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David Bushman and Arthur Smith - Twin Peaks FAQ

  by Mary O'Meara

published: 8 / 11 / 2016

David Bushman and Arthur Smith - Twin Peaks FAQ


Mary O' Meara assesses a new book on cult TV series 'Twin Peaks', which reflects in detail on its extraordinary Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack

When this sizeable tome dropped through my letterbox, it was as though a cryptic, memorable mist from around twenty-six years ago began to insidiously drape itself around the furniture, seeping back into my consciousness, gaining intensity and reminding me just how ground-breaking and extraordinary a TV series 'Twin Peaks' was/is. It truly feels like more than a TV series - it's a distinctive (and despite it's undeniable weirdness) realistic and convincing world (though I am sure some would beg to differ on this). I think the realism comes from the depth and authenticity and humour of the characters - even minor characters are fully-dimensional and intriguing. Bushman and Smith perhaps feel the same way as they have several chapters which detail each and every being that wanders through the set (Yes, have to use the term being as er, 'What is Bob?') with both wit and insight. Both authors are television curators at Paley Center for Media in New York, which sounds like a fascinating place "dedicated to the discussion of the cultural, creative and social significance of television, radio and emerging platforms for the professional community and media-interested public" (Wikipedia) and that's what they've set out to do with this book. They have successfully and thoroughly managed to do this which is no mean feat, considering how downright perplexing 'Twin Peaks' can be, but as they rightly point out "the fun of 'Twin Peaks' isn't knowing the answers, it's unraveling the clues (or trying to)". The book is arranged in enticingly named chapters, such as 'It's Not Really a Place, It's a Feeling: Significant Locations and Landmarks" or 'The Quiet Elegance of The Dark Suit and Tie: Fashion in Twin Peaks' which give you some idea of the broad scope of coverage the book delivers but the chapter I want to focus in a little more depth (seeing as I am writing for a music-centered magazine) is Chapter Eight entitled 'Let's Rock: The Music of Twin Peaks.' ("Let's Rock" being one of those uncertain statements the 'Man from Another Place' in the Red Room elicits - which sounds like a possible magical command, such as "Open Sesame" yet may not be at all - just a desire to get up and, er move)....You get my drift. Everything in 'Twin Peaks' has at least a double, if not treble or quadruple meaning and this kind of applies to the music too. It can seem to be one thing on the surface but there's almost always an edginess lurking in the undertow. As anyone familiar with the programme will know, Angelo Badalamenti's work is intrinsically part of the fibre of the inner world of 'Twin Peaks'. Bushman and Smith state "Badalamenti's contribution to the seductive spell cast by 'Twin Peaks' cannot be overstated. Just the opening notes of the show's haunting, lovely theme are enough to immerse the viewer in the peculiar emotional landscape of the story - it's a bit kitsch, (that tremulous fifties rock ballad guitar) mysterious, and surprisingly emotionally affecting." The authors give background information on the composer's history and other frequent collaborations with David Lynch and the closeness of their working relationship. It sounds like they have some kind of telepathic link, working side by side at the piano with Lynch detailing the nuances of emotion he's after and Badalmenti swiftly conjuring them up on the keys. The results are astounding. The authors' comment that "the 'Love Theme' distills the essence of 'Twin Peaks', that beguiling, postmodern collision of retro camp, formal beauty, raw feeling and an air of inchoate, sinister dread - into a piece of timeless music." Apparently on first hearing it, Lynch was so thrilled he told the composer, "You just wrote seventy-five percent of the score. It's the whole mood of the piece. It is 'Twin Peaks'!." What amazes me is how simple but powerful this piece is, how obvious but how subtle at the same time. It truly sends shivers down the spine and that's before you even know the story, which is interesting because so much of 'Twin Peaks' is about mood and mystery as opposed to story/plot. This is another feature commented on by the authors in another earlier chapter - "Lynch is far less interested in the mechanics of a whodunit than in the possibilities of the unknown. The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer is an invitation to immerse one's self in the world of 'Twin Peaks', not a game to be won with logical deduction." And how better to do that than via the medium of music, bypassing the rational mind and impinging on the nervous system, or pulling at the heart-strings, or even causing the toe to tap... The use of "cool jazz" in the series is catchy and clever. As the writers' point out "Badalamenti coined this appellation for the loping, finger-snapping lounge music that provides a sort of audio "seam" that helps to stitch many of 'Twin Peaks' tonally disparate scenes into a cohesive whole. It lays on the hipster kitcsh heavily, with its deliberately synthetic evocation of bygone cool seeming to mock the noir seriousness of much of the show's action." They also rightly point to the scene of Audrey Horne's dance in the Double R Diner when she puts the jazz piece on the jukebox as "an iconic moment that perfectly captured 'Twin Peaks' cockeyed glamour, swaying in private reverie, Audrey asks, "Isn't it too dreamy?" It is." Nobody has to answer Audrey's question as the answer is clear, though of course what isn't clear with much of 'Twin Peaks' is...how much is dream and how much is reality? The lines are blurred at the best of times and the power of the music only adds to that intangibility. Julee Cruise is also pivotal to the musical landscape. Her voice glides over the entire town and swaying trees in a way, whether she's standing on the stage in the perpetually dark and moody Roadhouse or it's just the memory of her vocals cascading like the waterfall when 'Falling' the instrumental is played at the start of each episode. The authors' describe her voice as "otherwordly" which I would agree with and which is clearly fitting for the series. The songs she sings during her various appearances are parallel commentaries on various story lines in the series, demonstrated aptly by Donna mouthing or singing the words to "Rockin' back inside my heart" to James as they drink beer in the Roadhouse. Without Julee's voice, 'Twin Peaks' would definitely be a less colourful and also less ethereal place. She spins a kind of supernatural web around the parameters of the town each night she stands on that stage, and of course things get much stranger the night The Giant appears and temporarily takes her place! The authors also rightly reference Jimmy Scott's "stunningly performed torchy ballad" 'Sycamore Trees' (which appears in the final episode as "a sort of musical greeting to Agent Cooper") when he arrives in the Red Room as a exceptional moment. They also comment interestingly on the "faux fifties balladry" from Badalmenti and Lynch in the scene where "Donna, James and Maddy take a break from their murder investigation to, for some unexplained reason, record a demo of this Ricky Nelson-esque love ballad in Donna's living room" describing it as "one of those weirdly indelible scenes that seems to exist in its own discreet bubble and recalling it feels like trying to remember some half-forgotten dream." This is indeed one of charms of Twin Peaks, that oddness and ability to suddenly transport you and also the lack of need for an explanation as to why this trio are indeed recording this demo. The authors continue: "There is some archness going on here: the sappy lyrics are pointedly relevant to the increasingly awkward love triangle, a sly acknowledgement of the cliched nature of their soapy entanglement but the hushed, almost sacramental demeanor of the performers, the atmospherically reverberant electric guitar and James' disaffected, uncannily androgynous croon push the sequence into classic "I'm unsettled and not sure why" 'Twin Peaks' territory." Which is where I come full circle with my analysis of the show's music which is an inference that "things are never quite what they seem." There's always enough questions and strangeness to throw off an apparent air of normality. That in a way is where a lot of the emotionality of the series comes from - that almost childlike, primal desire for safety and comfort and that is constantly eroded by darkness and shadows and things being anything but normal, yet attempting to again and again. Although I've focused a lot on the music, please know this book is a lot more extensive than that. There's a very useful time-line of when and what happens and chapter by chapter analysis and all kinds of interesting essays, including a detailed analysis of the 'Fire Walk With Me' film. There's listings and information on a whole host of other 'Twin Peaks' related literature as well, including the famous 'Wrapped in Plastic' fanzine. All in all, any fan of 'Twin Peaks', hardcore or not, will likely find something worthwhile here and as we await the new series (due 2017) it's a good time to get re-aquainted. A friend and I dug out the DVD of Series 1 and 2, brewed some coffee, got in some doughnuts and had a damn fine time re-experiencing the enduring wonder that is 'Twin Peaks'! This book is a very helpful companion and sat on the sofa with us much of the time!

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