning of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This holds true for men as well – and I know no truly happy man (I imagine this is true for women too, but I am a man (ok boyish still) and for the sake of this piece I am sticking to only one sex, since I lack the omniscient control of Tolstoy). There is a certain quality in men that causes them to romanticize the aloof, the wandering nature of the world, the vague notion that perhaps if they squinted their eyes hard enough they could see themselves in an image where they had no mother or father, where they were simply formed as they are – all their supreme faults and grandnesses standing in full and total completeness.  However, no matter how hard we chase down these Don Draper delusions, this is simply not true, no matter how orphaned you may be in reality or desire.

That is where the Hounds of Love come in.  One morning this past weekend, while I was walking my dog along the beach past the now abandoned home of one of my best friends, I looked at the swaying green trees that stand in the distance above the dunes.  The winds were incredibly strong and they pushed the leaves back and forth, the water rippled and my dog ran ahead dipping his head into streams of straw, wet sand trailing down his hind legs as he trotted.  I kept my eyes on the trees and thought of the opening lines of “Hounds of Love.” Kate Bush sampled a spoken word piece that says, paired to an out of time beat, “its in the trees, look out its coming!” The song then launches full tilt into its pounding-pop melody and doesn’t let up until nearly three minutes later. The sampled voice is full of some kind of terror and awe for what it sees coming through the trees (on a funny side note, these song could be used as a clip show for the old-school Smoke Monster from Lost – you know, when he used to rattle the trees before he appeared). One of the reasons why I aborted writing completely about Hounds of Love is that idea of something coming through the trees, because as I watched the trees being pushed by the wind on the that morning I couldn’t figure out what exactly it was that was coming for me through those trees.

What Kate Bush moans in the song is, “Now hounds of love are haunting/I’ve always been a coward/And I don’t know what’s good for me.” That is a sentiment that any listener can relate to.  Who has not felt the inclination at any time of day to recount those haunting feelings of past loves creeping along the backside of your arm or over your shoulders? Who has not felt that insecurity and weakness? Who in fact knows what’s good for them? Even on that morning that may have been what I was lamenting. However, as much as I felt the pulling on my heart of the different moments of love that have inhabited my past - standing on the point at Montauk watching the boats set out and holding the girl you love; sitting on a bench on the docks while the Irish band plays on shore in the heat of the afternoon; laying in bed in the early morning of a rainy spring day just south of Lake George; standing in the street against a car kissing and trying to understand what the summer means; that first kiss in the darkness of the room – that thing coming after me felt like more than that.  It felt like more, because the images that came to mind, were not those initial instances, but more vague and disparate sensations that were not completely tied to an image. There were sensations of a sunny fall afternoon, freshly showered after practice and sauntering back down to the back playing fields at the high school, feeling sun on skin and smelling the coolness in the air, anxious and relaxed at the same time, a few flowers draped high in the brush over that far fence.

Someone may read this and suggest that all that I am trying to say is that the Hounds of Love are merely those fleeting memories of youth or a past in general. And maybe that is true, because a certain “aesthetic” I have been developing in the non-sports content on this blog does relate to the notion of a past, of being lost on the path of life, “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/mi ritrovai per una selva oscurach√©/la diritta via era smarrita,” as Dante once wrote. Even in the light-hearted nature of my podcasts, the song at the beginning “Musta Got Lost” by J. Geils Band, even though it is a song about a stupid guy who lost out on love, strikes truer in my own context of walking along through this world and thinking that at some point I must have gotten lost – that we all have gotten lost.  Lost from what, I don’t know – nor do I lament that fact, I just am meant to point it out.  A recent song I have been in love with is “Where Am I Now(When I Need Me)?” by the underrated guitarist Jesse “Ed” Davis. In that song, Davis, laments, “there’s a face in the mirror/seems familiar, like a sketch there I once drew.” Its an easy image of looking in the mirror and not recognizing one’s own face, but the way Davis delivers the line, in such a nonchalant and baffled manner makes it seem poignant.  The singer is a good time guy with no real cares, who happens to stumble into not recognizing himself. Our good friend Thomas Wolfe also once wrote the very simple and melodramatic, “O, Lost!”

So the Hounds of Love are present at every turn, they come through the trees and remind us of a past that is no longer present.  Everyone is haunted by their past in one way or another, so what is the big deal of Kate Bush singing about it this sensation in her own manner? The big deal lies in the conviction with which Bush sings the song as well as the imagery that she uses.  There is a section of the song where the singer encounters the body of a fox.  The singer sings, “I found a fox/caught by dogs/he let me take him in my hands/His little heart/It beats so fast/and I’m ashamed of running away.” This image carries over to the singer reflecting upon her own weaknesses: “From nothing real/I just can’t deal with this/But I’m still afraid to be here/Among your hounds of love/And feel your arms surround me./I’ve always been a coward/And never know what’s good for me.”  These are poignant lines that seem to come straight for any individual’s self-flagellation at their weaknesses. This singer has chosen to run away from love, from her past and the Hounds of Love have been unleashed upon her to bring her back in one way or another, whether physically or mentally.  The selling point comes with the imagery of the wounded fox.  There is a moment of connection between the singer and the fox’s little beating heart.  This struck me as relevant as I walked along the beach watching my dog trot along the rocks and shells and chase birds down by the water in an attempt to corral them in.  My dog is incapable of hurting another animal no matter how feral he may sometimes appear to strangers.  He is perhaps the most benevolent creature I have ever encountered. In some way, we are all at one point that benevolent with our hearts beating so fast. What the singer connects to, is that sense of vulnerability we all feel in tremendous doses. Her heart is beating so fast in her frantic escape from and attempt to understand these Hounds of Love.

The other standout track, for me, on this album is the song “And Dream of Sheep,” which is a haunting lullaby that I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog.  The refrain of this song is, “Let me be weak/Let me sleep/And dream of sheep.” The song brings to mind an image of youth, of a darkened room in the English countryside where there is only a dim nightlight on – perhaps with the silhouette of a carousel or stars projected onto the walls. And Bush’s singer moans, “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 tune in to some friendly voices/Talking 'bout stupid things/I can't be left to my imagination.” This leads into the singer then requesting once again that she be able to sleep.  This song not only has a beautiful melody, but it strikes me as the moment when one does recollect their past.  Once you are left to your imagination, that is when the mind will obviously wander, and the mind will wander back to that past, before the moment of escape, before those Hounds of Love have been set out.  That time when you are allowed to be weak, allowed to sleep and dream of sheep, that vulnerable time that we think of when we have to hoist ourselves out of bed to face the day and our lives – that dangerous allure of something that may not have ever been.  For we envy the vulnerability of the fox because it is allowed to be vulnerable, but we are not. And when we feel that vulnerability, when we connect to it, we have to run away from it, which we are always ashamed to do.  There is no rest; there is no merit in wanting to sleep.

This whole idea ends back with the Gilmore Girls, and that is not a strange thing to say. In the Gilmore Girls podcast that went up on the blog earlier this week, Erik Lilleby and I mentioned how there is something soothing about the show, something comforting. This feeling can be tied to what another friend of mine said at dinner one night when he was reflecting on reading Crime and Punishment for the first time, which is that he said, “I wish I had never read Crime and Punishment so I could read it for the first time again.”  That is what the Hounds of Love are.  It is that desire to experience something for the first time again that chases us down to the end of the earth.  When I walked with my dog along the beach and saw those trees swaying against the backdrop of the openness of the Long Island, it wasn’t the pull of the loves I had lost that I felt along the back of my arms and up my neck, it was that freshness of the Saturday walking to the playing fields behind my old high school, my heart then beat just like the fox that Kate Bush’s singer held in her hands. That Saturday feeling, that freshness, the smells and the colors stands out as some first time experience in my mind and we can never gain that back.  The bright colors, the sharp dialogue, the very contained feeling of the characters and the plots of the Gilmore Girls reminds us of something fresh and neat that we don’t quite want, but feel the need to embrace anyway.  It reminds us of the beginning of something and the beginning of something is what we always run back towards, because we always find ourselves running away from that something once the beginning is over. We find ourselves lost, looking to remember how we got to a certain point and the only way to find where we are is to look to the beginning. But that isn’t always the answer.  What the answer is, I don’t know.  I just have the sensations from this past Saturday, walking with my dog along the water, passing the abandoned house of a friend of mine, and taking joy in seeing my dog run and jump at birds.  And perhaps those sensations are all that matter, perhaps those will keep the Hounds of Love at bay.

 In any event, the album Hounds of Love is fantastic, the music is experimental and phenomenal, big and 80’s sounding and tremendously catchy. And that’s all that really matters - even if those Hounds of Love will chase you down no matter where you go, just like some TV show with a Carole King song that plays at the beginning.

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