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”.

Bring on the Dancing Horses: Ten Songs About Horses. Emily Davison, a Suffragette, Runs Out in Front of King George V’s Horse, Amner, at Epsom Derby. She is Trampled, Never Regains Consciousness and Dies Four Days Later. This Day in History, 04/06/1913.

1.  Johnny Cash ‘The Man Comes Around’

(from the album American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002).

2.  Goldfrapp ‘Ride A White Horse’

(from the album Supernature, 2005).

3.  The Pogues ‘Bottle of Smoke’

(from the album If I Should Fall From Grace with God, 1988).

4.  Rolling Stones ‘Wild Horses’

(from the album Sticky Fingers, 1971).

5.  The Doors ‘Horse Latitudes’

(from the album Strange Days, 1967).

6.  Echo & The Bunnymen ‘Bring On the Dancing Horses’

(from the album Songs to Learn and Sing, 1985).

7.  U2 ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’

(from the album Achtung Baby, 1991).

8.  The Hold Steady ‘Chips Ahoy’

(from the album Girls and Boys in America, 2006).

9.  Patti Smith ‘Land: Horses / Land of a Thousand Dances / La Mer(de)’

(from the album Horses, 1975).

10. Belle and Sebastian ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’

(from the album If You Are Feeling Sinister, 1996).

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Four). The Go-Betweens on Patti Smith on Kurt Cobain and Others. “When She Sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I Thought What A Shame It Wasn’t About Tom Verlaine”.

Patti Smith, along with her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, began work on her sixth studio album, Gone Again (1996) in 1994.  Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, previously of the seminal garage band MC5, was a highly influential force on what would become Patti Smith’s first album since Dream of Life in 1988, teaching her to play acoustic guitar so she could write songs by herself and providing her with titles and concepts to develop.

The first of these songs was Summer Cannibals, the eventual single from the album, which discussed the darker side of being a rock musician.  The couple drew from Fred’s Indian ancestry in order to compose a song told from the point of view of a tribe’s shaman.  The song tells of an old woman coming down from the hills in order to tell her people of their history, informing them of, in times of strife, the cycle of life and the changing seasons. And thus began the potent theme of death on Gone Again, a theme inspired by the deaths of several people close to Smith.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had died March 9th 1989, aged 42, from an AIDs-related illness …

… and Patti Smith Group pianist Richard Sohl had died on June 3rd 1990, aged 37, from heart failure.

During the writing of Gone Again, Patti Smith was devastated yet further when on November 4th 1994, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith died suddenly from heart failure, aged just 45.   The loss of her husband informs a vast majority of Gone Again but specifically the final song, Farewell Reel.  Played on the acoustic guitar which her husband taught her how to play, Farewell Reel opens with the spoken message, “This little song’s for Fred; it’s G, C, D and D minor”.

Shortly after the death of her husband, her brother, Todd, also died, aged 45.  Gone Again is also notable for featuring the last studio performance by Jeff Buckley, who added his voice to Beneath The Southern Cross.

Smith was also moved by the death of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, with whom she had sympathised.  Cobain committed suicide, aged 27, on 5th April 1994.  Smith didn’t know Cobain personally but told Seattle Weekly News in 2010:

“My reaction to Kurt Cobain was much more emotional.  I was heartbroken when he committed suicide.  I loved Nirvana.  And I knew that Kurt Cobain was very fond of my husband and the MC5.  We felt so badly.  We just wished that we would have known him, and been able to talk to him, and had some sort of positive effect on him.  Seeing Robert [Mapplethorpe] doing everything to live, and then seeing this very gifted boy kill himself was painful to factor”.

Smith’s reaction to Cobain’s death can be heard on the song About A Boy, a suitably etheral and sometimes funereal lament, the title of which is a play on Nirvana’s About A Girl, from their 1989 album Bleach.

Lyrically, About A Boy, much like many other songs on Gone Again, is spiritual and almost hymnal with lines such as “Toward another, He has gone, To breathe an air, Beyond his own, Toward a wisdom, Beyond the shelf, Toward a dream, That dreams itself”.

The verse “From the forest, from the foam, from the field, That he had, Known, Toward a river, Twice as blessed, Toward the inn of happiness” tells of Cobain’s ascendance to heaven but also refers to his hometown of Aberdeen in the US State of Washington.  The forest mentioned in the verse is most likely to be Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington, whilst the river mentioned is the Wishkah River, a tributary of the Chehalis River which flows south through Washington and empties into the Chehalis at Aberdeen.  Linking in with the Indian theme on Gone Again, the name “Wishkah” is an adaptation of the Chehalis Indian word ‘hwish-kahl’, meaning “stinking water”.  More importantly, however, the Wishkah River has a great deal of significance in the legend of Kurt Cobain, as he lived under a bridge on the river during a period of homelessness after dropping out of high school and being thrown out of his mother’s home.  The song Something In The Way from Nevermind details this time in Cobain’s life.  After his death, one third of his ashes were scattered in the river.  Additionally, the river gave its name to the Nirvana live album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, released in 1996 and featuring live performance recorded between 1989 and 1994.

A band who had been listening to Smith’s tender tribute to Cobain was Australian band, The Go-Betweens.  For their 2000 album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Robert Forster wrote When She Sang About Angels, in part an answer song to About A Boy.

When She Sang About Angels includes the slightly sarcastic sounding riposte to Smith choosing to pay tribute to Cobain, “When she sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I thought what a shame, it wasn’t about, Tom Verlaine”.  Tom Verlaine is best known as the front man of seminal New York rock band Television, most notable for their critically acclaimed and highly influential debut album Marquee Moon (1977).  Verlaine was a stalwart of famous New York punk clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and dated Patti Smith whilst they were both up and coming artists.  Verlaine has collaborated with Smith many times over the years, most notably adding guitar to Smith’s albums Horses (1975); Easter (1978); Gone Again (1996) and later, Gung Ho (2000) and Twelve (2007).

The song’s title and lyrics “When she sang about angels, She looked at the sky …” refers to both Smith’s songs about people who have died on Gone Again and to Smith’s song Ask The Angels, the opening track on, and third single taken from, her 1976 album Radio Ethiopia.

Additionally, When She Sang About Angels includes lines such as “When she sang about the fields, She raised up her arm, As if she was pushing back the cotton on some Midwestern farm”, a reference to Smith’s powerful stage mannerisms and the imagery of fields which inhabits some of her songs.  Take for example, in About A Boy where she sings, “From the field that he had known”; Ask the Angels, in which she sings “Across the country through the fields” and Birdland (Horses, 1975) in which she sings, “Him and his daddy used to sit inside, And circle the blue fields and grease the night”.

Despite the hint of sarcasm which pervades Forster’s critique of Smith, there is also a lot of tenderness expressed towards Smith in When She Sang About Angels.  Take for example the refrain, “Anybody else, anybody else, but I let it go by”, absolving Smith of her various lyrical and performance tendencies and the reminiscence of the lines “Then she threw some names, Like she always did, She threw some names, she dropped some names, Like she used to when I was a kid”.  Smith is known for writing songs about other people and in particular other artists.  Take for example, her song Frederick (Wave, 1979), written about Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith before their marriage in 1980.

Smith would pay further tribute to Kurt Cobain on her 2007 album of cover versions, Twelve, when she covered Nirvana’s 1991 mega-hit Smells Like Teen Spirit, from the album Nevermind.

Smith’s version of Smells Like Teen Spirit strips away the thundering bombast of the original, the sound which inspired a thousand other bands and almost single-handedly invented ‘Grunge’, and delivers it with a sparse country-tinged arrangement featuring a bass guitar, acoustic guitar, violin, banjo and her voice, which much like Kurt Cobain’s, has influenced whole generations.