Philomena

March 31, 2004 at 11:59 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

Kate Bush wrote (and performed) this weird, enigmatic song called Get out of my house. It begins with an image of separation anxiety (“When you left the door was [slamming] / You paused in the doorway. / As though a thought stole you away. / I watch the world pull you away.”) From there, we’re launched into a full-blown anxiety-attack: “(lock it) / So I run into the hall. / (lock it) / Into the corridor. / There’s a door in the house (slamming) / I hear the lift descending / I hear it hit the landing / See the hackles on the cat, standing / With my key I (lock it) / With my key I (lock it up) / With my key I (lock it) / With my key I (lock it up)” The refrain, which follows, seems to come from a dissociated personality. Bush assumes an old woman’s voice and croons “I am the concierge, chez-moi, honey / Won’t letcha in for love nor money.” Then her voice rises again to a youthful pitch, but she’s wary now, even paranoid: “My home, my joy, / I’m barred and bolted and I / Won’t letcha in.” I find the chorus uncanny and heartbreaking: “(Get out of my house) / No strangers feet / Will enter me / I wash the panes / I clean the stains away. / This house is as old as I am / This house knows all I have done / They come with their weather hanging around them / But can’t knock my door down. / With my key I (lock it) / With my key I (lock it) / This house is full of m-m-m-my mess / This house is full of m-m-mistakes. / This house is full of m-m-madness / This house is full of, full of, full of fight. / With my keeper I (clean up) / With my keeper I (clean it all up) / With my keeper I (clean up) / With my keeper I (clean it all up).” The chorus repeats, and becomes creepier since it suggests a threatening verbal transaction between a man and a woman. The initial separation anxiety becomes a scene of warfare between the sexes, and the outcome is murky and unhappy. It’s one of those grim Grimm fairytales with horrifying transformation from human to animal at the end: in these cases trying to remain safe means escaping from the human condition, and what kind of an answer is that? First, Bush sings the beginning again in her usual high-pitched (female) voice: “(Get out of my house) / No strangers feet / Will enter me / I wash the panes / I clean the stains.” But then her voice drops in pitch to imitate a man’s, and she sings, “Woman, let me in / Let me bring in the memories / Woman, let me in, / Let me bring in the Devil Dreams.” She answers in her voice, “I will not let you in / Don’t you bring back the reveries / I turn into a bird / Carry further than the word is heard.” His reply, “Woman, let me in, / I turn into the wind / I blow you a cold kiss / Stronger than the song’s hit.” “Stronger than the song’s hit”? Meaning stronger than the birdsong of the bird she first imagines transforming into? Which leaves what option? She answers, “I will not let you in / I face towards the wind, / I change into the Mule. / ‘Hee-Haw’ / ‘Hee-Haw’ … ” That last bit, “hee-haw,” sounds corny written out like this, but it’s hair-raisingly spooky when you hear it. Bush makes of it something so viscerally and violently un-human that it becomes frightening. I kept thinking on the one hand of Philomena whose tongue was cut out by Tereus so she couldn’t report her abuse, and who changed into a swallow after she and her sister Procne (who was changed into a nightingale) got their monstrous revenge (they cooked and served Itys, Tereus and Procne’s son, to Tereus for dinner). That was one thing. The other was Lindsay Anderson’s 1973 movie O Lucky Man (with Malcolm McDowell), in particular the scene where McDowell’s character stumbles onto the animal-human experiments going on at the farm laboratories. His discovery of the man whose head had been grafted to a pig’s body, the personified alienation from the self expressed in that now so quaint-looking hokey filmic surprise, the character’s face expressing disbelief, the pig’s body jerking uncontrollably — no human (self-)control …. Well, if your body is your temple, “get out of my house” is a powerful metaphorical phrase for so much.

3 Comments

  1. Actually, Philomena became a nightingale. But that’s just a quibble.

    Comment by Joel — April 2, 2004 #

  2. That’s what I thought, too, but I don’t have my Penguin edition of Ovid to hand, and so I relied on the web for info. The site I found claims that all three main characters were turned into birds: Procne became a nightingale, Tereus a kind of vulture, and Philomena a voiceless swallow. I also found a site for a review of a theatre production either in Wellesley, MA or at Wellesley College (can’t remember, but they physically overlap anyway) of an English play called “The Three Birds” (I think), and it too seemed to repeat the idea. But you’re right, I always thought it was nightingale for Philomena, too. If I ever manage to sort through the mess that is my still half-unpacked-chaos-after-the-move house and find the Ovid, I’ll look it up.

    Comment by Yule Heibel — April 3, 2004 #

  3. Your blog is really very interesting.

    Comment by Anonymous — February 20, 2006 #

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