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Dead, Wrapped in Plastic: The Music of Twin Peaks…20 Years Later

Today I was pretty knocked sideways by this article that told me the sad truth about Twin Peaks: it is now two decades old.  Two. Decades. Old. Might agent Cooper and Harry Truman be on social security? Would that make Laura Palmer, had she lived, a successful mid-career mother of two, with Audrey her distant friend who went to Hollywood to be in pictures and ended up working as an administrative assistant?  The results of something as ageless as this show aging are too horrendous to contemplate.  It cannot have been half my life ago that I had parties wherein cherry pie was doled, doughnuts served and caffeine consumed in dangerous amounts.

Twin PeaksGot me thinking about all the wonderful music Angelo Badalamenti wrote for that show.  The soundtrack (which seethes from my Harmon Kardon sticks as I type these words), like the show, changed everything.  Yes, it is hard to imagine strong narrative television (read: not sitcoms) like Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Deadwood existing were it not for the moving-but-unprecedentedly-eccentric vision of one David Lynch, but more to the point, it is difficult to imagine scores to these shows being the same.  I am struck every time I hear the them to Six Feet Under—those thrilling doubled oboes and tabla (written by Thomas Newman and masterfully orchestrated by, I believe, Thomas Pasatieri), how Peaks-y it really is.  And the theme to Angel (yes, I’ve heard it a lot, because it serves as proper methadone for those of us addicted to Buffy—g’head, judge me…) with its broody cello superimposed over images of young ladies in pain in the City of Angels. It would be nowhere without Badalamendi’s eco-synth brood that opens the two-decade old show.  And can one imagine the series of songstresses that ascended the stage of Buffy’s Bronze without first flashing back to the Road House and the moving performances of Juliee Cruise, whose own record Floating Into the Night, with many of the songs also penned by Mr. Badalamenti, is as gorgeous and atmospherically unhinged as anything.

Now I may offend some Lynch purists by saying that I like the film Fire Walk With Me (and the score to same) as much — if not more — than the series itself.  But even, to me, more moving, is the director and composer’s collaboration on the Industrial Symphony No. 1, which came out around the time as the film Wild at Heart (another priceless gem) and featured heavily not only the stars of that film—no less than Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern—but a score by Badalamenti.  I especially swoon over this because it is Lynch at his most, well, Lynchian: he need not bother with narrative or explanation of detail, but more to my point he is a director who knows what music can do—as much as a range of filmmakers from Hitchcock to Speilberg, Welles to Tarantino, Kurasawa to Fellini did.  Lynch is a wonderful spinner of image-yarns, but the music he uses—from the moving opening to the slow, sultry jazz (borrowed in spirit anyway from just about any Los Angeles noir) to which Audrey Horn dances in her mesmerizing way, Lynch knows that music need not just swell the action but can also tell a story—or the style of a story—unto itself.

So happy second decade, Twin Peaks.  Tonight, in your honor, I feast on Creamed Corn, set the mounted moose head just so on the table, and remind anyone reading that still, twenty years on, the owls are not what they seem.  Sweet dreams.   

Image: Still from Twin Peaks, courtesy Paramount.

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