Outside, the ground is a sheet of pure white. The town of New Paltz has become a snowglobe, and we look out from within. Winding the bottom of the globe brings only the sounds from one album… 50 Words for Snow by Kate Bush. The soft quiet of the flakes is met with the melodic piano and theatrical Kate.
It has been almost 10 years now since Kate released 50 Words for Snow in November of 2011. Yet on every snow day like today, the album feels like a new release. With every fresh blanket of white, new life is breathed into Kate’s words. The album begins with the near 10 minute track “Snowflake” to set the scene. The lyrics are written as if by a snowflake who falls from the sky, “I was born in a cloud… / Now I am falling. / I want you to catch me. / Look up and you’ll see me. / You know you can hear me.” On “Snowflake,” and each track on the album, Kate tells a story. A character is created; a narrative forms. The snowflake takes the form of a protagonist in this first track which is framed as a duet between Kate and her son, who was 13 at the time. Kate’s son clearly inherited her abilities and he demonstrates them in the song. It is the perfect way to start off a soundtrack for a day best enjoyed through the eyes and ears of a child… the snow day. “The world is so loud. Keep falling. I’ll find you. / We’re over a forest. / There’s millions of snowflakes. / We’re dancing. / The world is so loud. Keep falling and I’ll find you. / I am ice and dust. I am sky. / I can see horses wading through snowdrifts.”
A new narrative emerges in the second track, “Lake Tahoe.” Kate sings out about a girl who lives beneath the lake, “They say some days, up she comes, up she rises, as if out of nowhere. / Wearing Victorian dress. / She was calling her pet, “Snowflake! Snowflake!” / Tumbling like a cloud that has drowned in the lake.” The girl, this new protagonist, searches for her dog, singing out for her old friend… her words perhaps muffled by the thick snow that coats the ground outside. Kate gives us the return of the dog, as a poetic, beautiful end to “Lake Tahoe’s” narrative. The girl speaks to the dog, “‘Here’s the kitchen – There’s your basket. / Here’s the hall – That’s where you wait for me. / Here’s the bedroom – You’re not allowed in there. / Here’s my lap – That’s where you lay your head. / Here boy, oh you’re a good boy. / You’ve come home. / You’ve come home.’”
“Misty” is a dream-like, lustful love story between the speaker (singer) and a snowman. Kate Bush has an ability to make the absurd seem normal. She sings about this snowy partner, “And his creamy skin, / His snowy white arms surround me. / So cold next to me. / I can feel him melting in my hand.” In the strangest of ways, the song just works. And somehow, despite clocking in at nearly 14 minutes, it is an experience that doesn’t feel too long, but rather just right.
Kate Bush wakes us up from the lull of the snow with “Wild Man,” telling the story of the search for the abominable snowman. Kate completely transports us as if into a novel. She opens, “They call you an animal, the Kangchenjunga Demon, Wild Man, Metoh-Kangmi. / Lying in my tent, I can hear your cry echoing round the mountainside. / You sound lonely. / While crossing the Lhakpa-La something jumped down from the rocks. / In the remote Garo Hills by Dipu Marak we found footprints in the snow.” The track was released as a single from the album and it’s not hard to tell why. The narrator in this song’s story sympathizes with the Yeti, going as far as trying to protect him and his secrecy. It has been noted that Kate Bush is much like the abominable snowman in the music world, often absent from the public view and elusive. Perhaps her sympathy, or the sympathy of the speaker in “Wild Man” comes from a place of pure understanding.
“Snowed In At Wheeler Street” is a treat, a love song duet by Kate and Elton John… the narrative is that of a pair that have been in love for years. The song is a tragic tale that bends timelines. The song goes, “Can’t we just stay there forever? We were so happy. / I’d live that day over and over but the world won’t stop turning. / When we got to the top of the hill we saw Rome burning. / I don’t want to lose you, I don’t want to lose you again.” But the loss is imminent and inevitable.
The title track comes next, and Kate counts up to 50 alongside guest Stephen Fry, as they give us the title gift. A collection of words for snow, which are often longer than just singular adjectives and are rather Shakespearean-esque creations. It is a brilliant penultimate piece that prepares us for the sweet, somber poeticism of the final track “Among Angels.” The album closes like the melting of snow, like the changing of the seasons, “I can see angels around you.
They shimmer like mirrors in Summer. / There’s someone who’s loved you forever but you don’t know it. / You might feel it and just not show it.”
Thanks for reading! Writer Emma Philippas is WFNP’s Music Director as well as an FM DJ on wfnp.org and 88.7 FM. Tune into her show “Off the Record” every Friday from 8-10 pm. Join us for sign-on tonight on this snow day, beginning with Edge News at 7 and “Dear Mom” tonight from 7:30 to 8:00. And stay tuned to catch some tunes!