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The tragic story behind Kate Bush's 'Cloudbusting'

Kate Bush is one of the finest songwriters, not just from her generation, but of all-time. Her ability to turn any theme or subject into a beautiful track is almost unparalleled, matched by her magnificent vocal range that is the definition of heavenly. The perfect example of her innate songwriting genius is ‘Cloudbusting’, an effort in which Bush created gold out of an utterly tragic tale.

‘Cloudbusting’ resulted from her inspiration to turn the real story from Peter Reich’s Book of Dreams into song. The book, released in 1973, tells the horrifying story of his father Wilhelm’s arrest for contempt of court. Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian psychiatrist who was trained in Vienna by Sigmund Freud; he was a pioneering figure in psychology, but, he was also a highly controversial figure who thought in a maverick type way.

The book was written from Peter Reich’s perspective and dealt with the human aspect of his father being treated as a threat to society by the state. His most notable work came during the 1930s when Reich came up with the seemingly bizarre concept of ‘orgone’. Reich stated this is physical energy that occurs during orgasm. He believed that the atmosphere contained this orgone energy, as did all living matter. To capture this energy, he then created the so-called, Cloudbuster. 

According to Reich, this ‘orgone accumulator’ device could affect the orgone energy in the atmosphere, forcing clouds to form and create rain.

Reich’s story took a dark turn by the late 1940s through to the mid-1950s when the accumulators were the subject of an investigation by the American Food and Drug Administration for offering an unauthorised form of medical treatment. The administration then ordered him in 1954 to destroy all of the accumulators and burn all of his books that mentioned the devices. Without Reich’s knowledge, several machines made their way to New York. He was then fatally led to his trial for contempt of court after these machines showed up. Reich was then sentenced to serve two years in prison but, tragically, he passed away of a heart attack whilst in jail in 1957.

Bush explained how she stumbled upon the book in a 1985 interview: “I didn’t know anything about the writer. I just pulled it off the shelf, it looked interesting, and it was an incredible story. It’s written by Peter Reich, and it’s called A Book of Dreams. It’s about himself as a child, through his eyes as a child, looking at his father and their relationship. It’s incredibly beautiful, it’s very, very emotive, and very innocent because it’s through a child’s eyes.

“His father was a very respected psychoanalyst, and besides this, something that features in the book, he made machines called ‘cloudbusters’ that could make it rain, and him and his father used to go out together and make it rain; they used to go ‘cloudbusting.’ And, unfortunately, the peak in the book is where his father is arrested, taken away from him; he was considered a threat. So, suddenly, his father is gone, so it’s a very sad book as well.”

A few years later, Bush revealed the book’s human aspect made her connect with it and inspired her to write ‘Cloudbusting’. “All of us tend to live in our heads. In ‘Cloudbusting,’ the idea was of starting this song with a person waking up from this dream, ‘I wake up crying.’ It’s like setting a scene that immediately suggests to you that this person is no longer with someone they dearly love,” she explained to Associated Press in 1989. “It puts a pungent note on the song. Life is a loss, isn’t it? It’s learning to cope with loss. I think in a lot of ways, that’s what all of us have to cope with.”

Bush was anxious about how Peter Reich would feel towards the song and whether he would be disappointed with how she interpreted the book but, thankfully, he was gracious towards ‘Cloudbusting’. “He said he found them very emotional and that I’d captured the situation. This was the ultimate reward for me,” she recalled.

‘Cloudbusting’ is a masterclass in both storytelling and songwriting. Reich was a character that was vilified for his contentious work and would ultimately play a part in his death. Bush focused on the human side of the story and the impact of Peter Reich losing his father in such disputable circumstances at just 12-years-old. This song’s topic is an almost impossible one to pay justice to, but Bush has that ability to do things that other artists can’t, and ‘Cloudbusting’ is a pure example of this skill.