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Book preview: 45 at 45 — Kate Bush on Elvis Presley and King Of The Mountain

In commemoration of the forty-fifth anniversary of Elvis Presley’s passing, I’ve got my hands on a totally exclusive titbit: an extract from Tom Doyle’s forthcoming Running Up That Hill: 50 Visions of Kate Bush. It’s a fragmentary guide to the maverick musical genius based around their conversations, and which is set to be published in October 2022 by Nine Eight Books.

With Tom a former Q and MOJO magazine colleague and author of well regarded biographies on Billy Mackenzie, Elton John and Paul McCartney I just knew this one would be worth asking for. This is the passage about Bush’s 2005 comeback 45 King Of The Mountain, about you-know-who, wondering if he‘s still alive and “looking like a happy man.” Hot dawg.

For Aerial, Bush reassembled familiar cast members from her previous albums: drummer Stuart Elliott, who by this stage had played on every one of her records since The Kick Inside (‘He’s a bit like my lucky mascot now,’ she said), her brother Paddy on backing vocals, Del Palmer engineering and playing bass, Danny McIntosh providing guitar parts. 

There were some new faces – Lol Creme (10cc/Godley & Creme) sang with her on ‘π’ and ‘Nocturn’, Gary Brooker (Procol Harum) played organ or sang on three tracks, including the duet chorus of ‘Somewhere in Between’. But nevertheless the core of her creative operation involved people long-known to her. 

Aerial began with ‘King of the Mountain’, the first song Kate had written for the album. Its lyric explored the idea that Elvis Presley was alive and well and living in some remote, snowy, elevated location. More significantly, it was someone who’d had myths built around her, writing about another individual who’d had even greater myths built around him. It was essentially a song about fame. 

‘There’s only three or four people who’ve been as famous as Elvis,’ Bush reckoned. ‘You’ve got Elvis, you’ve got Frank Sinatra . . . even Marilyn Monroe, I think it probably happened more after she died. But Sinatra and Elvis lived these lives that . . . I mean . . . I can’t imagine what it must have been like. 

‘What a horrible nightmare. Particularly for somebody like Elvis. Because the impression I get was that he was fun-loving and just happened to be really gorgeous and sexy and talented. And I think, y’know, partly why people respond to him the way they do – and I really feel strongly about this – is that people [sense] an intention from somebody, whether it’s an actor or a singer. People felt that Elvis was a really genuinely sweet person and that’s why everybody loves him so much. Not that I know a great deal about Elvis, but I thought he was a very beautiful- looking man with a fantastic voice and this fun-loving quality where you see he’s up there kind of taking the piss out of himself.’ 

I said I’d recently re-watched Presley’s 1970 Vegas-era documentary, That’s the Way It Is, and it had struck me that it often must have been a real laugh being Elvis.

‘Well, I hope it was. What I see is somebody who was a sweetheart in the truest sense, just being eaten alive. To be as famous as he was . . . how could anybody survive that and still be a human being? I see him as being destroyed really by the fact that he was so famous. So I just love the idea of him being alive somewhere, away from all the people and the greed and the wanting to take him over.’ 

Steve Pafford

With thanks to Nikki Mander at bonnierbooks.co.uk

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