It is virtually impossible to think about Twin Peaks without thinking of Angelo Badalamenti (b. 1937). As an experienced and hugely influential composer, Badalamenti has worked on many different films and television shows. Mostly, though, he is recognized as a recurring professional partner of David Lynch, and their collaboration is often – also by Badalamenti – described as a “marriage made in heaven.” Badalamenti and Lynch began working together on Blue Velvet, and, afterwards, they have collaborated on all of Lynch’s major productions, including Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lost Highway (1997), The Straight Story (1999) and Mulholland Dr. (2001). In 1990, Angelo Badalamenti received a Grammy for his “Twin Peaks Theme.” I talked with Badalamenti about the use of music in film and television, about famous collaborations between directors and composers and about various musical themes and leitmotifs from Twin Peaks and Fire Walk with Me.
AH: You have often worked with David Lynch. How did you get to work with him on Blue Velvet, and how would you describe David Lynch as a director and the musical collaboration you have with him?
AB: First of all, I met David Lynch when he was doing Blue Velvet. I received a phone call from one of my friends, and Fred Caruso was working with Isabella Rossellini, and they were having some difficulties with her. They needed someone to help her, and David and Isabella were not happy with the people who were working with her. So they called me in, and they said, “We know that you work with singers. Could you come in and help.” I wasn’t really interest, to be honest, but I came in, and we recorded a little cassette with me playing the piano and her singing Bobby Vinton’s song. We were recording the last scene, and David he said, “This is peachy keen, this is the ticket.”
They wanted to use a song by Mortal Coil, but Dino De Laurentiis didn’t want to pay for the synchronization license, so Dino thought that maybe I could do it. The bottom line is that Isabella came in to me with a little piece of yellow paper saying “Mysteries of Love” with a few lines on it, and I said, “This is not a song. It’s a poem, but there’s no hook, there’s nothing to latch on to.” So I thought that I would call him back, and I called up David to say that I wasn’t sure what he wanted. “Make it feel timeless, like the waves of the oceans,” he said, and I said, “Oh, I see,” and of course I didn’t see. I had no idea what he was talking about. He came in and asked me, “Do you know any singer who sings like an angel – angelic, ethereal” – and I said, “Yeah, I know this singer called Julee Cruise.” And it was love at first sound.
AH: When talking about film music, the partnership between Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone seems interesting and noteworthy. As you probably know, Leone would often listen to Morricone’s music, which was made prior to filming, and the music would be played while they were actually shooting the different scenes. In that way, the music becomes very integral to the mood, pacing and tone of the scene. How do you and David Lynch collaborate?
AB: It’s the same thing I do with David. Like Leone and Morricone, David and I have been lucky to have a great creative relationship. I usually call it a marriage made in heaven.
I did Blue Velvet in the traditional way, which is where a director shows you a mostly edited film and then you score it, but on every project since we have talked about it, before we even started shooting. And a lot of the music of Twin Peaks was done before we started filming. David would even play the demos and have the actors move to the tempo of the music.
It’s a marriage made in heaven. Let’s face it, very few times have a director and a composer really hit it off like a team. It’s like Danny Elfman and Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann or Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone.
After discussing different musical collaborations and the professional “marriage made in heaven” between Badalamenti and Lynch, we went into a deeper exploration of Twin Peaks, discussion some specific sequences, scenes and leitmotifs.
AH: The music that you have done for Twin Peaks has an airy and otherworldly character to it, which is beautifully underscored by Julee Cruise’s singing voice. How would you say that this ethereal quality fits the tonality and themes of Twin Peaks?
AB: I feel that Julee’s ethereal quality works so well with Twin Peaks. In most cases in Twin Peaks, the music and the lyrics of the song are in total contrast to the madness of the vocals – this ethereal, angelic voice in this ruckus of The Roadhouse. In the ruckus of beers flying through the air at The Roadhouse, we have Julee singing a beautiful, slow-tempo song, and it’s so outrageous. You would never have that kind of song in a place like that. But the beautiful thing is that, in addition to the way that they contrast what’s going on, it fits the general tone of the show and it fits Laura.
The songs with Julee serve a two-fold purpose: They contrast the visuals and they set the tone for the show. Often, the thing that works best is a song or piece of music that goes against the visuals, something that functions as a contrast or a counterpoint.
AH: “Falling” is the main theme of Twin Peaks, and in many ways that track sets the mood and tonality of the show. What is it musically that makes this particular piece so interesting, and how does it fit the tonality of the show?
AB: First of all, Andreas. We were so lucky that all of the different instrumental versions af “Falling” worked so well… When we wrote the song, and I did an instrumental version, David thought it would be a perfect theme. Those opening baritone notes turned out to be magical. You could be anywhere, and all you had to hear was those notes, and you would know that it was Twin Peaks. It’s just amazing how we caught the tonality of the show. The musical sections of “Falling” keep building to a climax. It keeps building and going to a climax, and then David’s lyrics go “Falling.” The music and the lyrics of “Falling” mirror the two sides of Twin Peaks.
For years, nobody knew which instrument it was, but it was a tuned down electronic guitar sound. It was an electronic guitar that was lowered.
AH: In Twin Peaks, you use a number of leitmotifs, and this to me has a strong effect of making us think about a certain person, even when he or she is not there. I particularly love “Laura Palmer’s Theme” and the way that it pops up very subtly in the scene where Leland is dancing to Glenn Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” How do the musical changes fit or mirror the changes in that scene (psychologically and moodwise)? And could you describe how “Laura Palmer’s Theme” reflects the ambiguity of the entire show?
AB: The best example is “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” aka “The Love Theme from Twin Peaks.” That Laura Palmer theme has two contrasting sections, which created a musical identity for the whole show: It introduced a dark, mysterious and foreboding element – that minor chord leitmotif – but it also set a hypnotic tone for the entire show. But the second section segues from that minor into a major chord, and it related totally to the emotions of Laura Palmer. It’s a wonderful story how that was written. David Lynch came to my office across from Carnegie Hall, and David said to me, “I have this show. It’s called Northwest Passage.” I was sitting at my piano – my Fender Rhodes – and he started saying, “We’re in a dark woods, and it’s kind of foreboding.” He constantly asked me to go slower, and we were going so slow, that I thought we were almost going in reverse. And then he said to me, “Now there’s this little girl,” and we went from the minor to the major chord. The hair on David’s arms was standing up… Then it falls down. Falling is a very important to David. Even in Blue Velvet, Isabella Rossellini says, “I’m falling,” and it seems there is a connection there.
AH: Another interesting example from Twin Peaks in terms of music is the scene where Leland dances to “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” Could you say a few words on that scene and how the music changes both in terms of style and mood?
AB: You are going against what’s happing. Laura has died, and he’s doing this crazy, Benny Goodman-like dance. David loves that kind of thing, like in Blue Velvet where Ben is singing “In Dreams.” But then, in the end of the scene, the mood changes, as we hear “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” as if we’re back to reality. By the way, Ray Wise has told me that when they were shooting that scene, Ray actually cut his hand on the glass, and they kind of improvised the rest of the scene.
AH: There is one scene in the episode “Coma” which is interesting. Here James, Maddy and Donna sing “Just You.” As a viewer, however, I don’t know exactly how to feel – whether the scene is melodramatic or intentionally off. The acoustics don’t seem to fit (there seems to be a mismatch between the physical room and the musical room), instruments are introduced even if they aren’t part of the scene visually, and James’ singing voice is notably different from his speech voice. What was the idea here? To me, this scene had a certain likeness to the ending of Wild at Heart.
AB: David and I just wrote this song, and David just wanted this song that could work for the three of them and the whole point of the melancholy of that piece was to underscore the relationship between James, Donna and Maddy. It was a song that emotionally worked really well for them, and, yes, the scene is similar to the ending of Wild at Heart. That all comes from David’s head. He does those kinds of outrageous things, like the scene in Blue Velvet.
AH: Twin Peaks has often been described as one of the most important and influential TV series of all time. Do you think that it helped change television (drama), and, if so, how did it change the standards of TV?
AB: I mean, let’s face it, Twin Peaks changed TV, especially the rather conservative network TV, network TV where everyone is rather conservative. It changed it big time. I remember I was working with the great American author Norman Mailer for a movie, and he had told me, after seeing the first show, that “as a result of Twin Peaks, Angelo, TV will never ever be the same again.” As we know now, outrageous and interesting shows aren’t so rare. Nowadays, shows are not so afraid to go down that route. Twin Peaks opened the door to a different kind of TV. Maybe it was just the shock of it all.
AH: It seems as if some of the elements from “Falling” reappear in the “Sycamore Trees”-track which is performed by Jimmy Scott in the final episode of the series. Was that meant as a sort of mirror-version of “Falling,” just as the black male performer could be seen as a mirror-version of the fair-haired female singer at The Roadhouse? Did you use some of the same elements intentionally to underline the theme of mirroring and doubling?
AB: No. That was not intentional at all. However, if there was some mysterious, subliminal thing going on, well that’s cool.
After debating the television series, we turned our attention – however briefly – to the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and I asked Angelo Badalamenti to comment upon the title sequence and a few specific musical themes from the movie.
AH: The title sequence of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is quite different from the title sequence of Twin Peaks, and one noticeable difference is the music. In the opening of Fire Walk with Me, we see a television screen tuned to a dead channel – we see some blue static, and we hear a slow and noticeably darker theme involving whiskers, piano and a (muted) trumpet. There is a sadness and a darkness to this theme, which differ from the theme of Twin Peaks. Which feelings and moods were you trying to evoke, and how would you say that Fire Walk with Me differs from Twin Peaks in terms of mood and tonality?
AB: I just caught that theme. It’s just a small, jazzy kind of tune. It has this Miles Davis-like or bluesy theme. It’s really interesting, and it sets the mood for the film, albeit a very different kind of mood and tone compared with Twin Peaks.
AH: A strong moment in Fire Walk with Me is underscored by the track “Questions in a World of Blue”. To me this fits Laura’s frame of mind perfectly, neatly underscoring her sadness, as she looks in the mirror and cries by the booth in the bar. Were your different songs in Twin Peaks and Fire Walk with Me primarily used to mirror the feelings and psychology of the different characters (apart from establishing a general mood)? Or what would you say?
AB: The whole thing about “Questions in a World of Blue” works in an emotional way, but, even more, the culminating scene with “The Voice of Love.” If you see that angelic scene and hear that music against Laura – this tortured soul going to a better place – that to me is a culmination. It just tears your heart out. The intent there was to show no mercy and to go with it.
“The Voice of Love” from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, as mentioned in the interview:
Elsewhere, I have analyzed the use of sound and music in the scene from “Coma” which is mentioned in this interview.