Many’s the drama has been extrapolated from the mystery of what our fathers got up to of an evening in the garden shed. Some cultivated allotments, some concocted batches of homebrew (secretly watered down by dear old mother), some tinkered with crystal radio sets or tended their pigeons. And some dabbled in darker arts.
Jon Ronson’s book The Men Who Stare At Goats contains a haunting thread (omitted from the film adaptation) about the quest of Maryland man Eric Olson to uncover the truth about his father Frank, a civilian scientist who died under suspicious circumstances. The cover story was that Frank had been involved in an LSD experiment gone awry, but Eric’s investigations led him to believe that his father had worked for a CIA programme called Artichoke, which specialised in inventing brutal and often fatal methods of interrogation, road tested on ‘expendables’ (captured Russian agents and ex-Nazis). Eric believed his father witnessed and was possibly involved in something so horrific it left him with no option but to quit his job. Soon after that he was dead.
In Rob Young’s wonderful new book Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music (Faber), there’s a small but fascinating section on the true history behind Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’ song and promo video, both released in 1985. “I still dream of Organon,” the tune begins, echoing Rebecca, “I wake up crying.” For years this listener thought Organon was a reference some sacred Arthurian glade or Brigadoon. Turns out it’s no such thing.
According to Young, “Bush had been reading the melancholy 1973 memoir A Book of Dreams by Peter Reich, son of renegade psychologist and scientist Wilhelm Reich, who designed the ‘cloudbuster’ during the 1940s as an extension of his research into ‘orgone’ or sexual energy. Reich’s cloudbuster was intended to suck down the accumulated orgone in the atmosphere, thereby creating cloud formations and rainfall. Reich’s meteorological experiments are widely viewed as crackpot physics by the scientific mainstream, and when his efforts to control the weather came to the notice of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), they had him arrested.”
The video starred Donald Sutherland as the Reich character, Bush as his son. These days it plays like a steampunk eco-fable somewhere between Edge of Darkness and Brazil. No surprise then that the video was conceived by Bush with Terry Gilliam, and directed by the latter’s special effects man Julian Doyle. (Eagle eyed viewers will have spotted Peter Reich’s book making a brief cameo appearance in Sutherland’s pocket).
I write this in a torrential summer downpour, with ‘Cloudbusting’ playing in the background. Maybe the spirit of Wilhelm Reich is abroad in the hills.
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