This song is about nuclear holocaust seen from a fetus' perspective. He is still inside the mother's womb and he knows the bomb has exploded and he is going to die because he cannot help breathing in the radioactive air through his mother. We witness helplessly as he and the rest of mankind run out of air and die.
Mariana Pinheiro - Lisbon, Portugal
Kate Bush (from Keyboard July 1985): "'Breathing' is about human beings killing themselves. I think that people smoking is one of those tiny things that says a lot about human beings. I mean, I smoke and enjoy it, but we smoke and we know it's dangerous. Maybe there's some kind of strange subconscious desire to damage ourselves. It would seem so if you looked back through history, wouldn't it?"
Never For Ever, Bush's third studio album, marked a number of firsts for the British singer-songwriter. She became the first British female solo artist with a #1 album in the UK and the first female solo artist to enter the chart at #1. It was also her first time producing an album (along with her engineer Jon Kelly).
In an interview with the UK magazine Zigzag, Bush credited the session musicians for helping bring her "little symphony" alive: "In many ways, I think the most exciting thing was making the backing track. The session men had their lines, they understood what the song was about, but at first there was no emotion, and that track was demanding so much emotion. It wasn't until they actually played with feeling that the whole thing took off. When we went and listened, I wanted to cry, because of what they had put into it. It was so tender. It meant a lot to me that they had put in as much as they could, because it must get hard for session guys. They get paid by the hour, and so many people don't want to hear the emotion. They want clear, perfect tuning, a 'good sound' but often the out-of-tuneness, the uncleanliness, doesn't matter as much as the emotional content that's in there. I think that's much more important than the technicalities."
A label representative got the wrong idea when he showed up at the recording session mid-song and heard the lyrics out of context. Bush recalled: "When we were doing the track in the studio someone from EMI came down and caught the 'in-out, in-out' bit and said 'You're not seriously thinking of releasing this are you?' He really thought it was all pornographic! I suppose it's that Freudian thing. But 'Breathing in-out,' it's like the tide, the elements are so sensual more than anything humans can do - like snow, it doesn't just change the look of everything, the acoustic is completely different too. Just touch textures, it's so sensual and often it comes back to sex."
Bush wasn't too worried about her fans mistaking this for an erotic song, but she was concerned that people would think she was exploiting their fear of nuclear war to make a buck. She told Zigzag: "I was very worried that people weren't going to take me from my emotional standpoint rather than the commercial one. But they did, which is great."
She elaborated on her additional fears: "I was worried that people wouldn't want to worry about it because it's so real. I was also worried that it was too negative, but I do feel that there is hope in the whole thing, just for the fact that it's a message from the future. It's not from now, it's from a spirit that may exist in the future, a nonexistent spiritual embryo who sees all and who's been round time and time again so they know what the world's all about. This time they don't want to come out, because they know they're not going to live. It's almost like the mother's stomach is a big window that's like a cinema screen, and they're seeing all this terrible chaos."
The music video shows Bush trapped in a large plastic bubble, representing a fetus inside of a womb. She told the Canadian music network MuchMusic she was proud of the concept and how it turned out. "With 'Breathing,' I think it had such a strong story that it was easier for us to visualize something that we'd felt was powerful," she said.
Bush on calling the album Never For Ever (Kate Bush Club Newsletter, 1980): "I've called it this because I've tried to make it reflective of all that happens to you and me. Life, love, hate, we are all transient. All things pass, neither good or evil lasts. So we must tell our hearts that it is 'never for ever,' and be happy that it's like that!"
Bush also explained the album's cover art. Illustrated by Nick Price, it depicts an array of creatures emerging beneath the singer's skirt. "Nick takes us on an intricate journey of our emotions: inside gets outside, as we flood people and things with our desires and problems. These black and white thoughts, these bats and doves, freeze-framed in flight, swoop into the album and out of your hi-fis. Then it's for you to bring them to life."
Steely Dan never listen to other people's music when creating their own, so they are are sealed off from outside influences. Impressed by this, Kate Bush followed their lead when making Never For Ever.