Thursday, June 28, 2018

π - Kate Bush - Infinite Ramblings


And so I obsess about art and what art is and why rock isn't, and inevitably when obsessing, I turn to Kate Bush. Joni Mitchell can be unsettling for me at times. As an adoptive Californian, Joni accentuates my ennui, longing for days in the hazy sun on a billboard scaffold eating lunch with my father (Pinks or Fatburger, Ben Frank's). Rickie Lee only compounds my reflection, Tom Waits makes me want a drink (I don't drink), But Kate grounds me like the Beatles. I can ponder her concepts and controversies, her idiosyncrasies, without duress. 

One of my favorite tracks, "Pi," from the 2005 LP Aerial, is the unrequited love song of a mathematician, audacious in subject matter and treatment. The chorus is Pi sung to many, many decimal places, but is it really Pi? (I've heard rumors.) Upon analysis, all is well for the first 53 decimal places, but then Kate sings "threeeeee oneeeee" when she should sing "zeeeeeeerooo" instead. She recovers for the next 24 digits, then it's hell in a handbag when she misses the next 22 completely. Why?

Sweet and gentle and sensitive man
With an obsessive nature and deep fascination for numbers
And a complete infatuation with the calculation of Pi
Oh he love, he love, he love
He does love his numbers
And they run, they run, they run him
In a great big circle
In a circle of infinity

Here's the chorus as it should be sung:

(Real Pi): 3.
14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582 

Instead, Kate sings:

(Kate Bush Pi): 3.
14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582 31 

Why?

Obsessive voices: For God's sakes, let it go. Enjoy her voice, her inflections, and the love of life. Perfection lasts but fleetingly, God forever, and us momentarily. Let it go, man. ("I Put this moment here.") Who says Kate is singing the digits directly after the 3? It is almost certain these digits exist somewhere in Pi, based on its infinence. ("I Put this moment here.") Yet, since Pi is a positive value less than 4, it is not in itself "infinite," rather its decimal expansion is infinite. Further, the decimal expansion never repeats, except for isolated sequences which later diverge. This, coupled with the fact that its value cannot be expressed using whole numbers and roots (ie: it's "transcendental"), makes it certain that any given finite sequence of digits will appear somewhere in Pi's expansion. ("I Put this moment...") Perhaps, she is chanting the numbers of Pi as one would chant the name of God. Parts are unspeakable and not meant for human ears. Or, perhaps, she was going by the Biblical approximation, which was surprisingly accurate. I strongly doubt the omittance and alleged tripping over the numbers was anything but deliberate. ("...Over here!") I would love to hear her sing an extended version that lasts an hour; could you imagine? The song is about a man obsessed with Pi, the song is NOT Pi itself. Skipping numbers could represent the man following his journey and obsession passing through time and then picking it back up only to find that he is still going at it. But Pi is endless. Therefore ANY numeric representation of Pi is merely an approximation of the value. Some approximations are closer than others. Is this merely a less accurate approximation? As an artistic expression about a man obsessed with Pi, the song is not inaccurate. Furthermore, as an approximation of Pi, it's pretty darn close. Let it go, man.




"Mrs. Bartolozzi"

All the casual listener will hear is "washing machine, sloshy sloshy." Similarly at a museum, one has to fight his way through the throngs of know-it-alls and their "negative space" or the I-could-do-that's – not much different. One is hard pressed, therefore, in a song like "Mrs. Bartolozzi" to express the eminent brilliance, to get those who will not, to buy in. You won't impress them with Goddard or Nico Muhly or Gilbert & George either, but they've got a print of Starry Night over the commode and go on and on about the deep underpinnings of Shawshank Redemption, reveling in its hokey, unrelenting voiceover and cartoonish 1D characters. Such a simple song about a shirt drifting in the wind or bluejeans tumbling in the washer couldn't possibly make a lasting impression. 

Pish. Here are painful reminders, exemplified in a lost husband's clothes, making Mrs. Bartolozzi painfully aware of the vacant spot that her husband's comforting presence once filled. Those reminders are fresh in her mind, so fresh that out the corner of her eye, her husband is waving to her, yet it's just a shirt, flying and waving its arms about in the wind. Maybe she dreams at night of a past life in which her husband and she are together still, and for the dream's duration nothing is amiss. She awakens on his her side of the bed. Simply poignant. There is no her side.

Mrs. Bartolozzi washes and hangs his clothes to dry though he's not coming back to claim them. Time telescopes when one is encased in grief, days blur into days, moments prolong into agonizing hours, and the only way to endure the pain is to suspend time, to simply exist moment to moment and wait for the pain to ease. 

The imagery in these words is nothing short of mesmerizing:

I remember it was that Wednesday
Oh when it rained and it rained
They traipsed mud all over the house
It took hours and hours to scrub it out
All over the hall carpet
I took my mop and bucket
And I cleaned and I cleaned
The kitchen floor
Until it sparkled

All she could do was stand to the side and watch them (EMTs, Medics, Police) tromp mud through the house (the ambiguity doesn't matter). Numb in her grief after they leave, she focuses on those tangibles in front of her. She scrubs the mud out of the hall carpet, she gathers the dirty laundry for the washing machine and maybe, for a moment, she stares into the washer, watching it rinse the mud out of a pair of jeans or the blood from a shirt. She's grateful that in this one case, something can be put to rights. The washing machine makes everything clean again.

I watched them go 'round and 'round
My blouse wrapping itself in your trousers
Oh the waves are going out
My skirt floating up around my waist
As I wade out into the surf
Oh and the waves are coming in

 The sensual allusion to the ocean; the reminiscence is surreal. So much here in this painting; this poem as art. How could you just walk by?

Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy
Get that dirty shirty clean
Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy
Make those cuffs and collars gleam
Everything clean and shiny

Funny, there are those who think these lyrics are stupid. Wow.

Washing machine
Washing machine