Sparkle the Dark Up

Every year on December 1, I play what is far and away my favorite secular song for the holidays: December will be Magic Again by Kate Bush. Rhiannon and I listened to it this morning while I was helping her brush her teeth and get ready for her school bus to pick her up.

It’s a hard track to find—to get my copy on CD, way back in 1990, I had to purchase the Kate Bush box set This Woman’s Work which I bought at the Piccadilly Circus Tower Records in 1990 for £99 (at the time, about 200 US dollars)!

If you are more sensible with your money than I am, you can look for the Moments of Pleasure EP (used copies on Amazon run about $25). It also shows up from time to time on Christmas anthology CDs, but those seem to go out of print as fast as they are released, so you might have to find a used copy.

Here’s a “live in the studio” version of the song from Kate’s 1979 Christmas special on the BBC:

So, perhaps you are wondering why I would be so nutty as to drop two Ben Franklins just to get my hands a holiday song by the British songstress who put the “ethereal” in “ethereal music”? (well, in my defense, the entire box set is well worth having!)

Never mind that Kate Bush has a gorgeous voice (and is just plain gorgeous, for that matter), that her songwriting hails from the same creatively quirky otherworld that must have inspired folks like Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters, and that her music figured prominently in the soundtrack of my college years. For now, let’s just focus on this one song.

From the very first notes—a trancey minor-key piano riff that simultaneously evokes John Lennon’s most psychedelic work and Christmas sleighbells—leading into Kate’s dreamy “Doo-do-do-do-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo, Doo-do-do-do-doo-doo” vocalise, this is more than just a song, it is a magical soundscape into which the good witch of British pop music will inexorably draw you.

The storyline itself at first seems just a bit, er, eccentric: a disjointed collection of seasonal images, from running your dog on the ice to humming along with Bing Crosby; but quickly it starts to gets truly weird on you: from Saint Nick in the chimney, the song’s field of vision pulls back to that of a paratrooper falling in the snow (many of Kate’s songs have an almost paranoid sense of military foreboding), and then the music abruptly changes tempo, jangling bells start to drive the melody over an insistent drum and piano, and the vocalist’s point of view shifts to that of the snow itself: “Come to cover the lovers, Cover the lovers, but don’t you wake them up, Come to sparkle the dark up, Sparkle the dark up, with just a touch of make-up, Come to cover the muck up, cover the muck up, ooh with a little luck.

And all that’s only the first verse.

The second verse dances from the mind of Oscar Wilde to lovers liplocking under mistletoe to the odd sensation of finding the vast mysteries of the universe revealed in someone’s laughter, all finding resolution once again in the parachutist’s refrain: “See how I fall… see how I fall… see how I fall… like, the snow!” and then we’re back into the consciousness of a snowflake.

Flakey? Perhaps. But when Kate jubilantly assures you that she’s come to “sparkle the dark uuu- uuuuu- uuuuuuu- UUUUUUPPPPPP!” in a glorious crescendo, well, the song could be just as weird as possible (and it IS just as weird as possible), and you wouldn’t care, because this is the singing of a genuine snow fairy, and she has woven her spell all about you, and you are entranced, and you are the snow, and you’ve come to sparkle the dark up, and it’s all glorious and beautiful and ecstatic and wonderful and passionate and lovely.

And December is magic again. Once again.

The lyrics to this wonderful song can be accessed here:

2009 Update: this video clip features a mini-documentary/homage to Kate from British television. Includes commentary from Peter Gabriel, Lilly Allen, and even John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon.

2016 Update: Apparently Kate’s version still is not for sale as a digital download (I checked both Amazon and iTunes), but a cover version by “The Christmas All-Stars” can be downloaded from either source; here’s a link to the song on Amazon. It’s definitely not Kate (no ecstatic crescendo), but it’s worth a listen.

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