Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Seven). “If Joan of Arc Had a Heart ….”

On the 8th November 1981, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released their third album, Architecture & Morality.   It became a commercial and critical success, selling over 4 million copies by early 2007 and becoming hailed as the band’s seminal work.  Architecture & Morality is widely regarded as one of the greatest electronic albums of the 1980s, with some publications calling it one of the best records ever made.  The singles from the album began with Souvenir on the 4th August 1981 …

… before being followed by Joan of Arc on the 9th October 1981 and Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc), a re-titled Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans) to save confusion with the previous single, on the 15th January 1982.

The latter two singles released from the album tell the story of Joan of Arc and are placed together on the second side of Architecture & Morality with Joan of Arc as side two, track one and Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)  as side two, track two.  Having already penned possibly their most famous song, Enola Gay, named after and about the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, for their previous album Organisation (1980), …

… the two songs written about Joan of Arc were yet more examples of the band’s penchant for writing songs about unusual subject matter.  When band members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were asked why their song lyrics were about such unusual subjects in a 2008 interview for Beatmag, the pair replied:

Paul Humphreys:  “We really didn’t want to do this traditional love lyrics.  We always hated those kind of ‘I love you’ and ‘You love me’ kinds of songs.  Kraftwerk always sung about really unusual things as well.  Also, another influence on us was Brian Eno and he always sung about some very unusual topics.  So, we kind of followed that line”.

Andy McCluskey:  “Again it was us wanting to do something new and not be clichéd and repeat things.  I tortured myself.  On the third album, the song Joan of Arc has the word ‘love’ in it and I kept thinking, can I use this word?  But love here is kind of third party – it’s not you or me, it’s she.  She fell in love, so I can get away with that.  It’s not a first or second love”.

Paul Humphreys:  “Because we thought love was such a cliché.  There were so many love songs, particularly at that time.  We just thought they became meaningless, really”.

Of the subject matter for Joan of Arc and Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans), Joan of Arc, a peasant girl living in France, believed that God had chosen her to lead France to victory in its long-running feud with England.  Without any military training, Joan convinced the embattled crown prince Charles of Valois to allow her to lead a French army to the besieged city of Orleans, where it achieved a momentous victory over the English and their French allies, the Burgundians.  After seeing the Prince crowned King, Charles VII, Joan was captured by Anglo-Burgundian forces, tried for witchcraft and heresy and burned at the stake in 1431, at the age of just 19.  By the time she was officially canonised in 1920, the Maid of Orleans, as she was known and hence the title of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s second piece about Joan of Arc, had long been considered as one of history’s greatest saints and an enduring symbol of French unity and nationalism.

Joan of Arc was thought to have been born around 1412 as Jeanne d’Arc, with Joan of Arc being an Anglicisation of her name.  Joan of Arc was the daughter of a tenant farmer, Jacques d’Arc, from the village of Domremy, in North-eastern  France.  She was never taught to read or write but her pious mother taught her to love to love the Catholic Church and its teachings.  During this time, France had been torn apart by a bitter conflict with England, later known as the Hundred Years’ War, in which England was winning.  A peace treaty in 1420 disinherited the French crown prince, Charles of Valois, amid accusations of his illegitimacy, and King Henry V was made ruler of both England and France.  His son, Henry VI succeeded him in 1422.  Along with its French allies, led by Philip the Good, duke of Burgandy, England occupied much of Northern France, and many in Joan of Arc’s village, Domremy, were forced to abandon their homes under threat of invasion.

At the age of 13, Joan began to hear voices, which she interpreted as having been sent by God to give her a mission of overwhelming importance: to save France by expelling its enemies and to install Charles as its rightful king.  This divine mission also led Joan to take a vow of chastity.  At the age of 16, following her father’s attempts to arrange a marriage for her, she successfully convinced the local court that she should that she should not be forced to accept the match.

In May 1428, Joan made her way to Vancouleurs, a nearby stronghold of those loyal to Charles.  Here, local magistrate Robert de Baudricourt initially rejected her claims to be the virgin who, according to popular prophecy, was destined to save France but after she had attracted a small band of followers, the magistrate relented.  Joan cropped her hair and dressed in men’s clothes to make the eleven day journey across enemy territory to Chinon, the site of the crown prince’s palace.

Joan promised Charles she would see him crowned king at Reims, the traditional site of French royal investiture, and asked him to give her an army to lead to Orleans, which was at that point under siege from the English.  Much against the advice of most of his counsellors and generals, Charles granted her request and Joan set off for Orleans in March of 1429.  She dressed in white armour and rode a white horse.  After sending a defiant letter to the enemy, Joan led several French assaults against the, driving the Anglo-Burgundians from their bastion and forcing them to retreat across the Loire River.

Following the victory, Joan’s reputation spread far and wide among French forces.  Joan and her followers escorted Charles across enemy territory to Reims taking towns that resisted by force and enabling his coronation as King Charles VII in July 1429.  Joan argued that the French should press on and attempt to claim back Paris, but Charles wavered, as even his favourite court, Georges de La Tremoille, warned him that Joan was becoming too powerful.  The Anglo-Burgandians were unable to fortify their positions in Paris and turned back an attack led by Joan in September.

In the spring of 1430, Joan was ordered by the king to confront a Burgandian assault on Compiegne.  During her effort to defend the town and its inhabitants, Joan was thrown from her horse and was left outside the town’s gates as they closed.  Joan was taken captive by the Burgandians and took her to the castle of Bouvreuil, occupied by the English commander at Rouen.

In the following trial, Joan was ordered to answer to upwards of 70 charges brought against her, including witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man.  The Anglo-Burgandians aimed to remove Joan from power as well as discredit Charles, who owed his coronation to her.  In an attempt to distance himself from an accused heretic and witch, Charles made no attempt to negotiate Joan’s release.

Following a year in captivity and under threat of death, Joan relented in May 1431, signed a confession denying that she had ever received divine guidance.  After several days, however, she defied orders once again by wearing men’s clothes and the authorities pronounced her death sentence.  On the morning of May 30th, at the age of 19, Joan was taken to the old market place of Rouen and burned at the stake.  Joan of Arc’s death only served to increase her fame and at a trial ordered by Charles VII twenty years after her death, her name was cleared.  Long before Pope Benedict XV canonised her in 1920, Joan of Arc had attained mythic stature, inspiring numerous works of art and literature over the centuries and becoming the patron saint of France.

The first of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s two pieces about Joan of Arc is titled Joan of Arc.  Upon its release, the single reached number five on the UK singles chart, number 13 on the Irish singles chart and number 4 on the Canadian singles chart.

The second of the two pieces, Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans), or Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc) for its single release, was described by McCluskey in an interview with The Guardian in 2011 as the band’s “Mull of Kintyre”.  When released as a single, the song topped the performance of Joan of Arc in the UK and Ireland by reaching number 4 and number 5, respectively, whilst it reached number 32 on the Canadian singles chart.  In Germany, the song became the biggest selling single of 1982.

Both songs take the form of love songs to the French heroine, and as a suite roughly tells the tale of Joan of Arc’s life through the slightly cryptic lyrics.  Joan of Arc begins with the lines, “Little Catholic girl is falling in love, A face on a page, gift from above”, telling of Joan of Arc falling in love with the Catholic Church and it’s teachings, with the “face on a page” possibly being an apparition of God and the “gift from above” being God instructing Joan of Arc to lead France to victory against England.  Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc), written on the 30th May 1981, the 550th anniversary of Joan of Arc’s death, is a slightly more straightforward sixteen line love poem to Joan of Arc, including the lines, “If Joan of Arc, Had a heart, She would give it as a gift, To such as me”.  The song also describes the heroine’s death in its closing lines, “She offered up, Her body, To the grave”.

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Five). “Pioneer of Aerodynamics, Thought He Was A Real Smart Alec …”

Alec Eiffel is a song from the Pixies’ fourth album Trompe le Monde (1991).  The song, written by frontman Black Francis and released as the third single from the record, is about French Engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (15th December 1832 to 27th December 1923), designer of the Eiffel Tower and also the Statue of Liberty and tells of how, when the Eiffel Tower was being built, people thought it was a bad idea.  Alec Eiffel is a song about how people bring down other people and their ideas.

Construction work on the Eiffel Tower began on the 29th January 1887, with the building being completed on the 15th March 1889.  It was formally opened to the public on the 31st March 1889.   During its design and construction stages, the Eiffel Tower was subject to some controversy, attracting criticism from both those who did not think it was feasible and those who objected on artistic grounds.  When work began on the tower at Champ de Mars, the ‘Committee of Three Hundred’ was formed, with one member for each metre of the tower’s height.  The committee was led by Charles Garnier and included some of the most important figures of the French arts establishment, including Adolphe Bouguereau, Guy Maupassant, Charles Gounod and Jules Massenet.  A petition was sent to Jean-Charles Alphand, the Minister of Works, and was published by Le Temps.  Part of the criticism against Eiffel’s idea read:

“To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour de Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of le Invalides, the Arc de Triumphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream.  And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal”.

Starting with the line, “Pioneer of aerodynamics (Little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)”, Francis describes how, during his lifetime, Eiffel carried out important work in aerodynamics, as well as meteorology.  Eiffel’s interest in these areas was a consequence of the problems he had encountered with the effects of wind forces on the structures he had built.  His first aerodynamic experiments, an investigation of the air resistance of surfaces, was undertaken by dropping the surface to be investigated together with a measuring apparatus down a vertical cable stretched between the second level of the Eiffel Tower and the ground.  By doing so, Eiffel definitely established that the air resistance of the body was very closely related to the square of the airspeed.  He then built a laboratory on the Champ de Mars at the foot of the tower in 1905 and later built his first wind tunnel there in 1909.  The wind tunnel was used to investigate the characteristics of the airfoil sections used by early pioneers of aviation such as the Wright Brothers, Gabriel Voisin and Louis Bieriot.  Eiffel’s work established that the lift produced by an airfoil was the result of a reduction of air pressure above the wing rather than an increase of pressure acting on the under surface.  After complaints from nearby residents about the noise generated by the wind tunnel, Eiffel moved his experiments to a new establishment at Auteuill in 1912.  At this new site, it was possible to build a larger wind tunnel and Eiffel began to make tests using scale models of aircraft designs.  In 1913, Eiffel was awarded the Samuel P. Langley Medal for Aerodynamics by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.  Presenting the medal, Alexander Graham Bell said:

“… his writings upon the resistance of air have already become classical.  His researches, published in 1907 and 1911, on the resistance of the air in connection with aviation, are especially valuable.  They have given engineers the data for designing and constructing flying machines upon sound scientific principles”.

In celebration of Eiffel’s work in aerodynamics, the music video for Little Eiffel features the Pixies playing in a wind tunnel with physics formulas in the background.

The second line of Alec Eiffel, “They thought he was a real smart alec (Little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)” was explained by Francis in an interview with Melody Maker at the time of the album’s release:  “Because of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, but also because it’s funny:  In Australia, you often say ‘It’s a smart Alec’ for a guy who’s nice but not very bright”.  However in reality, Australians actually use the term to describe somebody who is speaking out of turn; often in a way that makes them appear more intelligent than the person or group that they are addressing.  In the UK and US, a “smart Alec” is the opposite of Francis’ description, meaning somebody who is intelligent but mean or sarcastic.

The following line, “He thought big, they called it phallic” refers to some peoples’ view of the Eiffel Tower at the time of its design and construction, an observation that is still attached to the building to this day.  As recently as 2013, several feminist groups in France called for the tower to be demolished, with Marianne Caster, the leader of the campaign, telling newspaper, The Local:

“For too long we have lived under the shadow of this patriarchal monstrosity.  Every day, women in this city are forced to glare up at the giant metal penis in the sky.  It may be good for tourism but as long as it stands there, France will never have ‘egalite’ [liberty, equality, fraternity].  Since 1889, women have been forced to gaze up at this example of French industrial machismo and colonial arrogance”.

In his 1979 collection of essays, The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies, French philosopher Roland Barthes asserted that the tower is really nothing; not a museum, nor is there anything to be seen within it.  Barthes went on to say that the reason people go to see the Eiffel Tower is because it stirs the human imagination and people are able to attach their own vision to it, thus making the tower “the symbol of Paris, of modernity, of communication, of science or of the nineteenth century”.  Barthes continues to tell of how the tower can become a “rocket, stem, derrick, phallus, lightning rod or insect”.  He concludes by saying, “In the great domain of dreams, it means everything”.  It is important to note here that the back cover of the artwork for Alec Eiffel features the Eiffel Tower in the form of a rocket, linking in with Barthes idea that in the imagination of the person viewing the tower, it can become a “rocket” and so forth.

Further into Alec Eiffel, Francis continues to tell of how Eiffel’s detractors thought the project was lunacy, with lines such as “Little Eiffel stands in the archway (Little Eiffel, Little Eiffel), Keeping low, doesn’t make no sense”.  In a Melody Maker article in 1991, they describe the line thus:  “It’s not certain whether lines like “Little Eiffel stands in the archway, Even though it doesn’t make no sense” are an observation of the lunacy of the architecture or the song itself, which features a sixties-style zither!”  It should be noted here that Melody Maker misquoted the line, it being “Keeping low, doesn’t make no sense” rather than “Even though it doesn’t make no sense”, which answers Melody Maker’s question.

Put to a musical backdrop which sounds like a whirlwind, complimenting the song’s subject, with Eiffel using the wind tunnel in his quest to understand the concept of aerodynamics, Alec Eiffel is just one of a myriad of great Pixies songs.  This is a song of unique subject matter and vision as wonderful as that of the Eiffel himself, executed in a way that only the Pixies ever could.  As Francis said himself in his 1991 Melody Maker interview:  “I thought it was important to speak about Gustave Alexandre Eiffel, as he is considered as the pioneer of aerodynamics.  Fascinating subject”.

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day One). “But Every Time It Rains, You’re Here in My Head …”

Right from her early days, Kate Bush was never afraid of demonstrating her literally knowledge.  For her first single, Bush had released Wuthering Heights (The Kick Inside, 1978), based on Emily Bronte’s novel of the same name (1847).

For her second album Lionheart (1978), she had referenced J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan in both Oh England My Lionheart …

… and In Search of Peter Pan.

Further to this, Get Out of My House from 1982’s The Dreaming album was inspired by Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining.

For her 1985 album, Hounds of Love, Bush’s love of literature and writing about her favourite works in song took a biographical turn with the song Cloudbusting, which took its cue from Peter Reich’s 1973 book, A Book of Dreams, a biography of his father, Wilhelm Reich.

Wilhelm Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher who was trained in Vienna by Sigmund Freud.  Reich’s work combined Marxism and psychoanalysis in order to advocate sexual freedom.  He would often visit parents in their homes to see how they lived, and took to the streets in a mobile clinic, promoting adolescent sexuality and the availability of contraceptives, abortion and divorce, a provocative message in Catholic Austria.  His aim was to attack the neurosis by its prevention rather than treatment.

In the 1930’s, Reich became an increasingly controversial figure.  From 1932 until his death, all his work was self-published.  His promotion of sexual permissiveness disturbed the psychoanalytic community and his associates on the political left, and his vegetotherapy, in which he massaged his undressed patients in order to dissolve their muscular armour, violated the key taboos of psychoanalysis.  In 1939, he and his son moved to New York, in part to escape the Nazis.  Shortly afterwards, Reich proposed the concept of orgone, a physical energy contained in the atmosphere and in all living matter.  In 1940, he started building orgone accumulators, devices which his patients sat inside of in order to harness the reputed health benefits.  This led to newspaper reports about sex boxes that cured cancer.  Reich is also famed as the inventor of the Cloudbuster, a device which manipulated the orgone energy in the atmosphere, forcing clouds to form and causing rain.  This invention is what informed the concept of Bush’s Cloudbusting.

After two critical articles about Reich in The New Republic and Harper’s, the US Food and Drug Administration obtained an injunction against the interstate shipment of orgone accumulators and associated literature, believing that they were dealing with a “fraud of the first magnitude”,  In 1956, Reich was charged with contempt for having violated the injunction and was sentenced to two years in prison.  In the summer of 1956, six tons of his publications were burned by order of the court.  Reich died of heart failure whilst in prison just over a year later and days before he was due to apply for parole.

Although Bush’s Cloudbusting is the most recognised, and personally, I feel the best song based on Reich, his life and concepts, it was not the first.  Other songs about Reich include Birdland by Patti Smith, from her debut album Horses (1975), which is also based on A Book of Dreams.

Cloudbusting is about the relationship between Wilhelm Reich and Peter Reich as a young boy, told from the perspective of Peter Reich as an adult.  The song describes the boy’s memories of his life with Reich on their family farm and research centre, which Reich named Orgonon, hence the song’s first line, “I still dream of Orgonon”.  Today, Orgonon is a museum dedicated to Reich and his research.  Of the first verse of Cloudbusting, which continues, “… I wake up crying, You’re making rain, And you’re just in reach, When you and sleep escape me”, Bush told Alternative Press Magazine in 1989:

“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.  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”.

The second verse of Cloudbusting, “You’re like my yo-yo, That glowed in the dark, What made it special, What made it dangerous, So I bury it, And forget it” refers to part of Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams in which he tells of his father’s dislike of fluorescent light of any kind, believing that it held bad orgone energy.  Wilhelm made Peter bury his fluorescent yo-yo in the back yard in order to stop its harmful effects.  The yo-yo of which Bush speaks stood out from everything around it, thus bringing attention to itself in much the same way that Wilhelm Reich’s genius set him apart from other people and brought attention to him, leading to his demise.  Reich’s genius made him a very special person but also caused him to appear “dangerous” to the Federal Government.

In the song’s chorus, we find the lyrics “But every time it rains, You’re here in my head”, referring to the cloudbuster built by Wilhelm Reich.  In these lines, every time Peter sees the rain, he remembers his father and his experiments.  In an interview for MTV in 1985, Bush said of these lines:

“And the song is really using the rain as something that reminds the son of his father.  Every time it rains, instead of being very sad and lonely, it’s a very happy moment for him, it’s like his father is with him again”.

The chorus’s phrase of “… something good is going to happen” refers to the recurrent foreboding in A Book of Dreams that “something bad was going to happen”.

The lyrics of Cloudbusting’s third and fourth verse describe Wilhelm Reich’s abrupt arrest and imprisonment, the pain of loss felt by the young Peter and his helplessness at being unable to protect his father:  “On top of the world, Looking over the edge, You could see them coming, You looked too small, In their big, black car, To be a threat to the men in power” and “I hid my yo-yo, In the garden, I can’t hide you from the government, Oh God, Daddy, I won’t forget”.  Additionally, the lyrics “On top of the world, Looking over the edge, You could see them coming”, refers to the following passage in A Book of Dreams:

“He was like a man who was standing on top of the world looking over into a new world.  That is what Daddy was like.  He had lifted himself so he was looking the horizon to a new world, a free and happy world.  He stood there on the edge of the universe looking into the future … They pulled the ladder out from under him and killed him”.

The wonderful seven minute long music video for Cloudbusting, directed by Julian Doyle, the was an idea collaboration between Terry Gilliam and Kate Bush and features Canadian actor Donald Sutherland in the role of Wilhelm Reich, whilst Bush plays his son, Peter.  The video shows Wilhelm and Peter on top of a hill attempting to make the cloudbuster work.  Wilhelm leaves his son on the cloudbuster and returns to his laboratory, where in a flashback, he remembers the times he and Peter enjoyed working on various scientific projects.  He is then interrupted by government officials who arrest him and ransack the laboratory.  Peter senses that his father is in danger and tries to reach him to no avail, watching as his father is driven away.  Peter runs back to the cloudbuster and to his father’s delight, gets it working and begins to rain.

The video was filmed at The Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire, England.  Bush personally approached Sutherland to ask him to appear in the video at the hotel room in which he was staying.  She found out where he was staying from actress Julie Christie’s hairdresser.  In the UK, the music video, conceived more as a short film than a standard video, was shown at some cinemas as an accompaniment to the main feature.  Due to difficulties in obtaining a work visa for Sutherland at short notice, the actor offered to work on the video for free.  Despite the fact that the events in the story took place in Maine, the newspaper clipping in the video reads “The Oregon Times”, possibly in reference to Reich’s home and laboratory, Orgonon.

The cloudbuster depicted in the video was designed and constructed by people who worked on the alien in the film Alien (1979) and later, Aliens (1986).  The machine bears only a superficial resemblance to the original cloudbusters, which were smaller and featured multiple narrow, straight tubes and pipes and were operated whilst standing on the ground.  The video makes reference to Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams, acknowledging the song’s inspiration, in the scene where Bush pulls a copy of the book out of Sutherland’s coat.

The video is a magnificent retelling of the song and of the life and times of Wilhelm and Peter Reich.  If the song successfully manages to convey the moment when a child first realises that adults are fallible lyrically; then the video, in which Bush, as always, uses her significant acting talents so wonderfully, is a powerful visual interpretation of that theme.  When asked about her role in the video during a 1985 interview with MTV, Bush replied:

“I think it’s something I’d obviously worried about.  When you’re not a child, there are a lot of things that could be a problem.  Like I could look old and not young.  And we were also [coughs] – excuse me – trying to take away the feminine edge so that in a way I could be a tomboy rather than a little girl.  Trying to keep the thing as innocent as possible.  And I think rather than being that worried about playing a child, I was just worried about the whole process of acting, because it’s something I’ve not really done, in a true sense.  I’ve performed in lots of ways, but not really acted.  And it was something that I was wary of and I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed it”.