READ: First Time I Heard…

The Quietus presents two extracts from author Scott Heim's collection of serialised essays, written by authors and musicians, detailing their first sonic experience of seminal artists

American writer Scott Heim published his first novel Mysterious Skin, in 1995; in 2005 it was adapted for the screen in a film directed by Gregg Araki and starring the now-A list Joseph Gordon-Levitt. While Heim has published two subsequent novels and a collection of poetry, his latest venture, the First Time I Heard… series of books, offers – to borrow a phrase – something completely different. Now on its fifth volume, The First Time I Heard Kate Bush, the series is a unique collections of impressions and anecdotes, driven by the intimacy and subjectivity of music, written by talented authors, artists and musicians in their own right.


John Grant is a singer-songwriter and musician whose first solo effort, Queen of Denmark, was named “Album of the Year 2010” by MOJO. He is on the verge of finishing his second solo record, with Biggi Veira of GusGus fame; entitled Pale Green Ghosts, it will be released on Bella Union in March of 2013.

Hounds of Love was my introduction to Kate Bush, and I believe I heard “Running Up that Hill” on the radio somewhere, but I don’t remember where, precisely, or when. All I know is that I was shocked by how beautiful it was, and then went directly to the record store against my parents’ wishes and purchased the cassette. Sound Warehouse was the name of the place, in Denver, Colorado, and it hasn’t existed for a very long time now.

But what comes to mind most, in connection with her voice, is how in love I was with a boy named Rick during that time, and how that album became the backdrop for everything I experienced with him. He and I would go to an underage club called Normans for New Wave night every Friday. It was at that club that I met him, and he had black hair and pale skin and was one of the most charismatic and handsome fellows I had ever met. He thought I was amazing and beautiful; up until that point, only my mother had told me this, and that didn’t have quite the same effect. Soon Rick stopped hanging out with his “other” friend and started hanging out with me. Since he lived so far out in the country and didn’t have a car, he needed someone to drive him home, much to my delight.

What I remember the most are the long drives in the dead of night back to Rick’s house out in the middle of nowhere. We always listened to Hounds of Love, and I remember not being able to imagine anything in the world more beautiful than that voice coupled with his companionship. It was all very bittersweet, because as it turned out, Rick was straight, and he was using me because he knew how good-looking he was, and that I was in love with him, AND that he could get me to drive him anywhere and everywhere, which I did. Out where he lived, there weren’t many lights, so it was pitch black outside on those drives, and our faces glowed a bit from the dashboard lights. We never spoke on those drives, just listened to Kate Bush and that exquisite voice and music of hers. Rick often reached over to hold my hand, and I remember thinking that I was being courted by the most beautiful man on earth and that we would always be together.

“Hello Earth,” “Mother Stands for Comfort,” “And Dream of Sheep”—listening to those songs, with that person, in my mom’s little Honda Civic, was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I wasn’t supposed to be going out—we both wore lots of eyeliner, and our Doc Martens, of course, and I had my longish hair all Aqua-Netted to within an inch of its life—and if my parents had ever seen me in that state, I would never have been allowed to leave the house again. Of course, all of this added to the excitement of that time. That music, that voice, that man—all of these things were outside of my everyday life as a “fucking faggot” attending high school out in sticks with the rednecks, and they also took me far away from the strict religious household I lived in and made it seem like anything was possible all of a sudden.

Of course, it was a rude awakening for me when I finally worked up the nerve to express to Rick how I felt about him, and he announced that he no longer was in need of my services, and I was immediately dismissed. I was completely bereft and crestfallen. It took years before I could listen to Hounds of Love again without feeling all the urgency and intensity of that time. At some point, I know I simply decided I must win back that music for myself—and ditch the memory of Rick once and for all. I did, and I’ve never tired of that record. It is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard.


Vanessa Briscoe Hay is an American singer/songwriter from Athens, GA. She was best known for being a member of the band Pylon, and currently is recording again with her project Supercluster.

David Bowie first entered my awareness via the radio version of “Space Oddity.” It was easy to imagine that I was an astronaut, singing along while driving to my part-time job. My car was a sort of tin can, and there was nothing I could do. Indeed, I was a small-town teenaged girl who relied on television and on her cassette player and radio for entertainment. I felt a bit like an alien who had been dropped on the earth to be raised by the first available parents the spaceship had run across. Music provided a wonderful mental and emotional escape.

The year was 1973, and I was a senior in high school. It was time for me to physically escape from home. That year, I was accepted by the University of Georgia’s art program in Athens. Athens was thirty-five miles plus a million light years away from home. I moved to Athens and began to find beings of my own kind. Other kids who could carry on a conversation about art, music, and politics. My dorm neighbors spray-painted their high-top tennis shoes silver, put black paper over their windows, and listened to Roxy Music and Bowie. They were friendly and invited me onboard their little spacecraft. It was the glitter era southern-style, and we had a great time!

One late, fall night in the TV lounge, I saw Bowie hosting a segment of The Midnight Special titled “David Bowie’s 1980 Floor Show”—a wordplay on 1984. I became a real fan after hearing the song “Sorrow.” Bowie was a fascinating star to follow as he moved through so many changes. I wasn’t obsessed. I didn’t try to dress like him or anything like that. I loved his music, and he was an artist I liked to listen to while painting or driving. At some point, the art students began going out to drink together after critique and then to dance together at a small local disco that had a “new wave” night from 12 until closing on Wednesday nights. Bowie made the cut and was played there nearly every week.

Athens seemed to be a sleepy southern town, but we were going through our own changes. Over the next few years, a wonderful art and party scene to rival any anywhere sprang up. We had our own party band—The B-52’s. After they moved to New York, my band Pylon began to play at those parties. Our summer party fixtures included lawn sprinklers, heat, keg beer, wild dancing, thrift-store clothes, and songs like Bowie’s “Heroes” being spun on record players. Vinyl ruled.

Out there on that dance floor, in the dark, in somebody’s yard—maybe even in “Pylon Park”—we were heroes, kings and queens. For just one moment, that’s who we were.

The First Time I Heard… series is available in ebook format on Rosecliff Press

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