11 December 2006

Mrs Bartolozzi - All about housework

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

D emailed to ask if I’d listened to the latest Kate Bush album Aerial, quipping that it proved she could write music, but not lyrics.

Is i
t fair to sever lyrics from a melody? There aren't many songwriters who produce lyrics that stand on their own- Joni Mitchell springs to mind. In any case, is it fair to rely on a single extract or example? Take a Fool's speech from King Lear and try arguing that he’s a great dramatist.

He quoted lines from a song called Mrs Bartolozzi that I happen to love: I’d go so far as to argue that they convey a mood perfectly, with their nursery rhyme silliness... and yet Ms Bush considers this to be one of the saddest songs she's ever written. It's certainly one of the saddest songs that I've ever heard.

So even that’s a failure, D argued, when I explained all of this; after all, it’s just a song about housework.

No it isn’t, I said. Every word refers to scrubbing floors or doing the laundry, but that’s not what the song is about... not even close.


Anonymous said...

yes, it is terribly sad, and it isn't at all about (or just about) cleaning.

do you think her husband has just died? because that's what i take from this song.

Anonymous said...

Well before the washing machine came along, women would wash the laundry by hand, and cleaning songs like this were part of the ritual. It gave housewives a sense of purpose and it was a visceral way of showing love to their families. While washing machines made the workload easier, it also took away that sense of purpose and closeness to the daily lives of their loved ones. I think Mrs. Bartolozzi may not only have been mourning her husband, but also part of her own identity as a wife/mother.

Karen van Hoek said...

It seems obvious to me that the song is about a woman whose husband (or other loved one) has died recently. This is why she's so absorbed in staring at the washing machine, and why that chorus quoted above is incredibly sad, not funny. It seems so obvious that I don't understand why so many people seem to miss it. 'twould be nice to see confirmation of this reading from Kate Bush herself, but she seems to like to leave her songs open to interpretation.