Like Bush's first hit, "Wuthering Heights
," this is based on a book. It was inspired by Peter Reich's 1973 Book of Dreams
, which describes his father Wilhelm's arrest for contempt of court.
Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian psychiatrist who was trained in Vienna by Sigmund Freud. His work combined Marxism and psychoanalysis to advocate sexual freedom. In the 1930s, Reich came up with the concept of "orgone," a physical energy contained in the atmosphere and in all living matter. The "Cloudbuster" was a device he came up with to manipulate the orgone energy in the atmosphere, which would force clouds to form, bringing rain.
Hawkwind and Patti Smith have both released songs about Reich's concept of Cloudbusting.
The video, directed by Julian Doyle, stars Donald Sutherland as the inventor/father trying to get his cloudbusting machine to work, and Bush in the role of his young son, Peter. Doyle remembered to Mojo magazine that Bush originally wanted to flip genders and portray Peter Reich literally as a boy. "I said, 'You can't be a boy. People are not gonna accept that. Let's just be androgynous so that we don't know whether you're a boy or a girl.'"
In a 1985 interview, Bush explained she came upon Reich's book by accident. "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."
Bush spoke of the song in a 1989 Associated Press interview. "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. "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 had trouble pulling the track together until she came up with the steam engine sound that's heard throughout - courtesy of bassist Del Palmer and a Fairlight synthesizer. She told the story in a 1985 radio interview: "That did all fall apart over a period of about ten bars. And everything just started falling apart, 'cause it didn't end properly, and, you know, the drummer would stop and then the strings would just sorta start wiggling around and talking. And I felt it needed an ending, and I didn't really know what to do. And then I thought maybe decoy tactics were the way, and we covered the whole thing over with the sound of a steam engine slowing down so that you had the sense of the journey coming to an end. And it worked, it covered up all the falling apart and actually made it sound very complete in a way. And we had terrible trouble getting a sound effect of steam train so we actually made up the sound effect out of various sounds, and Del was the steam. And we got a whistle on the Fairlight for the 'poo poop.'"
Bush wasn't sure if she interpreted Reich's story properly and was worried about the author's opinion of her song and video. She was relieved to get his approval. "He said he found them very emotional and that I'd captured the situation. This was the ultimate reward for me," she recalled.
This was used in a 2009 Austrian documentary on Wilhelm Reich, titled Wer hat Angst vor Wilhelm Reich? It also plays in a key moment of the 2020 Hulu movie Palm Springs.
Doyle filmed the main shots for the video at the Vale of White Horse in Oxfordshire, England. In one hilltop embrace scene, where Bush pulls a copy of A Book of Dreams out of Sutherland's jacket pocket, Doyle wanted the already foot-long difference in their heights to be exaggerated to make Bush appear more childlike. "I put Donald on a box," the director laughed to Mojo. "He said, 'This is the first time I've ever been on a box.' Normally the short actors get boxes to stand on. But he's enormous."