GLIMPSES OF THE MYSTERY
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In reading Daniel Dylan Ray's informative piece on "The Secrets Behind the Music of 'Twin Peaks: The Return'", one paragraph in particular left me slack-jawed. It's the one in which Ray gives Johnny Jewel the floor to describe the nerve-wracking but ultimately transcendent experience of backing Julee Cruise (along with his bandmates from Chromatics) in her performance of "The World Spins"--arguably the most iconic song in the history of the Roadhouse, both for its indispensable encapsulation of the regnant mood of the original series and now for the almost unbearable emotional weight it is tasked to carry in Part 17 of The Return as perhaps the last all-too-fleeting glimpse of the Twin Peaks we once knew before the desolation of Part 18.
Ray's treatment of Jewel's involvement with the performance starts predictably enough with the usual tales of a young artist's temerity about being asked to perform a legendary song with a beloved musical icon in a high stakes venue. Jewel confesses to being "really manic about doing it," citing the song's oddity, long duration, and difficult non-linear composition. He admits to Chromatics' obsessive preparation for the performance, which took the form of playing the song "six to eight hours a day, over and over" for "about a week and a half." And he notes the bands' deep desire to keep the spotlight focused unwaveringly on Cruise: "We were aiming to be shadows." But then comes the paragraph--which I'll cite here at length--in which Jewel flashes the gem that got me dreaming:
"Though Lynch generally let the various Roadhouse bands simply do their thing, according to Jewel, the director did whisper something to Cruise that changed their scene dramatically. “The first take felt very logical, but then after David spoke to her, the second take was insane. The feeling on stage was so incredible. The difference was night and day.” The performance with Cruise proved to be an overpowering one for Jewel. “I held it together at the Roadhouse, but when we left I completely lost it and was sobbing uncontrollably for hours,” he says." (Daniel Dylan Ray, "The Secrets Behind the Music of 'Twin Peaks: The Return'", Pitchfork, September 4, 2017)
The mystery! The intrigue! What in blue blazes could Lynch have whispered to Cruise to take the performance of "The World Spins" from "logical" to "insane" on a sprinting moment's notice, elevating the intensity of the experience to such vertiginous heights that dream-pop's reigning auteur was forced to crawl back from the precipice in a storm of tears following the performance? What did Lynch whisper to Cruise to catalyze this radical transformation of the second and final take of "The World Spins"? And why, if getting a next-level performance of Cruise's song was so urgent to Lynch that he resorted to motivational whispers before the second take, and if (by Jewel's account) he got that dazzling performance and then some--why on earth does Lynch only show us a scant two and a half minutes of a mind-blowing six minute song, and mask those precious minutes, to boot, with rolling credits?
I said above that Jewel's revelations about this transcendent session "got me dreaming," and I chose that language on purpose. In Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, David Lynch shares the beloved story of how Frank Silva's inadvertent failure to get off set before the camera rolled on one of Grace Zabriskie's harrowing Sarah Palmer scenes was the happy accident that gave birth to BOB, the series' ur-villain and the insuperable horizon of evil in Twin Peaks for near to three decades before Judy ret-conned him out of a job. Of this famous example of how his signature combination of intuition and openness to mystery spun destiny from mere happenstance, Lynch nonchalantly observes "So things like this happen and make you start dreaming. And one thing leads to another, and if you let it, a whole other thing opens up." (78)
In pondering Jewel's tantalizing comment, I got to dreaming, one thing led to another, and a whole other thing opened up for me. Obviously, my dreaming about Lynch's whispers to Cruise was decidedly less dramatic and consequential than the dreaming that led Lynch to one of film's most terrifying incarnations of evil; it would be absurd to suggest anything more than a structural parallel here. Nonetheless, my dream gathered some accidental and disparate thoughts and worries that had been scratching about in my mind since the bewildering finale and sutured them into an epiphany: Julee Cruise's truncated performance of "The World Spins" at the end of Part 17 captures the spiritual heart of Twin Peaks: The Return. Allow me to explain by unpacking my dream.
The dreaming began in part because, since the finale, I've been in a heightened state of susceptibility to reflection and wonder about whispering. Part 18 ends with Laura literally whispering into Cooper's ear, but whispering is also a powerful metaphor for secrets and the havoc they wreak on the people who keep them, the people who give them away, and the people who desperately want to be in on them. In The Secret History of Twin Peaks, at the pivotal moment where the recent history of the town of Twin Peaks itself becomes the focal point of the dossier, 'Archivist' Garland Briggs forebodingly tells us that "Moving forward in time, it is important that we learn to distinguish between mysteries and secrets. Mysteries precede humankind, envelop us and draw us forward into exploration and wonder. Secrets are the work of humankind, a covert and often insidious way to gather, withhold, or impose power. Do not confuse the pursuit of one with the manipulation of the other."
Having stewed a bit these past three months over Briggs' words and the interpretive vistas they open on the series, I was immediately intrigued by my own conflicted response to learning from Jewel that Lynch had whispered something in Cruise's ear, and that this whisper had somehow transformed the session. On the one hand, there was this prurient desire to know the secret of what he said to her; and on the other, this gathering sense of wonder as to what mystery might alight from mindfully wandering the path between Lynch's whispers to Cruise and his decision to show us so very little of the transcendent performance that resulted from what Cruise conjured in response. As I began to traverse this mental path, I recalled two other bits of information that, taken together, had spiked my curiosity earlier in the week: the facts that Julee Cruise had reported being "very proud" of her work for Twin Peaks in an L.A. Times article filed before the finale, but was making headlines that very same day for posting vitriolic criticism on social media after the finale of the way her performance was used in it.
Calling Lynch an "emperor" and claiming that she had been dealt with "like trash," Cruise objected both to the truncation of the performance and to what she called its "sloppy" effect, elaborating in comment threads that she experienced the finale as a "slap in the face" and had been treated badly on set as well. My dream gathered in these uncomfortable thoughts--that Twin Peaks (the actual cast and crew this time, rather than the fictional town) maybe isn't just the big happy family I love to read about in interviews with Laura Dern or Kyle MacLachlan, that an artist whose work has profoundly shaped my imagination and brought me abiding joy across three decades might have seriously mistreated--maybe even abused the trust!--of another artist whose work I deeply love (and whose album Floating Into the Night pulled me through the darkest years of graduate school, racking up some 2,800 listens before the iPod that was counting them fell into a toilet). I was momentarily amused that life was suddenly imitating art here in my dream--that Twin Peaks, in actuality and on screen, was threatening to dispel my nostalgia, my illusions, my hope in untarnished personal heroes worthy of unceasing laud and honor. The amusement was fleeting though. The idea that David Lynch might have whispered a misleading secret with the intent to impose power--to get something from Cruise that he needed for his art but that she wouldn't have given him voluntarily had she known his intent was suddenly as unsettling as the idea--raised by David Auerbach in his dazzling "Theory of Cooper, Laura, Diane, and Judy"--that Cooper might be using both Diane and Laura as pawns in a White Lodge sting on Judy.
As often happens when dark thoughts intrude on pleasant dreaming, I got down to the business of drumming up a sublimation strategy for transforming unsettling news into good news. I'd been thinking a lot lately about the controversial "sync" interpretation of Parts 17-18 after watching the synced finale several times and taking hundreds of stills for a recent post on it. In the final moments of the synched finales, something happens that--despite my skepticism of the sync interpretation as a whole--nevertheless was breathtaking to experience: on the left side in Part 17, we see Dale Cooper leading Laura Palmer "home" by the hand, having just saved her from being murdered in an alternate timeline; on the right side in Part 18, we see Laura whispering into Cooper's ear, his visage intrigued but dispassionate. As Cooper leads Laura through the woods in Part 17, the tell-tale phonograph skips and Laura is snatched away screaming, leaving Cooper staring plaintively into the woods at the spot of her disappearance as the trees begin a slow dissolve into Cruise's performance of "The World Spins" in the Roadhouse; in Part 18, meanwhile, we see Cooper's face, formerly at ease, register what looks like deep concern--perhaps even suppressed horror--at the decisive moment in Part 17 that the the red curtains begin fully to saturate the dissipating trees. Back in Part 18, Cooper and Laura fade to black and the "Lynch/Frost Productions" placard appears, unprecedentedly lacking the usual accompanying electrical sounds, thus allowing Cruise's performance to continue unmarred just to the left in Part 17. In the version of the sync that I watched (which has since been taken down), as Part 18 concludes and the screen on the right goes permanently black, Cruise's continuing performance on the left screen enlarges in size until it fills up the full screen, crowding out the space where I had been watching Part 18 just moments before.
The effect of watching the two episodes in sync, especially at the end, at least for this viewer, was the distinct impression that the "true" end of The Return is not what it initially seemed. The final scene is not, as we had feared, Part 18's harrowing depiction of a thwarted Cooper (Richard?) and a shrieking Carrie (Laura?) marooned in a hollowed out and haunted Twin Peaks, nor is our last glimpse of the show a hopelessly bleak tableau of Laura and Cooper still trapped in the Lodge. Instead, we get Part 17's decidedly more hopeful final scene of a resolute Cooper leading a saved Laura "home;" even though they don't make it and Laura is snatched away, the *real* Cooper's last vision of Twin Peaks (and ours) is of those majestic trees dissolving into the Roadhouse, where Julee Cruise sings the soaring words "Love, don't go away! Come back this way! Come back and stay forever!" as the credits roll.
After all this dreaming, I imagined myself ready to assemble all the pieces and reconstruct what must have happened on that fateful day at the Roadhouse--not the fictional Roadhouse that emerged from those resplendent trees, but the actual Roadhouse where David Lynch whispered something into Julee Cruise's ear that transformed the second and final performance of "The World Spins," and on the basis of what we have come to learn since, likely played a role in souring Cruise on the portrayal of her performance in Part 17. I dreamed that Lynch whispered this: "Your performance is the final glimpse that anyone will ever get of the Twin Peaks we know and love. Make it count!" Or perhaps instead of "Make it count!", he adopted the even more urgent language that he used to summon Angelo Badalementi to action for the The Return: "I’ll need music from you, and it’s got to tear the hearts out of people.” (Daniel Dylan Ray, "The Secrets Behind the Music of Twin Peaks").
I'm just dreaming here, but if my dream were resonant with reality--talk about motivation! No wonder Jewel described the performance as going from "logical" to "insane" on a dime! Lynch asked Cruise (in my imagination) for nothing short of an apocalyptic performance--a song to mark the end of a world--and she delivered just that. She probably thought, as I certainly would have, that given her performance's magisterial character and its apocalyptic destiny, it would be prominently featured at the very end of Part 18. Having been told--in some random fan's imagination, anyhow--that this would be our very last glimpse of Twin Peaks, she inferred, as any reasonable person would, that what she would be watching on September 3rd at roughly 9:54 pm eastern time was her own scintillating performance at the Roadhouse--the one that was so beautiful and otherworldly and transporting that it put Johnny Jewel out of commission--bringing down the final curtain on a world that many of us can scarcely imagine life without. Instead, she gets roughly two blurry minutes in the penultimate episode (with credits rolling over her for most of it!) followed by the brutal throat punch of Part 18. I know how I felt when I thought I was going to get six minutes of "The World Spins" ("No Stars" got seven, so it wasn't irrational to hope!) and then got just two. And I know how I felt sitting there nauseated after Part 18 with no hope, no catharsis--just a baffled fallen hero and a woman gutted by abuse that he failed to save. So I can well imagine why Julee Cruise was mad as hell. I was verging on bewildered myself, and--even in my dream--the creator of Twin Peaks hadn't whispered me any secret promises.
Above, I described Cruise's truncated performance of "The World Spins" as "capturing the spiritual heart of Twin Peaks," but perhaps in light of Lynch's stated desire to "tear the hearts out of people," it would be more fitting to say that his decision to abbreviate Cruise's performance is emblematic of the spiritual guts of Twin Peaks. (Or maybe since the series is so absurdly rich in interpretive possibilities, I should specify that it captures just one of the spiritual stomachs in the four-chambered bovine digestive system of Twin Peaks or something; let's just go with "spiritual guts," though). The truncated performance of "The World Spins" that we are so fleetingly shown at the end of Part 17 digests the series down to its nauseating but ultimately liberating essence by demanding that we rise to the occasion of having our deepest yearnings wrenchingly withheld by simply evacuating ourselves of them--letting them go, refusing to allow them to determine the horizons of what we are able to take in moving forward. Since the metaphor is waxing scatological anyway, let's just cinch it up and say that Twin Peaks, in its guts, is a sort of laxative for pent up expectations of the world the protracted retention of which renders us inert, dulls our attention, and creates a toxic environment in the body. For those who can release the need to know the secret of what happened to Cooper, Diane, Laura, Audrey, and Judy, there is the bracing, freeing opportunity to wonder at the grand mystery toward which our anxiety over their unresolved stories points: the irresolution and open-endedness of our own stories.
I still find it deeply unsettling that Cruise was mistreated, and there's probably nothing I would have rather seen come to pass in Twin Peaks than the "insane" six-plus-minute performance of "The World Spins" that turned Johnny Jewel into a sobbing mess. But even so, that transcendent performance that I didn't see--that desperately desired experience withheld from me--got me dreaming, the dreaming led to wondering, and the next thing I knew, something else entirely had opened up and I had spent the better part of a day in the edifying virtual presence of Julee Cruise and her achingly gorgeous music. Let's call it a silver (stomach?) lining.