Angelo Badalamenti’s Fire Walk With Me OST soundtracked an underrated Lynchian masterpiece
To mark 25 years of the haunting Fire Walk With Me OST, writer, DJ and champion of musical subcultures Daniel Jones recalls the role the score played in his own cultural awakening
Original Release Date: 7 August, 1992
Label: Warner Bros. Records
When a mutant like myself grows up in a place as culturally desolate as 90s Midwest America, they have to put some decent energy into finding outlets and inspiration for their various weirdness. Amongst the Throbbing Gristle records and poorly-edited occult philosophies one might have found on my teen-self shelves, one item always held pride of place: a VHS copy of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
When one thinks of Twin Peaks, a few clear pieces of cultural iconography come to mind: damn fine coffee, owls not being what they seem, and so forth. More than this, there’s a memory of quirky, playful weirdness; the kind that makes you go, “Well… hm.” There’s darkness, but it’s tinged with hope, thanks in large part to Angelo Badalamenti’s wonderful score. Despite a meandering stretch in season two following David Lynch’s temporary departure, the series always had an agenda of working toward resolving Laura Palmer’s death. In the Fire Walk With Me prequel, there are still mysteries to uncover, but the looming inevitability of Laura’s death keeps the films’ atmosphere firmly in the realm of terror and woe.
At the age of 14, I’d never seen a horror film like this before, one so rooted in psychological evil and abuse rather than gore and monsters. Krueger and Voorhees had long taken their limb-ripping and soul-eating to such cartoonish heights that it was impossible to be scared of the buckets of red tempura paint following behind them. But in Twin Peaks, I found that old childhood fear of the dark again. In each lingering shot would come swiftly growing unease, even during the most innocuous of action. Before I saw this slice of celluloid, my childhood terrors were humans portraying monsters. Lynch opened my eyes to the monsters portraying humans.
It wasn’t easy to find film soundtracks in my boring little town, but in the dusty recesses of some forgotten garage sale, hidden ‘twixt scrap books and successful trash, the grey light of an autumn afternoon shew’d me the face of Laura Palmer. Listening to it that day, in my candle-lit cliché of a batcave, was the first time I truly understood the power that a film’s soundtrack can carry. A sense of menace pervades even the mellowest of Fire Walk With Me’s compositions, undercutting jaunty lounge grooves with saw-edge strings and a variety of vocals that vary between somber reflection and soused snarling. In the hiss and pop of that used vinyl, I drank aural beauty as vast and black as the sky behind my curtains, unspooling like velvet ribbons of flesh into my mind. A barely-teen brain assembling pictures in the near-dark, cobbled together from myriad cultural flotsam and the glories of cable TV: 50s Americana sleaze, the cast of Grease performing dark rituals in the forest, acrid perfume mingled with blood and gasoline.
At this age, in this time, all of these signifiers served to entice a mind disillusioned with small town life, more willing to see something ugly in a stranger’s smile than something wholesome. What stuck with me more than anything, however, was the elegance in that ugliness. Whereas most of my listening confronted the world with blunt instruments and black leather, Badalamenti brought a stiletto switchblade and a nightclub tuxedo. Where devils usually howled, lost angels attended.
The ethereal presence of singer Julee Cruise – perhaps Twin Peaks most iconic musical voice – on the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack is truly haunting, but it’s the late jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott that truly shifted my musical perceptions. Imagine a crusty, gothy little kid with chronic hyperactivity – sitting through a four minute piano torch song at that age was unthinkable. But the moment I heard that smouldering countertenor, I was filled with a profound ache. In that voice I heard a beautiful sadness, as alien and human as the Black Lodge. That day I got my first lesson in nuanced sorrow – as integral to existence as a damn fine cup of coffee.
With the success of the new Twin Peaks (more inscrutable and arguably as dark as Fire Walk With Me ever was) perhaps modern audiences will look more kindly on the film. If nothing else, it might at least change some weird little kid’s life.