Just as David Lynch’s series inspired a new form of TV, so Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack has echoed down the decades, acquiring a life of its own.
David Lynch was telling a story. It was 1989 and the director was sitting next to the composer Angelo Badalamenti at the keyboard of a Fender Rhodes in the latter’s Manhattan office. Lynch and screenwriter Mark Frost were about to start making Twin Peaks, a through-the-looking-glass soap opera in which a murder exposes the secret life of a small town in the Pacific north-west of the United States, and they needed a soundtrack.
In Lynch’s head, music, imagery and narrative were inextricably intertwined, so he told Badalamenti to imagine he was alone in woods at night. The wind was blowing, an owl was hooting. Badalamenti picked out an ominous, low motif. Slower, said Lynch. “Just slow things down and it becomes more beautiful.” Now, he said, picture a distressed teenage girl emerging from the darkness, getting closer. Badalamenti steadily climbed the keyboard, resolving the melody on an ecstatic high before falling back into the night. It took just 20 minutes and Badalamenti suggested developing it further, but Lynch replied, “Don’t change a single note. I see Twin Peaks.” They had just written “Laura Palmer’s Theme”.
Debuting on 8 April, 1990, Twin Peaks was a pioneering example of unorthodox, auteur-driven event TV and arguably the first pop-culture phenomenon of the new decade, with fans including Steven Spielberg, David Bowie and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The soundtrack album, an international hit, infiltrated pop to an unprecedented degree, homaged by artists from Anthrax and Marilyn Manson to the KLF and Moby, who launched his career by folding “Laura Palmer’s Theme” into his rave track “Go”. To love Twin Peaks was to love Badalamenti’s music, which he has called “my defining work as a composer”.
“If you hum the first notes of the opening theme you’re immediately transported into another world,” says Jamie Stewart of Los Angeles-based band Xiu Xiu. “Apart from the timpani in 2001: A Space Odyssey, almost nothing else is as evocative.”
Twin Peaks’s mainstream success lasted only a few months. A confused second season and a divisively strange movie prequel without Frost’s involvement, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, returned it to the cultish realm that Lynch’s work usually inhabited. Nevertheless, in recent years it has cast its spell over pop yet again. You can detect it, whether implicit or explicit, in Lana Del Rey’s doomed prom queen persona, Bastille’s song “Laura Palmer”, the gothic pop of Sky Ferreira’s Palmer-quoting “Night Time, My Time”, the sweet yet sinister ambience of the band Beach House, and much more. A benefit concert organised by Lynch in Los Angeles in 2015 featured the Flaming Lips, Karen O, Zola Jesus and Duran Duran playing the music of Twin Peaks and of his movies. So although Twin Peaksis returning in May for a third season, it has never really gone away.
Angelo Badalamenti turned 80 this week. He grew up in a musically inclined Sicilian-American family in Brooklyn and began composing on the piano when he was 10, already drawn to the “beautiful darkness” that would define his career. After graduating with an MA from the Manhattan School of Music, he built up a diverse CV under the anglicised alias Andy Badale, writing songs for Nina Simone, composing musicals, scoring crime movies and working with the French electronic music pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey.
In 1985, a mutual colleague introduced Badalamenti to Lynch, who needed a voice coach for Isabella Rossellini, the star of his new film Blue Velvet. Lynch was so impressed that he hired him to compose the score. Unable to afford This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren”, Lynch gave Badalamenti some lyrics and asked him to write something in the same dream-pop vein as a theme for the film. “Make it like the wind, Angelo,” was his typically Lynchian brief. “It should be a song that floats on the sea of time.”
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