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Film

How the music of Julee Cruise enhanced the mystery of 'Twin Peaks'

@Russellisation

“I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange,” speaks Agent Dale Cooper, the fervent detective of David Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks, set in a dreamlike world stuck halfway between fantasy and reality. This strange world is scored by the beautiful ambience of Julee Cruise’s ethereal vocals, scattered throughout several key moments of the series as her audible and physical presence becomes something of a divine presence.

Veiled in a light chimeric fog, Twin Peaks, situated in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness “five miles south of the Canadian border, and twelve miles west of the state line” as stated by Agent Cooper, plays host to the horrific murder of young Laura Palmer. Rocked by the news, the town falls into a state of paralysis with characters feeling like lost spirits wandering through the wilderness, as a strange malevolent force shrouds the town with dark mystery. 

To discuss the plot of Twin Peaks is to sidetrack its true appeal, however, with much of the series’ majesty coming from the idiosyncratic style of David Lynch and his careful collaboration with musician Julee Cruise. Working together throughout the series, the two creatives formed a symbiotic creative partnership, with the music of Cruise quickly becoming an indelible part of the Twin Peaks puzzle, her ethereal sounds weaved into the very fabric of the show to become an omniscient hymn to the ongoing mystery.

Working closely alongside Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti who helped compose much of the show’s music, the music of Twin Peaks became a crucial storytelling arm with Cruise’s album Floating into the Night being used at several points throughout the series. In a conversation with Pitchfork in 2018, Cruise spoke fondly of this collaboration, recalling, “It was really a great team because Angelo and I are so malleable and so good at being chameleons. If you want me to sing a high A flat, I’ll do it. If you want me to weigh 80 pounds, I’ll do it. I’m an actor, I’m a musician, I’m a writer”.

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Often reflecting the sentiment of the show’s current mood, Cruise’s music can be romantic, joyous and even triumphant, but a through-line from ‘Falling’ to ‘Mysteries of Love’ is a yearning for something ethereal, be it love, kinship or success. Cruise’s soft angelic vocals access the true pain at the heart of Twin Peaks, evoking the tragedy of the loss of Laura Palmer whilst desperately trying to find truth in the fog of the town’s mystery.

This is perfectly accentuated halfway through the show’s second series wherein tragedy repeats itself and another life is taken from the rural town. At this moment several key characters find themselves at the Roadhouse bar, including Agent Cooper, and three of Laura Palmer’s previous friends. Equally joyous and deeply heart-wrenching, Lynch spins the emotional resonance of the initially romantic scene on its head, using Julee Cruise’s haunting vocals in order to do so.

Eliciting an astonishing level of intensity and emotional sensation as the scene transitions from the joyous romance of Cruise’s stage performance of ‘Rockin Back Inside My Heart’. Suddenly Carel Struycken’s surreal Giant appears on stage and utters: “It is happening again”, to the vacant stare of Special Agent Cooper. Replaced by Cruise once more, the singer takes to the stage, this time with the more emotionally melancholy, ‘The World Spins’ as the aura of the room fills with visceral pain like a gentle blanket over a weary heart. 

Julee Cruise takes us to an impossible ethereal plain and leaves us floating in rhapsody.