Wednesday, August 29, 2012

 

Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)

Something exciting came out of that Olympics closing ceremony after all! Kate Bush re-recorded her second-biggest hit for the event and, astonishingly, Running Up That Hill shot up the charts to become her fifth-biggest hit as well, zooming in at Number Six, with lower but still improbable chart placings for the likes of the Who’s Baba O’Riley, the Kinks, ELO and Annie Lennox Vs Cthulhu (all discovered last week while laid up with painfully inflamed ligaments in my left ankle, a change from the occasional tendonitis: running up that hill? If I only could). But what’s the song about? Well…

All right, so she’s now running down the charts again this week, but it still seems miraculous that a twenty-seven-year-old song from Kate should suddenly be a smash all over again. And, this time, making a point of subtitling it “A Deal With God,” the original title refused by the record company for fear of airplay-death back in the ’80s, when it was the lead single from what turned out to be Kate’s most critically and commercially successful album, Hounds of Love.

Hounds of Love

Now, I have to admit that Hounds of Love isn’t quite my favourite Kate Bush album – I’d put The Sensual World ahead of it – and nor is Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) my favourite single from that album – I’d put Hounds of Love itself above it. All right, so Hounds of Love is a less complex, less ambiguous track, but its melodrama always thrills me, and between Kate’s famous two ’80s Doctor Who TV scripts and all her New Adventures it has more than a little Doctor Who feel, too – quoting from an old horror film, not entirely convincing monsters out to get you and an awful lot of running. Listening to her more recent work, I do wonder if Kate’s a particular Troughton fan, doing the Yeti with King of the Mountain and Wild Man, and on her Fish People label, to boot. But that’s another story. And Running Up That Hill is still a terrific, and a very powerful song.

Another minor miracle is that Kate’s new vocal on her remixed Running Up That Hill is a change from but if anything more gripping than the original; I’ve been a bit disappointed with most of her recent Director’s Cut revisitings of old songs, feeling they lack the power and excitement of the previous versions – and, heretically, I’d have said that the harsh, bombastic, very ’80s production on the Hounds of Love might have stood more revisiting than the more inviting sound of The Sensual World (though I don’t know how she’d unpick any of her Arthurian odyssey The Ninth Wave, a continuous piece making up the whole second half and a tour-de-force, much like her later Aerial’s A Sky of Honey).

Ironically, Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) may have had so many requests from people who weren’t born when it first charted and become a hit all over again because its powerful beat and chorus sounds like it symbolises the Olympics. I say ironically, because such a prosaic explanation runs against arguably Kate’s most layered and ambiguous lyrics for one of her hits.

Deeper Understanding… Yeah, Right

On the surface, it might sound like it’s about athletics – and it might be, of a sort – but Kate’s previously said when pressed for an explanation that it’s about a wish for a woman and a man in a relationship to reach greater understanding by literally changing places, and that she went for a deal with God rather than the traditional deal with the Devil because, obviously, that would be more powerful. So the meaning presented at the time, to ward off music-burners outraged at the mention of God, was a tender prayer for a more perfect union between a man and a woman. What could possibly be more praiseworthy for lovers of traditional values?

And yet… Some of the words may say that, but the music doesn’t. I’ve read people saying it’s an even more tender wish for a partner, that the “bullet” is about taking on his pain, a song of self-sacrifice. But it doesn’t sound like, say, Deeper Understanding or This Woman’s Work. This isn’t Kate in her tender, frail achingly beautiful mood; this is Kate sounding raw and powerful, and all the more so for not being as fabulously bonkers as she often seems in that style (though bonking may come into it). No – this isn’t a love song, but a march. Listen to those drums, banging away; watch the video, where Kate and a male dancer writhe hip to hip while miming shooting a bow and arrow. If the meaning’s what Kate said it is, then read between the lines and listen to the music: it’s Kate saying ‘How would it feel for me to fuck you for a change?’
“Come on, angel, come on, come on, darling,
“Let’s exchange the experience, oh…”
That’s the less ambitious version. But with Kate being so insistent that she wanted it called A Deal With God, and the ambiguity of some of the lyrics, on top of the pounding music…? This is about power. And it’s not just saying, ‘If I were a man, I’d make so much more use of that power than he would,’ though the physicality of the lyrics might well stand in for other goals. No, to me some of it suggests that Kate merely wanting to take a man’s place would be a chronic lack of ambition. You can read the chorus more than one way – is the “our” referring to an ‘us’ of Kate and her partner, or just Kate and the Almighty? It’s always sounded to me that Kate’s fed up with the lack of ambition on a cosmic scale, and if she only could, would swap places with God.
“And if I only could,
“I’d make a deal with God,
“And I’d get him to swap our places…”
But it’s probably about shagging.

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Comments:
You're close. It's about the Unknowability of The Other. You can be intimate with another person but you can never really know what's going on in their head, or feel what they feel. Kate's "deal with God" would literally swap their consciousnesses around. "Let's exchange the experience."
 
Thanks, Kate, for that absolutely authoritative reply ;)
 
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