Saturday, February 27, 2016

Songs About People # 165 Henry Houdini

As a follow up to my Kate Bush, The Dreaming review from a couple of weeks back, here's the last but one track on it again, a centerpiece of sorts and the story behind its wonderful sleeve picture. Below is Kate's own description of the song.

'The side most people know of Houdini is that of the escapologist, but he spent many years of his life exposing mediums and seances as frauds. His mother had died, and in trying to make contact through such spiritual people, he realized how much pain was being inflicted on people already in sorrow, people who would part with money just for the chance of a few words from a past loved one. I feel he must have believed in the possibility of contact after death, and perhaps in his own way, by weeding out the frauds, he hoped to find just one that could not be proven to be a fake. He and his wife made a decision that if one of them should die and try to make contact, the other would know it was truly them through a code that only the two of them knew.

His wife would often help him with his escapes. Before he was bound up and sealed away inside a tank or some dark box, she would give him a parting kiss, and as their lips met, she would pass him the key which he would later use to unlock the padlocks that chained him. After he died, Mrs. Houdini did visit many mediums, and tried to make contact for years, with no luck - until one day a medium called Mr. Ford informed her that Houdini had come through. She visited him and he told her that he had a message for her from Houdini, and he spoke the only words that meant for her the proof of her husband's presence. She was so convinced that she released an official statement to the fact that he had made contact with her through the medium, Ford.

It is such a beautiful and strange story that I thought I had very little to do, other than tell it like it was. But in fact it proved to be the most difficult lyric of all the songs and the most emotionally demanding. I was so aware of trying to do justice to the beauty of the subject, and trying to understand what it must have been like to have been in love with such an extraordinary man, and to have been loved by him. I worked for two or three nights just to find one line that was right. There were so many alternatives, but only a few were right for the song. Gradually it grew and began to piece together, and I found myself wrapped up in the feelings of the song - almost pining for Houdini. Singing the lead vocal was a matter of conjuring up that feeling again and as the clock whirrs and the song flashes back in time to when she watched him through the glass, he's on the other side under water, and she hangs on to his every breath. We both wait.' (Kate Bush Club newsletter, October 1982)

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