Welcome back to Connect! Unite! Act! When “Running Up That Hill” was released in 1985, there was quite a bit of controversy. The story Kate Bush was trying to tell was one focused around the difficulties that surround relationships: What if men and women were to switch roles in relationships, just to experience the other side of the equation? When interviewed about the songwriting process, Bush noted that the original name of the song, “Deal With God,” was viewed as controversial enough that it would be banned in several countries. Of course, decades have passed; I doubt that song title would result in bans today.
Are we as a society still running up that hill? Trying to put ourselves in the shoes of those around us to find a way to understanding? While “Running Up That Hill” will likely hit number one on the charts this week thanks to the television show Stranger Things, the artist who deserves the attention is receiving it via a new generation.
The song brought out the idea that we are challenged to understand each other. In Stranger Things, the song was used as a favorite to keep the evil beasts away. In films and movies, it is easy to see where the evil things exist: They exist in “The Upside Down,” or “hell,” or anywhere else. They don’t often exist as just normal neighbors. I guess this is why all those years later, there are several Alfred Hitchcock films that stick with me because of exactly that factor: It was a neighbor who something just seemed wrong with.
When you look at the current American experience, especially this week with the ongoing investigations of the Jan. 6 commission, it is easy to see how the problems among us are not the wild-eyed, superpowered demons we see in many films on the screen. Instead, the real threat to us is often one that is far more personal, direct, and nearby.
Kate Bush wasn’t the only singer-songwriter to address these kind of themes.
In 1972, Loretta Lynn recorded “The Pill,” a controversial song that wouldn’t be released for another three years—after the passage of Roe v. Wade. The song centered around a woman who was unhappy with being pregnant year after year and finally having the ability to control her reproductive rights. Lynn herself had six children—four before she was 20 years old—and the song, which she had a writer’s credit in, seemed to reflect her experience.
Many country stations refused to play it, but the song itself was still popular and it did not later hurt her career as she followed it up with successful albums and film credits.
When Dolly Parton wrote “Down From Dover,” she took on some pretty tough subject matter. A young woman discovers she is pregnant, but her boyfriend is not around. She waits, trying to conceal the pregnancy, hoping her boyfriend will come home before she is discovered. He doesn’t, and when she is discovered, her family kicks her out of their lives.
My folks weren’t understanding, when they found out they sent me from the home place
My daddy said if folks found out he’d be ashamed to ever show his face
My mamma said I was a fool, she did not believe it when I told her
One of the greatest problems facing us in regards to the debate about women’s reproductive rights is that there are no off-ramps. Parton’s lyrics discussed women being shunned and cast out, ridiculed by their own families. Would ending abortion solve that problem, or make it worse? Considering the outright assault on sex education in the United States, it is pretty clear to me that the only answer for some is no answer at all, unless that answer is to go on the attack against women.
We have a long way to go before November. In so many ways, we are trying to maintain that energy in the face of an onslaught of Republican desire to shut hope down.
Are we “Running Up That Hill?” Or can we run downhill toward success?
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