"Theme from A Summer Place" it's not. Or is it?
From the evidence I've assembled after a summer of careful watching and listening, I have come to the unequivocal conclusion that Angelo Badalamenti's mesmerizing music of Twin Peaks, as well as the astounding TV movie it defines, have much more in common with that aforementioned seminal work of top-of-the-chart-making teenage angst from 1960, than anyone would ever suspect.
In fact, it is my now-unswervable contention that David Lynch has done nothing less with his endless movie and its soundtrack, than to offer up, in his own twisted image, a profoundly personal and prophetic vision of the music and mythology of 1960, recreating, in effect, an intangible, interminable 1960 of the mind, when a hopeful young JFK rode out of Massachusetts, so jubilant and so doomed, and a Mousketeer named Annette Funicello was our reigning Laura Palmer, the Pineapple Princess, with a dark side only a David Lynch could have imagined and portrayed so cunningly, so deliciously; the murder of a Pineapple Princess, Snow Queen, the tip of the iceberg puncturing the pristine dream of a town caught in 1960,an America suspended in 1960, till it rips that ethereal cool jazz surface of those twangy guitar nights to bloody pieces.
1960 was a year of uncommon darkness in rock 'n' roll, a darkness at every turn reinforced by the music of Twin Peaks: moody, hypnotic, heavy as the weather in the Northwest quadrant. If it never rains in Southern California, it's because Washington and Oregon use it all up before it can travel down the coast. To understand the desperate destinies of the characters living in Twin Peaks, steps away from the Canadian border, Vancouver, aging hippie playground of ponytailed men and women, who disappeared at the end of the 60's with their homemade guns and recreational drugs (and vice versa), one must be on familiar terms with the pop 45's that reached the charts in that eerie and foreboding year, especially those singles which formed the basis of Lynch's own Northwest Sound, as brought to fruition on the soundtrack. Taking equal parts Olympia, Washington's own ethereal Fleetwoods, who'd surfaced in 1959, with "Come Softly to Me," and the sax-driven, cool jazz Wailers (not the reggae group), out of Tacoma, whose "Tall Cool One" made some national noise that same year, Lynch is well on his way toward concocting his own North by Northwest Side Story answer to Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, which debuted on Broadway in 1958, and sent "Maria" to the charts, by Johnny Mathis, in the crucial year of 1960. Throw in The Viscounts' "Harlem Nocturne," for the haunting sax line, and Duane Eddy's "Because They're Young," for the twangy guitar, and you almost have it. The next-to-last element is The Ventures' recording of "The Theme from Peter Gunn," a classic TV detective show of 1960, second only to 77 Sunset Strip in its hipness quotient, the Miami Vice of its time for its use of music. Twin Peaks does Miami Vice, Peta Gunn and 77 Sunset Strip one better, by making its soundtrack an integral part‹if not the integral part‹of its story line!
The final, truly Lynchian piece in my musical thesis, is the 1960 pop charts themselves, which were fairly riddled with death and destruction, especially of the teenage variety. Jody Reynolds' "Endless Sleep" had brought forward the idea of teenage suicide pacts, written in blood, in 1958; Thomas Wayne's gloomy eulogy, "Tragedy," was already on the charts at the time of the plane crash that took Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper on "The Day the Music Died," in 1959. In 1960, the horros were ongoing. That was the year the Bobbettes shot Mr. Lee in "I Shot Mr. Lee." "Teen Angel", by Mark Dinning, recounted a typically grisly result of a teenage joyride. Disguised as old-fashioned Cowboys and Indians, we had "Running Bear," by Johnny Preston and "El Paso," by Marty Robbins; in both of which the young lover perishes in the final verse (to say nothing of Larry Verne's supposed novelty, 'Please Mr. Custer"). In the movie "On the Beach', the entire world was destroyed by a nuclear bomb, with the title tune a hit by Frank Chacksfield. Bobby Darin chose 1960 to revive the saga of the drowned girl, "Clementine." Coincidence? I think not. Nor can it possibly pass unnoticed that by far one of pop's most tragic love songs belonged to 1960, bearing the title "Tell Laura I Love Her." Although this Laura doesn't wind up getting killed (only her race car-driving lover), surely the gnarled subconscious mind of young David Lynch was somewhere ploHing within earshot.
Famously enamored with certain darker shades of the rock 'n' roll experience, namely "Blue Velvet," Lynch was undoubtedly one of the few who heard it in its chart incarnation just prior to Bobby Vinton's hit of 1962, by the Statues in ...1960. Another coincidence? Doubtful. But neither did this tune or any other‹have the impact that year of "Theme from A Summer Place," from the Troy Donohue movie which cut to the heart of thwarted young love, parents vs. children, purity versus corruption, with haunting strings under the guiding hand of Percy Faith. The film may have been Hollywood's answer to West Side Story, itself becoming a Hollywood movie in 1960, a treatise much like Twin Peaks, on the subterranean teenage condition run amok in honor and betrayal, sex and violence, warring tribes and establishment corruption‹the impossibility of escape. I mean, why else would Lynch cast those two forgotten hunks of 1960, Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn, for such prominent roles in Twin Peaks, reuniting them for the first time since they were matched in ... West Side Story!?
You can't make these things up.
In 1960 America, teenage morality and good music was defined by "A Summer Place" ... a place that was safe and warm, where good girls all wore "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini's" and dreamed of "Puppy Love." But a rumbling guitar and an insouciant saxophone netherworld existed below the surface of every seething dream, ready to explode in multicolored fireworks of self-expression.
Twin Peaks' own dreamlike theme song, "Falling" by Julee Cruise, is so cool jazzy and ethereal it's hardly a song, barely more than a whisper of a theme, birdlike on the wind, more gossamer than The Fleetwoods, and translucent as Twiggy. Similarly, Twin Peaks sustains its momentum on the dreams of its assorted sordid citizens: Laura and her legion of lovers, the boys of 1960. Bobby once had a dream of playing football, now dreams of taking care of Leo, and, not incidentally, Leo's wife, Shelly, who dreams of escape, as do James and Donna; Ed's patch-eyed wife, Nadine, had a dream of getting a patent on her silent curtain rollers; Audrey dreams of bringing her Marlene Dietrich act to One-Eyed Jacks (Roy Orbison sang "Blue Angel" in 1960); Ben and his brother Jerry (!) dream of burning down the mill. (Jack Scott had a hit with "Burning Bridges" in 1960.) FBI agent Cooper dreams of getting his slice of the pie (didn't Skip & Flip do "Cherry Pie" in 1960? You know they did). In his dream he sees Laura's killer; Laura's mother and cousin saw the killer in separate visions; Laura's cousin dreams of becoming her cousin's mirror image; Laura's shrink dreams of saving her from herself. (Johnny Burnette's big hit of 1960 was "Dreamin'"; his cousin, Harold Dorman, sang "Mountain of Love" in 1960. But Marv Johnson's smash was "Move Two [!] Mountains.") You think all this was lost on a malleable radio slave like Lynch? I'm not saying the writers used every title in planning their insidious scenario ... Iet history be the judge of that
Laura had her own dark dreams, of course, and was, herself the town's dream girl, cheerleader, Pineapple Princess turned rotten at the core of an America stuck in 1960. In such a context, the story of Laura Palmer (LP!) is less a murder mystery than the mystery of a murder, the mysterious path it wreaks through the under belly of a town; and the question of who killed her is probably moot, the more appropriate one being, who didn't?
Regardless, it would be almost 20 years after "A Summer Place" and West Side Story until The Bee Gees, Saturday Night Fever, and John Travolta's confident index finger jabbing at the sky would come to redefine movie music as hopelessly glittery accessible disco trash. But now, after 13 years of dirty dancing, David Lynch and Angelo Badalament, with their Duane Eddy-inspired, Wailers-informed, whispery Fleetwoods-like North by Northwest Side Story soundtrack have given us another chance, complete with sex, lies and videotape.
It's 1960, America, at the edge of the New Fronter all over again. Wake up and smell the coffee!
- Bruce Pollock