“Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush

What was the first Kate Bush song you heard? Was it this one? I feel like most people’s first song is 1985’s “Running Up That Hill”. I remember hearing it on KROQ, my radio addiction in the mid-80’s. I remember loving it from first listen in that “I feel this song everywhere” kind of way. Its a all over skin prickle kind of song with lyrics that hit deep. It is also one of those songs that has evolved with me. How it made me feel in my teen years and how it makes me feel now is very different. The relationship commentary in the lyrics, the questions of feeling and differences between two people, and the near impossibility of fully understanding each other hit deeper because I get it in a deeper way. I’ve lived those feelings. I’ve loved and lost in those kind of feelings.

Listening to “Running Up That Hill” today, six months plus in the pandemic era, this song triggers a prickly hot mess of tears and angry feelings. If I could make a deal with god I wouldn’t want to switch places with anyone. Instead, I’d want to make a deal to make this end. This pandemic reality we are all in. And, if god was in a multiple deal mood I’d like to make the systematic racism in society extinct. Yeah, god, can you take COVID and systematic racism and make them end? You could bring back a few dinosaurs in exchange. 

“Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” by Kate Bush
from the album, Hounds of Love (1985)

And if I only could,
I’d make a deal with God,
and I’d get him to swap our places

“Running Up That Hill” came out 35 years ago. I was 16. I’d listen to this song in my bedroom, playing it as loud as I could, singing-a-long and feeling-a-long. I listen to it now and it feels relevant and timeless. It doesn’t sound dated or nostalgic (not that I don’t love songs that are both dated and nostalgic). I think the timelessness of it is why it’s been covered so often – and that some of the covers have been hits on their own (i.e. Placebo and Meg Myers’ versions). The Placebo version, featured in a Ryan cage fighting era of “The OC”, led some listeners to Kate Bush. As covers go, I’m fond of the Placebo take. I think Brian Molko’s voice and this song pair brilliantly. I also have big love for Tori Amos’ live versions of “Running Up That Hill” paired up with her song, “God”. In many ways, it feels like Tori’s “God” is a response to Kate’s “Deal With God”, and how that deal didn’t work out so well.

“Running Up That Hill” has the otherworldly touch that I noticed the first time I heard Kate Bush. It was “Wuthering Heights”, which felt like Emily Brontë’s novel (a favorite of mine) had been taken by an all woman space alien race and re-interpreted (with choreography). The song transported me to somewhere off in “a galaxy far, far away” which is where Kate Bush’s music often takes me to. “Running Up That Hill” also feels like an anthem of passion, a recruitment soundtrack meant to rally troops to spread love and change and understanding (or maybe just leave this world for some other galaxy). There is a “fight song” element here. I listen and feel my heart beat faster, my body wake up, my skin prickle and my emotions catch fire. This song is emotionally powerful…and then some.

The song has always tapped on my complicated relationship with god and religion. Growing up going to parochial schools and on-again-off-again church services/church youth groups, and then coming-of-age questioning so much of what I’d learned in the bible and from so-called “men of god”, let’s just say god and I had a bit of a nasty break-up (it’s not you, god, it’s me…or maybe it is you). As I aged though I’ve wavered in my beliefs, never quite committing to believing, but never quite embracing atheism. Undecided, I suppose. Agnostic? Maybe. Truth is, a part of me still prays to something, talks to something like god, believes in something god-like. I don’t try to negotiate deals with god, but I have asked for help. Maybe that’s the same thing.

Kate’s said the song is about love and relationships. The year it was released she told the London Times:

“It seems that the more you get to know a person, the greater the scope there is for misunderstanding. Sometimes you can hurt somebody purely accidentally or be afraid to tell them something because you think they might be hurt when really they’ll understand. 

“So what that song is about is making a deal with God to let two people swap place so they’ll be able to see things from one another’s perspective.”

This makes me wonder if two people – whether in a love relationship, friendship, or familial bond – can ever really know each other. Is the idea of a relationship with god a desire to connect with “someone” who can really know you? At least a belief that an all-knowing, all-seeing being could know everything – including you? Is it impossible for another person to ever really know you because it is impossible to ever really know ourselves?

What if we could “Freaky Friday” with another person? What if we could make a deal with god (or the universe) to switch us with someone else – temporarily – what would we gain from the experience? Would we like what we learned?

These are some pretty big questions. The existence of god. The possibility of ever understanding another person. Whether that would be good or bad, or something in-between. These are timeless questions. Questions that could fill up a philosophy syllabus..and then some. Is it any wonder that this song seems so timeless?

I’ll leave you with a cover I just discovered today. A stripped down version that (maybe) unveils another side to the song. Or, at the very least, illustrates – again – how we can’t seem to get enough of “Running Up That Hill”.

“Say, if I only could,
I’d be running up that hill,
with no problems.”

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