The Historical And Scientific Inspiration Behind Kate Bush's Cloudbusting

When watching the music video of Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting," it's hard to believe that the video is largely based on a true story. English singer Bush was inspired to write the 1985 song after reading the memoir of Peter Reich, son of psychologist and scientist Wilhelm Reich, who detailed his father's persecution.

While the music video takes some creative liberties and associates Wilhelm's arrest with his cloudbusting machine, it's not far from the truth. Though it wasn't Wilhelm's cloudbusting machine that necessarily led to his arrest, the FBI and the FDA had their eye on him for years before his eventual apprehension. But what was it about this man that resulted in so many federal agencies coming after him? Considering Wilhelm's life, he makes a perfect subject for one of Bush's songs. And upon looking at the rest of his life, the cloudbusting becomes just the tip of the iceberg. 

Freud and the libido

Born on March 24, 1897, in the Austro-Hungarian Kingdom (what is now present-day Ukraine), Wilhelm Reich showed an early interest in studying natural phenomena. Between the ages of 8 and 12, he even had "his own collection and breeding laboratory of butterflies, insects, and plants under the guidance of a private teacher," per the Wilhelm Reich Museum. After World War I, Reich went to Medical School at the University of Vienna, Austria, where he met Sigmund Freud in 1919. Before long, Reich was considered to be a part of Freud's inner circle.

Slate writes that Reich was especially inspired by Freud's theories on libido. And according to "Wilhelm Reich," written by his ex-wife Ilse Ollendorff, Reich sought to find the biological foundation for libido. It was this pursuit that would eventually lead to his theory of orgone energy. During his time as a psychoanalyst, Reich had love affairs with several of his patients. One of his first was with a woman with Lore Kahn, who died shortly after they married in 1920. After she died, "Lore's mother accused Reich of forcing Lore to have an illegal abortion, the botched effects of which caused her to die," Robert S. Corrington writes in "Wilhelm Reich." Although Reich denied these accusations and was never charged, interviews with two of his fellow medical students appeared to confirm Lore's mother's accusation. Reich also reportedly insisted that Ollendorff have an abortion early in their relationship (via Spartacus Educational).

Work in sexology

In 1930, Wilhelm Reich relocated from Vienna, Austria to Berlin, Germany. He moved there primarily because his affiliation with Marxism was considered disconcerting by the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Ilse Ollendorff writes in "Wilhelm Reich." But in Berlin, he was able to continue his work in sexology. At the time, the premier sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld was also practicing in Berlin at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Science), according to The Guardian.

Reich traveled across Europe and advocated for the legalization of homosexuality, birth control, and abortions. He also brought a mobile sex clinic to cities and gave out condoms to people. According to "Sexuality and German Fascism," edited by Dagmar Herzog, Reich also "linked the rise of fascim to the repression of sexuality in a patriarchal and capitalist society." When the Nazis came to power, they promptly burned his books and ordered Reich's execution. The British Psychological Society writes that the only reason Reich was able to escape execution was by disguising himself as a tourist and fleeing across Europe with a fake name until he reached the United States.

Unfortunately for Reich, while the International Psychoanalytic Association tried to exclude him for being a communist, the German Communist Party officially excluded him from the party in 1933 for his views on sexual politics.

The orgone accumulators

After escaping to the United States in August 1939, Wilhelm Reich started teaching at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. According to the Wilhelm Reich Museum, Reich first began formulating his theory of orgone in Scandinavia, which he used to describe an energy that didn't obey any laws of electricity or magnetism. "Reich called this energy 'orgone,' because its discovery had evolved from his investigation of the orgasm function, and because this energy could charge organic materials," the museum wrote. Reich proposed that orgone was everywhere and could even affect weather formations.

ThoughtCo writes that in 1940, Reich created a device to accumulate orgone energy known as the orgone accumulator. The orgone accumulator was essentially a box with alternating layers of organic matter and metal that patients would sit inside of, which allowed them to "absorb orgone energy through their skin and lungs." And by 1941, Reich was using the orgone accumulator to treat cancer patients, according to "Psychoanalysis" by Arnold M. Cooper, Otto F. Kernberg, and Ethel Spector Person. To Reich, cancer was the "living putrification of the tissues due to the pleasure starvation of the organism."

In September 1942, Reich purchased land in Maine that became his research center Orgonon, which was dedicated to orgone energy research. But after the publication of two articles by journalist Mildred Brandy in 1947 — "The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy" and "The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich" — the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) started investigating Reich and his research center Orgonon.

Arrested by the FBI

Even before being arrested by the FDA, Wilhelm Reich had a brief encounter with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In "Adventures in the Orgasmatron," Christopher Turner writes that the FBI already had Reich on their radar due to his sex-positive theories and Marxism, and just one day after Germany declared war on the United States, Reich was arrested at 2:30 a.m. on December 12, 1941.

According to "Psychoanalysis and Politics," the FBI's investigation of Reich totaled almost 800 pages of documents. And after being arrested as an "enemy alien," Reich was detained at Ellis Island for three weeks before being released. In his appeal, Reich wrote that he feared being murdered by other detainees if they learned about his history of antifascist work. At the hearing, Reich was questioned about the possession of three books in his house: Hitler's "Mein Kampf," Trotzky's "My Life," and a Russian alphabet for children. His ex-wife later wrote in "Wilhelm Reich" that "it was not so easy as one might think to convince the judge that if a psychiatrist studies mass behavior, he has to know something about those people on the right and on the left who manipulate the masses."

Even after his release, Reich was continually harassed by the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. According to "Psychoanalysis and Politics," "Reich's books and journals were burned and his laboratory equipment smashed by the U.S. government."

The Cloudbuster

In the 1950s, Wilhelm Reich invented the cloudbuster, which consisted of a set of hollow tubes that pointed at the sky. Connected to a water source — ideally moving water — the device was supposed to manipulate orgone energy in order to create new cloud formations when it was pointed up at the clouds. According to The Guardian, Reich was hired by blueberry farmers in Maine to use his cloudbuster to end a drought. Reich used his cloudbuster for an hour, and the next morning, the rain came and saved the farmers' crop. Whether or not this was due to the success of Reich cloudbuster remains up for debate, and estimates for how much it rained over the next few days range from 0.75 inches to 2 inches (per "The Ashgate Research Companion to Paranormal Cultures").

The same book writes that Reich even conducted a series of experiments in Arizona to transform the environment of the state, but he was ultimately unsuccessful.

Wanted by the FDA

On July 29, 1952, FDA agents arrived at Orgonon and looked over Wilhelm Reich's research facility. And two years later, they persuaded the U.S. Attorney in Maine to issue an injunction against Reich, his family, and the Wilhelm Reich Foundation, which declared that orgone energy was nonexistent and that every accumulator was to be destroyed along with any promotional material in English as well as German. According to the "The Ashgate Research Companion to Paranormal Cultures," Reich's young son Peter was there at the time the injunction was issued, and they were reportedly both forced to help the FDA agents destroy the accumulators. The book says that the FDA also burned all of Reich's books and articles "in one of the most aggressive silencings of research in its history." Reich refused to appear in court to address the charges against the orgone accumulator, which the FDA declared as a medical fraud (via The Washington Post).

ThoughtCo writes that Reich was jailed for contempt of the injunction in 1956 based on the actions of an associate. And the following year, Reich died of heart failure in jail on November 3, 1957.