Listen to this track by British homebody singer-songwriter and record producer Kate Bush. It’s “King Of The Mountain”, a single as taken from 2005’s critically acclaimed Aerial. This record was her first double album, and one that had tremendous success when it was released in November of that year.
This song, the lead single which was released roughly a month previous to the album, would score an instant #4 on the UK charts, and hit top ten positions all over the world. But along with the rest of the new album, it had taken her a while to deliver it – 12 years.
Since 1993’s The Red Shoes, Bush had removed herself from public life. This wasn’t necessarily because the record industry got her down. But, because like in anyone’s life, she had other priorities; buying a new home in Devon, fixing it up, building a home studio to work quietly in, and eventually becoming a mum, too.
When you’re in the pop music industry, this kind of thing isn’t always allowed. The penalty is often that you get called an ‘eccentric’, a recluse, “past it”, or maybe just an underachiever. The story on Kate Bush remained uncertain for many years. All the while, Bush still had musical ideas percolating as everyone hoped she would. But, what does this song say about her view on the whole biz we call show and the demands of fame on artists?
Kate Bush didn’t quit music, or run out of ideas. After as hiatus and the birth of her son Bertie in the late 1990s, she decided to raise her son full-time with her husband, guitarist Danny McIntosh. They wanted to give Bertie as regular an upbringing as possible, even if his mum was a singular and celebrated artist. Even if she continued to tinker with new music during that time, it was her role as a parent that came first.
Meanwhile, rumours and half-truths abounded during Kate Bush’s absence from the charts with no new music apparent, although hints of a new record floated around for years. In this sense, Kate Bush was still in the public consciousness, even if she wasn’t on tour, or promoting a new album.
In many ways, some of the themes in “King Of The Mountain” reflect this, with “… there is a rumour that you’re on ice/And you will rise again someday.” It was an appropriate opening salvo from a new record after so long a wait. Those lyrics could have been about her.
But literally speaking in this song, the central character is no less than Elvis Presley, also a pop star with somewhat of a big audience, and also one fraught with the same central conflict perhaps as Kate Bush was when she wrote the song; how do you balance an artistic life, which is often very solitary, to a life that allows you to have daily connections to those you love, to those who know who you really are, beneath your public persona?
That’s what this song deals with, a song about fame that raises the icon above the rest of humanity complete with a reference to Orson Welles’ Rosebud sledge from Citizen Kane. In that movie, the central character’s dying words are not understood, because the man himself remains misunderstood, un-known. Despite his riches and fame, he remains disconnected and isolated from that which made him a real person, not just a figure of power. As such, this song is about the pitfalls of losing yourself to a set of expectations imposed on you by others that in the end have nothing to do with who you really are.
This certainly explains a lot when it comes to Kate Bush’s approach to this song, the record, and her work as an artist in general. From the few interviews she gave upon her return to the charts by 2005, it was her role as a mother that was established as her primary driving force, with her songwriting and record production taking second place. This certainly explains the gaps between albums, and puts the high quality of the album as a testament to the range of her talent into perspective. Aerial is her most critically acclaimed album to date.
But the themes in “King Of The Mountain” explain something about how the priorities of their creator have helped her to avoid the pitfalls of international stardom. Being king of the mountain, or queen for that matter, usually means ruling alone.
Besides the compilation/re-imagined Director’s Cut in 2011, wherein she repositioned and refashioned songs from mid-career works The Red Shoes and Sensual World, Kate Bush put out a new studio follow-up album to Aerial, also in 2011. That record is Fifty Words For Snow, her tenth album. You can buy it at Katebush.com.