In 1990, I spent a college semester in London. It was everything that experience has been for young Americans since the dawn of the Republic -- an eye-opening journey and gateway to a life of travel, adventure and, hopefully, some expansiveness. I was a wannabe writer and as pretentious as a 20-year-old wannabe writer is required to be, visiting Keats's house in Hampstead Heath, taking a lone trip to Chaucer's Canterbury, and feeling my world get bigger and brighter.
On Valentine's Day, while en route to a "poetry reading about love" by a group called Angels on Bicycles, I realized I was standing in front of the Hammersmith Odeon, where Kate Bush, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, had played her last concert in 1979. I imagined what it was like to have been there -- those lucky souls! -- and made a promise to myself that if she ever toured again, I would see her.
When I first saw Bush's video, "Cloudbusting," on MTV in the mid-1980s, she was unknown in my mainstream, Top 40-listening, Long Island universe. The one area "new wave" station played some of her music, but it was hard to find her albums so I had to wait with my fingers forever poised on the play and record buttons of my cassette player if I wanted the chance to tape one of her songs. Bush was huge in Europe but hadn't quite made it in the United States and, needless to say, imports were hard to come by at the mall. Making matters worse was I had no one to share her with; no one I knew liked her, let alone heard of her. But that made her all the more special and I consoled myself with the notion that I could have her all to myself.
Bush seemed to be everything a woman could be: She was beautiful, ethereal, literary and odd. She was fierce and feminine; provocative and demure; childlike and wise -- and it was clear even to my teenage self that no hit factory was churning out her songs. It was she who was writing them, conjuring them, and creating melodies that seemed to hail from some other realm of existence. No one I'd ever heard before sounded or felt like her.
I knew I wasn't alone, and as the years went by I met others who loved her, too. It's quite a thing to discover another person with whom you share an uncommon love -- Bush is so singular and strange that it takes a certain sort to appreciate her. Meeting another is like discovering that oasis you found in the desert is, in fact, an actual water supply.
Last spring, 35 years after her last show at the Hammersmith Odeon, Bush announced 22 concerts back at the same venue. But I didn't bother trying to get a ticket. The shows sold out in 15 minutes and it was futile to pretend I could have gone, anyway.
Then in late August, the concert, "Before the Dawn," premiered. I read the stellar reviews and longed for my 20-year-old self, who had made that promise to see her all those years ago. I berated myself for not even trying, but then, lucky me, the friend of a friend had a ticket and so off I went to the final show.
It was astonishing -- musically, theatrically and all that -- and countless raves have been written about it. But to me and, I imagine, everyone in the audience, it was as personal as a concert for 3,655 people can be. After all, we knew every breath, lyric, nuance and timbre of everything she's ever recorded -- that's all we've had to keep us going all these years -- and now we were hearing it, and seeing her, live.
Yet in spite of the spectacle, "Before the Dawn" was at its heart a reminder of how art can make life seem perfect -- if only temporarily. The joy of listening to a song you love. Being part of a crowd, reveling in a shared feeling of elation. That great human warmth that comes from singing the words you've sung hundreds, maybe thousands, of times before, but this time you're not singing them alone.
As the show ended and the crowd chanted along with Bush the lyrics to "Cloudbusting," that first song I'd heard back in '85 and with the refrain, "I just know that something good is gonna happen," I was as happy as I've even been. A lifetime of music and so many -- as Bush titled another one of her songs -- "moments of pleasure," had culminated in an incomparably joyous experience. How fortunate we all were to have such a night in our lives.