Friday, June 19, 2009

Celebrating Bloomsday in St. Paul (& with Kate Bush)

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This past Tuesday evening, a group of friends and I participated in the 24th annual Bloomsday celebration at the University Club in St. Paul.

Founded by lawyer and writer Donal Heffernan and hosted by poet laureate of St. Paul, Carol Connolly, St. Paul’s Bloomsday celebrates all things James Joycean – and Irish! Of course, throughout the world Bloomsday celebrations are held every June 16 – the date Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Joyce’s Ulysses, sallied forth into Dublin City. June 16 was also the date in 1904 of Joyce’s first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, when they walked to the Dublin urban village of Ringsend.

And as with last year, Bloomsday in St. Paul also celebrated a little something Australian as once again my friends Molly Culligan, Brigid McDonald, and Michael Zieghan (who accompanied us on guitar) joined me in a rousing rendition of “The Wild Colonial Boy.”



Brigid also sang beautiful renditions of “The Green Fields of France” and “Little Town In The Old County Down,” while Molly performed her famed Molly Bloom soliloquy.

As well as singing “The Wild Colonial Boy,” I again read an excerpt from Jamie O’Neill’s novel, At Swim, Two Boys. For more about this book (and to read the excerpt I shared), see last year’s post, A Beautiful Novel.



Anyway, to (belatedly) celebrate Bloomsday at The Wild Reed, I share tonight the Kate Bush song, “The Sensual World,” from her 1989 album of the same name. Originally, Kate wanted to put to music Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The author’s estate, however, refused to grant permission to quote the novel. Undeterred, Kate wrote a song depicting the joy and wonder of the fictitious character of Molly Bloom “stepping out, off the page, into the sensual world.”

Mmh, yes,
Then I’d taken the kiss of seedcake back from his mouth
Going deep South, go down, mmh, yes,
Took six big wheels and rolled our bodies
Off of Howth Head and into the flesh, mmh, yes,
He said I was a flower of the mountain, yes,
But now I’ve powers o’er a woman’s body, yes,
Stepping out of the page into the sensual world
Stepping out . . .


In a September 1989 interview, Kate noted that: “By them being uncooperative it made the track better in many ways, but it was very difficult to keep the rhythmic sense of the words.” Questioned about the significance of the bells at the beginning of the song, Kate said: “I’ve got a thing about the sound of bells. It’s one of those fantastic sounds: sound of celebration. They’re used to mark points in life – births, weddings, deaths – but they give this tremendous feeling of celebration. In the original speech [Molly Bloom’s] talking of the time when [Leopold] proposed to her, and I just had the image of bells, this image of [Molly and Leopold] sitting on the hillside with the sound of bells in the distance. In hindsight, I also think it’s a lovely way to start an album: a feeling of celebration that puts me on a hillside somewhere on a sunny afternoon and it’s like, mmh. Sounds of celebration get fewer and fewer. We haven’t many left. And yet people complain of the sound of bells in cities.”


. . . Stepping out
To where the water and the earth caress
And the down of a peach says, mmh, yes,
Do I look for those millionaires
Like a Machiavellian girl would
When I could wear a sunset? mmh, yes,
And how we wish to live in the sensual world
You don’t need words – just one kiss, then another.

Stepping out of the page into the sensual world
Stepping out, off the page, into the sensual world.


Following are further excerpts from Len Brown’s September 1989 interview with Kate. It first appeared in the British magazine New Musical Express and was entitled “In the Realm of the Senses.”

_____________________________________


. . . What’s always been remarkable about Kate Bush has been the ability to withdraw from the music world, escape from the machine, and return months or years later with something rejuvenating, original, set apart from chart-fodder disposable pop. Like Bowie in the ’70s, Bush in the ’80s has been one of the true oddities, exceptions to the rules. Always out of step, always unique.

And always, as The Sensual World implies, provocative. Bells ring as you enter her Sensual World, bells of celebration, of sensual joy. “The communication of music is very much like making love,” she once said, so it’s entirely appropriate that she should derive her title track from James Joyce’s Ulysses and, in particular, Molly Bloom’s thoughts on sex, sensuality and oysters at 2/6 per dozen.

“Because I couldn’t get permission to use a piece of Joyce it gradually turned into the song about Molly Bloom the character stepping out of the book, into the real world and the impressions of sensuality,” says Kate, softly, almost childlike. “Rather than being in this two-dimensional world, she’s free, let loose to touch things, feel the ground under her feet, the sunsets, just how incredibly sensual a world it is.

“I originally heard the piece read by Siobhán McKenna years ago, and I thought, ‘My God! This is extraordinary. What a piece of writing!’ It’s a very unusual train of thought – very attractive. First I got the ‘mmh yes,’ and that made me think of Molly Bloom’s speech; and we had this piece of music in the studio already, so it came together really quickly. Then, because I couldn’t get permission to use Joyce, it took another year changing it to what it is now. Typical, innit!”

The result is extraordinarily sensual mouth music, far removed from the cod-pieced crassness that usually passes for physical love songs: “And at first with the charm around him, mmh yes/He loosened it so if it slipped between my breasts/He’d rescue it, mmh yes.”

“In the original piece, it’s just ‘Yes’ – a very interesting way of leading you in. It pulls you into the piece by the continual acceptance of all these sensual things: ‘Ooh wonderful!’ I was thinking I’d never write anything as obviously sensual as the original piece, but when I had to rewrite the words, I was trapped.

“How could you recreate that mood without going into that level of sensuality? So there I was writing stuff that months before I’d said I’d never write,” she laughs. “I have to think of it in terms of pastiche, and not that it’s me so much.”

She claims The Sensual World contains the most “positive female energy” in her work to date, and compositions like “This Woman’s Work” tend to enforce that idea.

“I think it’s to do with me coming to terms with myself on different levels. In some ways, like on [1985’s] Hounds of Love it was important for me to get across the sense of power in the songs that I’d associated with male energy and music. But I didn’t feel that this time, and I was very much wanting to express myself as a woman in my music, rather than as a woman wanting to sound as powerful as a man.

“And definitely “The Sensual World” –the track – was very much a female track for me. I felt it was a really new expression, feeling good about being a woman musically.”

But isn’t it odd that this feminist or feminine perspective should have been inspired by a man, Joyce?

“Yes, in some ways...but it’s also the idea of Molly escaping from the author, out into the real world, being this real human, rather than the character: stepping out of the page into the sensual world.”

So is this concept of sensuality the most important thing to you at the moment? Is it one of the life forces?

“Yes. It’s about contact with humans. It could all come down to the sensual level. Touch? Yes. Even if it’s not physical touch: reaching out and touching people by moving them. I think it’s a very striking part of this planet, the fact that there is so much for us to enjoy. The whole of Nature is really designed for everything to have a good time doing what they should be doing.”


And then our arrows of desire rewrite the speech, mmh, yes,
And then he whispered would I, mmh, yes,
Be safe, mmh, yes, from the mountain flowers?
And at first with the charm around him, mmh, yes,
He loosened it so if it slipped between my breasts
He’d rescue it, mmh, yes.
And his spark took life in my hand and, mmh, yes,
I said, mmh, yes,
But not yet, mmh, yes,
Mmh, yes.

Kate Bush
“The Sensual World”



For more of Kate Bush at The Wild Reed, see:
Wow!
The Man I Love
Oh, Yeah!


Previous artists featured on “Music Night at the Wild Reed”:
The Church, Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, Wall of Voodoo, Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy, Pink Floyd, Kate Ceberano, Judith Durham, Wendy Matthews, Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1927, Mavis Staples, Maxwell, Joan Baez, Tee Set, Darren Hayes, Wet, Wet, Wet, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Cruel Sea, Shirley Bassey, Loretta Lynn & Jack White, Foo Fighters, Jenny Morris, Kate Bush, Rufus Wainwright, and Dusty Springfield.


See also the related Wild Reed posts:
The Inherent Sensuality of Roman Catholicism
The Catholic Thing
The Holy Pleasure of Intimacy
One Fearless Kiss
Mmm . . . that Sweet Surrender
In the Garden of Spirituality - Diarmuid Ó Murchú
Thomas Berry (1914-2009)
Spring Garden
A Perfect Day


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