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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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iStock
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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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iStock

English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Epic Records
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Pop Culture
How a Throwback Rockabilly Jam Made Its Way Onto '90s Mainstream Charts
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Epic Records

The '90s airwaves were full of catchy, confusing pop hits. What exactly is a "chica cherry cola"? Did anyone ever figure out the correct syncopation of "MMMBop"? Why was Deee-Lite grooving to Dr. Seuss books? And who were all those Rays that Jimmy was singing about?

It's been nearly two decades, yet 1998's "Are You Jimmy Ray?"—the one and only hit by gloriously coiffed British pop rocker Jimmy Ray—stands out as one of the more perplexing hits of the era. For starters, whose idea was it to mix twangy '50s rockabilly with the sunny '90s alt-rock style of Smash Mouth? The combo clearly worked, as Ray's retro-modern anomaly reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning him a slot opening for the Backstreet Boys on a 1998 U.S. tour.

And then there are the questions built into the song itself. "Are you Johnnie Ray? Are you Slim Ray? Are you Link Wray? Are you Fay Wray?" Jimmy Ray sings in the chorus, apparently echoing things he has been asked on a regular basis. The only answer he provides, of course, is another question: "Who wants to know?" Factor in the music video, wherein Ray and a bunch of hip-hop dancers cavort around outside a trailer home, and this mystery seems like something David Lynch and Carson Daly might've somehow cooked up together.

Fortunately, Jimmy Ray is on LinkedIn, and last fall, the 46-year-old London native wrote a candid and insightful article explaining how he—a guy who sounded like Sugar Ray auditioning for Sun Records—scored such a massive pop hit.

"I have been asked questions about it that surprised me," Ray says of his signature song. "Surprising considering the music press received the song as nothing more than a boneheaded piece of self-promotion."

"Are You Jimmy Ray?" might have been self-promotion, but it wasn't boneheaded. A longtime fan of '50s rock, Ray had actually gotten his start in a '90s techno group called A/V. After they split up, he landed a management deal with Simon Fuller, the guy who created the Spice Girls. Someone at Ray’s label suggested he collaborate with Conall Fitzpatrick, the pop songsmith behind the British duo Shampoo's 1994 hit "Trouble." Fitzpatrick obviously had a flair for booming drums and repetitive catchphrases, and before the two even sat down for their first writing session, he had come up with the "Are You Jimmy Ray?" hook.

Ray wonders whether Fitzpatrick might have been "subconsciously influenced" by the cryptic "Who is Christian Goldman?" graffiti seen all over London at the time. Fitzpatrick claims he got the idea from the 1988 film Midnight Run; in one scene, Charles Grodin's character asks a bartender, "Who's in charge here?" to which the fellow replies, "Who wants to know?" As for all those "Rays"—pre-Elvis teen idol Johnnie Ray, "father of the power chord" Link Wray, King Kong actress Fay Wray, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray—they were also Fitzpatrick's idea. But Jimmy Ray knew what Fitzpatrick was going for.

"Retro heroes and heroines who symbolized my own cultural interests from music, film, and … motoring haha!" Jimmy writes in summary. "I couldn't even drive a car at this time."

Portraits of Johnnie Ray, Fay Wray, and Link Wray.
Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Eric Frommer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY–SA 2.0

Fitzpatrick knew the kind of stuff Jimmy dug, but the two weren't 100 percent on the same page. Working with Fitzpatrick's gear, in Fitzpatrick's studio, Ray felt like his debut album was slipping out of his control. "Before then, I had always been in the pilot's seat making my music, so let's just say there was a teeny-weeny bit of tension right from the off," Ray wrote.

For instance, he had to fight to replace the original fake-sounding synth-bass with "a different, more realistic synth bass." He alludes in the LinkedIn piece to other battles, but ultimately, he might not have pushed too hard. After all, he didn't think "Are You Jimmy Ray?" was going to be a single.

Alas, the execs at Epic Records knew they had a hit on their hands, and just like that, Jimmy Ray was all over the airwaves with a song that "wasn't really my idea." While Ray insisted that he respects and admires Fitzpatrick for creatively handling the pressure of having to produce a hit record for a major label, the tone of the LinkedIn piece suggests that Ray might've gone a different route if he'd been in the driver's seat.

Ray actually may get that do-over, as the singer is prepping a new album on his own La Rocka Records tentatively titled Live to Fight Another Day, which is set for an October release. He has posted some demos online, including one Morrissey-esque cover of Elvis Presley's "Devil In Disguise." It’s a cool track that sounds as though he's moved beyond the "pop-a-billy hip-hop" that put him on the charts back in the day. And with other '90s acts making the most of nostalgia ticket sales (after all, Jimmy Ray's old pals the Backstreet Boys have a world tour planned for their 25th anniversary next year), it seems like the right time to revive the old question of just who this Jimmy Ray fellow is.

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