When I was just beginning to start my teenage years I got into the music and the voice of Kate Bush. I was intrigued and bewildered at the albums; the art work; the dance moves, the fluidity and fragility of a singer who like Marvin Gaye, is afraid to step out of the video or the page and back onto the stage as well as the moving lines between the music and the concepts that Kate tried to escape to, away from the real world and their issues.
Although songs like "Breathing," using the Atomic bomb as the basis for life after the bomb, other songs such as "The Man With The Child In His Eyes, " "Running Up That Hill," and "Hammer Horror," were strange enough to the ears of a child weaned on Simon & Garfunkel; Joni Mitchell; The Beatles and Abba. I rebuked everything apart from Abba, and later got into Queen, Fleetwood Mac, a smattering of 80's bands such as Talk Talk, Blondie and The Kinks (as a 1960's tribute to my parents' love of The Beatles). Throughout the years there have been other singers and other bands but I always return to my first source of inspiration; Kate Bush.
Despite my other friends who could get books, posters and autobiographies of their favourite pop stars, I had to make do with very little in terms of buying and finding books about Kate Bush on the high street; there were few books actually written about Kate including a fantastic book co-written by a man who would later publish his own fanzine called "Home Ground." I had to join the fan club run by a friend of Kate's in order to get glossy photos and insider information about future releases.
Make no mistake, apart from being branded in the early 1980's as EMI's daughter, Kate Bush has remained private about her own life; her relationships and her day to day life, although until "Aerial" was released, on a minor level supported the birth of her son and celebrated the fact along with collecting a few music awards along the way for her contribution to music. Now however she has returned to her home, her private life and her family.
When my parents bought me "The Biography," by Rob Jovanovic, I had never actually read a copy of it before but I had seen it advertised briefly on Amazon which is my main purchase source for books and music online. To date I have two other books which have been authorised by Kate Bush; "The Secret World of Kate Bush," by Fred Vermorel (1983) and a book which is now out of print, "A Visual Documentary," by Kevin Cann and Sean Mayes (1988).
** Pricing **
The book's retail value is quite expensive at £16-99 for the hard back copy. My parents bought it for the same price from a private book store in town although Amazon reveals a cheaper price of just £5-09 for the same edition. The front of the book shows a very young Kate in a magenta dress, matching heels and the small words of "The Biography" in small magenta writing followed by huge gold capitals of "Kate Bush."
** Nar's Thoughts **
From Q music magazine to Record Collector, I've had virtually every copy of published material (including the aforementioned books) which features Kate Bush and so when it actually came to reading this book, a lot of things started to crop up and appeared familiar to me.
Infact as the preface reveals, the biography shows and illustrates Kate's life from the beginning as a child, at school, growing up, learning the violin and then discovering the piano through her father, or to be close to her real life, an old battered organ left out in a garden outhouse. The first couple of chapters reveal a girl that you really don't want to know very much about, because fans like me have read it before in other books!
To the reader who has never read about Kate Bush before, they could well assume that the word is written law rather than parts which have been taken out from other books. Indeed travel to the rear of the book and you'll find quite a lengthy acknowledgement and bibliography list. I didn't want to read about her life as a child - I've read it when I was a teenager myself - so what I reading was pre-churned from years past.
Kate Bush's life as far as I have read isn't spectacularly eye widening anyway but it may reveal why she is so private in her private life; she comes from a large Irish English family, ran riot in her farm house with her friends (oh what I would have done to be one of her friends!!) and the farmhouse like all farm houses was sectioned off, surrounded by high walls - infact a different world. There she discovered music as well as doing it at school and left lower secondary school with no less than 10 O levels (though the Scottish education system had changed in the 1980's I was one of the last generation to be lucky enough to hold an O level in Music, so at least we have some connection!) before attending sixth form college for studying A levels. Whatever Kate was in her younger years, she was independent and a loner, keeping herself to herself when she wanted and allowing people to be close when she wanted.
At best the book is a good source bible for time frames but very little else in terms of what a proper biography should attain. Before I read the book cover to cover, my only source of Kate Bush discography for example was firstly at the back of Kate's piano scored only "Complete" book and copies of old Record Collector magazines. Nothing much else has been added here that hasn't been seen before.
What I was looking for was perhaps a biography written by Kate herself or co-written; to find out what she wanted from life, to why she has always felt the need to write music from literary sources or sources of known fates such as a song about a taxidermist, or who her main influences are now and how she writes a song - from a musician to a musician's perspectives. None of these expectations are evident here. I wanted to know what Kate Bush thought of her family, of what she gets up to, the kind of life that she leads and what annoys her; what kinds of soaps she uses; observations and conversations from people who have met her; general things that every pop obsessed fan wants to know.
Oh we get the usual answer from within the book from incidents which have happened in the past, of how she demanded a song here and there to be the first as opposed to what the record company thought, and the change from a man's producing her music to producing music herself without man's assistance. There is even a mention of how Kate appeared at the Royal Albert Hall guest appearing with Dave Gilmour and sang on the song, "Comfortably Numb." What the author forgets to mention is that Kate Bush asked for the recording to be removed from any future release by the band and it is extremely difficult to get unless you surf on the internet and get to hear it live without being able to download and keep at home. That's the kind of information I was looking for, without having to seek sources elsewhere!
Infact it is fair to suggest that the author should have consulted Kate Bush firstly but there is little mention about this in the book or the preface. Infact the author couldn't establish an interview with the singer and instead went on ahead to produce a book full of information which it would appear seems to congregate around info which has been gleamed elsewhere.
** The writing style **
Firstly there is no writing style which stands out as a true biographical style which shows negative and positive thoughts about the singer. The style isn't continuous in my mind let alone a time frame without the author literally stating dates and times and this becomes confusing and lumpy when at times the author tries to be continuous and organised.
There are some personal thoughts from time to time but they remain for the most part positive without being too afraid to rock the boat negatively. At times it reads like a journal with quotes put in to substantiate what the writer is saying, to prove that he is correct and it has a bad knack of returning to the past and then zoom to the present and then somewhere else before really trying to establish what the author wants to say.
In short the writing style is all over the place and at times it appears as if it hasn't been particularly well organised. It's like the author has taken a picture book, pasted the pictures in and then realised that the glue has stuck onto other photos that should have been put there the first time!
** Photographs **
Talking of which, some of the photos in this book are actually quite good, glossy in feel and for the most part in colour, although they also appear elsewhere in other books about Kate Bush and magazines featuring the singer. There is however no pictures featuring Kate as a child; this is a much protected ground which her own family take pride in preserving and only a few books have been published which feature Kate as a child.
Infact the biggest book with Kate's younger year photos is a limited edition book written by Kate's eldest brother John Carder Bush. I never bought the book although it was available through the fan club for a time but for the fresh reader it would have been interesting to see the glances of a very young Kate and how she has turned out today. Frankly I have no interest in Kate Bush as a child; its her music that I adore and the reasons for how and why she produces her work remains to go unfounded.
** The Author Himself **
At the back of the book, there is a short blurb written about the author himself. It states that Rob Jovanovic has "written about music for the last decade contributing to numerous magazines including Mojo, Q, Level, Record Collector and Uncut. He has also authored books on Beck, R.E.M, Pavement, Nirvana ."
Well I have never read any of Jovanovic's other authored books on other pop stars and if anything is to go by this very poor misinterpretation of a biography written by him, I just shudder to think what the other books are like.
** Conclusion **
If Jovanovic had only waited another year, he could have adjusted information and put in his own take on notes and thoughts regarding "Aerial," but the book soon starts to run out of steam the moment newer albums such as "The Sensual World," and "The Red Shoes," are mentioned and there is a page and a half of thought and info on the last section of the book which covers the album that we now know today as "Aerial."
For fresh readers who are looking to know about Kate Bush in her music, this book serves up a good source; but it is not a biography which has been authorised by the Bush family. Otherwise there would much more depth and texture to a book which is worthy of £17-00 here as well as insider information to see what makes Kate tick. Perhaps as a fan I'll never get to know. For the obsessed Kate Bush fan, at least it chops down the endless old magazine articles in the loft - to an extent.
Infact to boot, there is a sort of irony which the author confesses right to the end of the book found on the last page of the bibliography;
" Hunt around, there's a lot of material out there," he writes
Well if it hasn't all been cut and pasted into your own book, here Mr Jovanovic its little wonder there's any material actually left! Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2007
The Biography, Kate Bush by Rob Jovanovic
Published by Portrait Books