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Music History #4: "Cloudbusting"

Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment of Bill DeMain's new(ish) column, where he explores the real historical events that inspired various songs. "Music History" appears twice a month—unless we can convince Bill that twice a month is not sufficient!

“Cloudbusting”
Written and Performed by Kate Bush (1984)

The Music

http://youtu.be/pllRW9wETzw

Kate Bush has always had a way of making esoteric subject matter into compelling pop music. “Cloudbusting,” the second single from her breakout 1984 album Hounds of Love, is a great example. At its heart, the song is about a father-son relationship, but the title and historical details make it clear that the father in question is Wilhelm Reich. A controversial psychiatrist-author-inventor, Reich dreamed up a rain-making machine called a cloudbuster. The song was inspired by a memoir written by Reich’s son Peter, detailing his father’s battles with the government over his inventions, and his incarceration late in life. In the video for the song, starring Bush and Donald Sutherland (the actor couldn’t obtain a work visa on short notice, so did it for free), the cloudbuster was made by some of the same designers who worked on the Alien movies. “Cloudbusting” reached #4 on the UK charts, and has since been covered by such artists as Charlotte Martin and Gemma Hayes.

The History

In 1953, two blueberry farmers in Maine offered to pay Wilhelm Reich if he could help end the drought that was threatening their crop.

In their fields, the 56-year old Reich set up the cloudbuster. Looking like a cross between a telescope and a pipe organ, the machine could supposedly form or disperse clouds, and cause or prevent rain. The next morning, there was a downpour and the farmers’ blueberries were saved.

Skeptics said it was coincidence. Maybe so. But there’s no denying that during his sixty years, Reich presented some strange, intriguing ideas about how energy flow affects the world around us.

Born in Austria in 1897, Reich started his professional life as a psychoanalyst, and was a part of Sigmund Freud’s Vienna circle. During the 1930s, Reich wrote several books, including The Mass Psychology of Fascism, which analyzed the effect Hitler was having on Germany, and The Sexual Revolution, about the effects of government-suppressed sexuality.

Fascinated with Freud’s concept of the libido, Reich extrapolated on the idea and began to formulate a theory of a cosmic life force, sexual in nature, that drove and connected all things in the universe. The force was ever-present.

He named it orgone.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Orgone – the word was a mash-up of orgasm and ozone – became Reich’s obsession. In 1940, he built the first of what he dubbed his “orgone accumulators.” Reich believed that metal repelled orgone while organic material, such as wool, absorbed it. Using alternating layers of the two materials, he built phone-booth sized boxes. Once the boxes had accumulated a concentrated amount of orgone, he would place his patients inside, as a means of curing everything from depression to the common cold. Maybe it was a placebo effect, but many claimed to be helped by the orgone accumulators.

From human subjects, Reich turned his attention to the heavens. He believed that there was an anti-orgone, which sapped life from the atmosphere and caused droughts. He called this DOR, or Deadly Orgone Radiation. The cloudbuster was designed to manipulate that DOR, causing clouds to form and disperse. The science is sketchy, but through an assembly of hollow metal pipes and cables inserted into water, the machine supposedly created a strong energy field that drained the DOR from the atmosphere.

In the late 1940s, the FDA had already slapped an injunction on Reich, preventing him from selling his orgone accumulators. After the publicity from the cloudbusting episode on the Maine blueberry farm, government agents started watching him closely. In 1956, he was charged with contempt, for violating the ban on marketing his inventions, and went to court. With no legal representation, he suggested that the judge read his books if he wanted to understand orgone.

Reich was sentenced to two years in prison.

Come Again Some Other Day

All of Reich’s theories and inventions might be dismissed as eccentric doodling, but the government’s actions after his imprisonment make you wonder if he was onto something more significant. In the summer of 1956, FDA agents supervised the destruction of all remaining orgone accumulators. A few months later, a staggering six tons worth of Reich’s private journals, papers and books were burned in an incinerator in New York City. It’s been called one of the worst examples of censorship in U.S. history.

In 1957, Reich died in prison from heart failure.

Today, there are inventors and alternative scientists carrying on Reich’s work. If you’d like to make your own cloudbuster, here's a video and a handy resource:

http://youtu.be/dqw7z2JJ-w4

See Also: Music History #1: "One Night in Bangkok"; #2: "Smoke on the Water"; "Yes! We Have No Bananas"

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
Original image
Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Kevin Winter, Getty Images
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Pop Culture
How Phil Collins Accidentally Created the Sound That Defined 1980s Music
Original image
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Unless your technical knowledge of music runs deep, you may have never heard the phrase “gated reverb.” But you’ve definitely heard the effect in action: It’s that punchy snare drum sound that first gained traction in music in the 1980s. If you can play the drum beat from “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince or “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen in your head, you know what sound we’re referring to.

But that iconic element of pop might not have emerged if it wasn’t for Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. As Vox lays out in its new video, the discovery was made in 1979 during the studio recording of Peter Gabriel’s self-titled third solo album (often called Melt because of its cover art). Gabriel’s Genesis bandmate Phil Collins was playing the drums as usual when his beats were accidentally picked up by the microphone used by audio engineers to talk to the band. That microphone wasn’t meant to record music—its heavy compressors were designed to turn down loud sounds while amplifying quiet ones. The equipment also utilized a noise gate, which meant the recorded sounds were cut off shortly after they started. The result was a bright, fleeting percussive sound unlike anything heard in popular music.

Gabriel loved the effect, and made it the signature sound on the opening track of his album. A year later, Collins featured it in his hit single “In the Air Tonight,” perhaps the most famous example of gated reverb to date.

The sound would come to define music of the 1980s and many contemporary artists continue to use it today. Get the full history of gated reverb below.

[h/t Vox]

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