Houdini

Album: The Dreaming (1982)
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Songfacts®:

  • This song is written from the perspective of Harry Houdini's wife, Bess. Houdini was a famous magician in the 1920s who also used his skills to debunk psychics and other fake spiritualists. Before his death, he promised Bess that he would try to contact her from beyond the grave, using the secret code "Rosabelle believe," inspired by their favorite song, "Rosabelle." Following the death of Houdini in 1926, Bess held annual séances on Halloween to try to make contact with Houdini in the afterlife. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Marwan - London, England
  • In the song, Bess does make contact with her late husband, but in reality she never did. In 1929, a psychic named Arthur Ford correctly relayed the message, but it turned out to be a hoax.
  • The lyrics, "With a kiss, I'll pass the key," inspired The Dreaming's cover art, which features Bush, with a key on her tongue, preparing to embrace a man bound by chains. Houdini was celebrated for his escape acts, which found him underwater in a straitjacket and buried alive in handcuffs, among other sensational feats. According to one theory, Bess was the key, literally, to her husband's escapes: Like Bush's depiction, she would place one on her tongue and pass it along to Houdini under the guise of a good-luck kiss before his act.
  • Kate explained how the song came together in a 1982 Kate Bush Fan Club newsletter: "It is such a beautiful and strange story that I thought I had very little to do, other than tell it like it was. But in fact it proved to be the most difficult lyric of all the songs and the most emotionally demanding. I was so aware of trying to do justice to the beauty of the subject, and trying to understand what it must have been like to have been in love with such an extraordinary man, and to have been loved by him.

    I worked for two or three nights just to find one line that was right. There were so many alternatives, but only a few were right for the song. Gradually it grew and began to piece together, and I found myself wrapped up in the feelings of the song - almost pining for Houdini. Singing the lead vocal was a matter of conjuring up that feeling again and as the clock whirrs and the song flashes back in time to when she watched him through the glass, he's on the other side under water, and she hangs on to his every breath. We both wait."
  • This features backing vocals from Gordon Farrell, who was Bush's singing teacher.

Comments: 1

  • Kasey from Chicago, IlHoudini believed strongly in the spirit world, but was very ANTI-psychic. He made a point of attending seances to learn their tricks to expose them as con artists taking advantage of grieving people. The code word that Houdini promised his wife he would use was "Rosabel." Legend has it that she indeed received the code during a seance with a genuine spiritualist. A recorded voice saying "Rosebud, believe" is heard in Kate's song in reference to this legend.
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