Lost in the Movies: The Singer (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #62)

The Singer (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #62)

The TWIN PEAKS Character Series surveys one hundred ten characters from the series Twin Peaks (1990-91 on ABC and 2017 on Showtime as The Return), the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), and The Missing Pieces (2014), a collection of deleted scenes from that film. A new character study will appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday although patrons will have immediate access to each entry a month before it goes public. There will be spoilers.
indicates passages added or revised since 2017, if you want to skip directly to fresh material; this is a revision of an earlier piece written before the third season.

In a town that buries so much of its truth, the Singer's voice provides a chorus that not only comments on the emotion of Twin Peaks but gives it form.

Sunday, February 19, 1989*
Laura Palmer enters the Road House where the blonde performer, clad in a white dress on a stage enveloped in red curtains, is singing "Questions in a World of Blue". Laura weeps as she sits down at a table. Donna Hayward enters the bar and watches her. The bartender Jacques Renault gestures toward her and two men approach, offering money in exchange for sex. She mocks them and Donna approaches, knocking back a drink to show Laura that she's ready to tag along.

Friday, February 24, 1989
The singer is dressed in a biker's black leather this weekend, singing "Falling" while Norma Jennings and Ed Hurley discuss their love affair and dream of dumping their spouses. As the singer moves into "The Nightingale", Bobby Briggs and Mike Nelson arrive, stirring up some sardonic interest among the bikers. When Donna walks in, Mike yells at her and first Ed and then the bikers come to her rescue. As Bobby and Mike administer and receive beatdowns, the singer keeps crooning. FBI Agent Dale Cooper and Sheriff Harry Truman can hear the tune from outside, but they never go into the Road House.

Wednesday, March 1, 1989
Hiking through the woods, discussing Laura's murder from the week before, Cooper, Harry, Deputy Hawk Hill, and Dr. Will Hayward hear music wafting through the trees. It's a vinyl record of the Road House singer's "Into the Night" stuck on repeat, as they discover when they finally kick in the door of the cabin where it's playing. Cooper removes the needle and remarks, "There's always music in the air..."

Thursday, March 9, 1989
Wearing a red dress, the singer joyously recites "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart" as Donna and James Hurley discuss a sober subject: the death of local recluse Harold Smith. Donna feels guilty but James shrugs it off: "Everybody's hurt inside." Harry, Cooper, and Margaret "The Log Lady" Lanterman arrive and sit at a table, as if anticipating something. Donna mouths the words of the song to James and he smiles. Time passes, and the singer is deep in a much moodier number, "The World Spins". In Cooper's vision she disappears, and then a giant dissolves into her image once again. Stunned, he watches as she resumes the final verse of the song. An old room service waiter approaches to console him, and Bobby looks around from the bar, vaguely upset. A mournful mood is sweeping over several Road House patrons, including Donna who bursts into sobs as James embraces her. Cooper listens to the music as it fades away, staring at the singer as if she can articulate the secret he feels but cannot speak.

Night unknown
Presented in tandem with scenes unfolding back on February 23, 1989 and much later on October 2, 2016, the singer is clad in a long black dress and crooning "The World Spins" yet again. She appears to be about twenty-five years older than when she sang it in front of Cooper. The stage lights are dim, her face pale and shadowed in the darkness but she refuses to fade away.

Characters who encounter the Singer (or her voice) onscreen…

Laura Palmer
("Questions in a World of Blue")

Donna Hayward
("Questions in a World of Blue"/"Rockin' Back Inside My Heart"/"The World Spins"*)
*retroactively added in March 2024

Jacques Renault
("Questions in a World of Blue")

Norma Jennings and Ed Hurley
("Falling"/"The Nightingale")

Mike Nelson
("The Nightingale")

Bobby Briggs
("The Nightingale"/"The World Spins")

Agent Cooper
("Into the Night"/"Rockin' Back Inside My Heart"/"The World Spins")

Harry Truman
("Into the Night"/"Rockin' Back Inside My Heart"/"The World Spins")

Deputy Hawk
("Into the Night")

Doc Hayward
("Into the Night")

James Hurley
("Rockin' Back Inside My Heart"/"The World Spins")

The Log Lady
("Rockin' Back Inside My Heart"/"The World Spins")

Room Service Waiter
("The World Spins")

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through the Singer
Well, that's just it, right? The singer both presides over interactions between the townspeople and gives them greater meaning. She's all about creating and reflecting impressions of Twin Peaks. When I first reviewed the series, I wrote, "As she sings the show's theme, with lyrics written by Lynch, it's as if the buried underworld of Twin Peaks has suddenly surfaced in all its mystical, oddly transcendent beauty. Angelo Badalamenti's score has lent a melancholy, mysterious underpinning to many scenes but now that this emotional and musical substream is out in the open, part of the fabric of what we're watching, it's quite disorienting. This is a reflexive moment, but one which actually strengthens the hold of that mysterious world onscreen." All of the singer's scenes seem vibrantly relevant to the core of the story: Laura has a crisis of conscience near the eve of her death; Laura's friends express their grief through violence while an older couple attempts to carve out a quiet, tender moment on this melancholy night; the police retrace the final night of Laura on a sunlit day, discovering a location that evokes the magical energy of Twin Peaks within its wooden walls; and finally the show's horrifying secret is surrounded by the disorienting awe and shock of central characters at the Road House. The singer's final appearance on the series marks the dramatic killer's reveal - when she fades away we are swept into Maddy's brutal murder at the Palmer house, and when she fades back up we are allowed to reflect on the violence we've just witnessed and linger over the effects of this realization that this trauma and (perhaps especially) its ripple effect on the community are the true subject of Twin Peaks. The singer bows her head with the weight of this knowledge and Cooper lifts his as a painful attempt to understand it.

The Singer’s journey
The singer is not quite a "character" in the sense of the others we've met so far. Her entire performance consists of singing, and she might very well be the person who plays her. What does have an arc, and a very neat one, is what happens as she sings. The "Questions in a World of Blue" number from the film was of course the last performance to be shot - and it contains a subtle echo of the singer's first scene: two men at the bar notice Laura and approach her, just as Mike and Bobby notice Donna in the pilot. But if we place this scene first in the narrative, the symmetry really emerges. The singer's first appearance is preceded by Laura staring at her own reflection as the pain and sorrow wash over her, and the singer's last appearance is followed by Cooper, staring up at the ceiling as if trying to collect and comprehend the psychic energy released by Laura less than two weeks earlier. If we fold the narrative over itself, that wave of inexplicable emotion washing over the characters echos Laura's agony as she enters the Road House. The characters can feel this without being able to reach back across time and comfort her. The singer is the closest they have to a bridge.
Notably, then, the singer appears one last time when Cooper and Laura, briefly united in the human world for the first time, have just been pulled apart again. The music sounds the same but her appearance is different: she's older now, somehow both more vulnerable and more in command. She isn't in the same space as either of them - not the woods with Cooper nor wherever Laura has gone - but apart in the Road House, a place that perhaps only we have access to in this moment. The bridge has collapsed. The world continues to spin.

Actress: Julee Cruise
Long before she was involved with Twin Peaks, Cruise appeared in several Minneapolis stage productions of children's classics, filmed and featured on television. Naturally, given the theatrical and Minneapolis connections, one might assume Cruise was linked Mark Frost. On the contrary, few Twin Peaks alums are more heavily intertwined with the career of David Lynch. Lynch met Cruise through Blue Velvet, his first collaboration with the composer Angelo Badalamenti. Lynch was looking for someone who could match the vocal quality of Elizabeth Fraser, whose cover (with This Mortal Coil) of "Song to the Siren" Lynch was unable to acquire for the film (he would later find a place for it in Lost Highway). Badalamenti turned to his old acquaintance Cruise for advice, but none of her recommendations panned out so she finally volunteered herself. Even though she was a show-stopping belter by nature, not a whispering crooner, she attempted the effect that Lynch and Badalamenti sought, and all three were amazed with the results: "Mysteries of Love", a hit song from the Blue Velvet soundtrack.

Lynch, Badalamenti, and Cruise recorded a whole album, Floating into the Night, several years later. One of the songs, "Falling", became the instrumental theme for Twin Peaks and Lynch cast Cruise to sing the vocals onstage in the pilot. Later that year she starred as the "The Dreamself of the Heartbroken Woman" in Lynch's live stage show Industrial Symphony No. 1 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, performing a forty-minute stream of Lynch/Badalamenti compositions amongst surreal setpieces. The performance was released on video the following year during the Twin Peaks craze. Her association with the series led to fame and acclaim; "Falling" appeared on the pop charts while Cruise replaced Sinead O'Connor on Saturday Night Live (when that singer dropped out to protest the episode's guest, Andrew Dice Clay), went on tour, and was eventually incorporated into the B-52s. Meanwhile, she fell out with Lynch and Badalamenti during the production of their second album Voice of Love, eventually reconciling and discussing their turbulent collaboration in the documentary Secrets From Another Place. (UPDATE 4/1: I initially forget to link her extensive interview with Brad Dukes.)

Cruise had one more clash with Lynch, although this too appears to have been patched up (see the additional notes below). Beleaguered by chronic health issues, she passed away in 2022. Her husband notifying the world via Facebook: "She left this realm on her own terms. No regrets. She is at peace."

(performance pictured: Industrial Symphony No. 1)

The Pilot

Episode 5 (German title: "Cooper's Dreams")

*Episode 14 (German title: "Lonely Souls" - best episode)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (feature film)

Part 17 (Showtime title: "The past dictates the future.")

Unsurprisingly, the singer was primarily directed by David Lynch - all of her visual appearances to be exact, while her one vocal needle-drop was handled by Lesli Linka Glatter. Mark Frost's teleplays (one in collaboration with Lynch, the others solo) always mention her in detail - the part was obviously written with her in mind, with the pilot script even name-dropping "The Nightingale." Cruise's role in the film was written by Lynch and Robert Engels.

The singer's music is heard for roughly nineteen minutes (including when the band plays but she's not singing, and excluding when her song plays over a frozen image of Cooper in the credits sequence for episode 14). She is in five scenes in four episodes and Fire Walk With Me, taking place over a couple weeks and then a mysterious time perhaps a quarter-century later. She's featured the most in episode 14, when she sings "The World Spins" for the grieving bar. Her only location - aside from her voice heard on a record in a cabin - is the Road House. She shares the most screentime with Donna. She is one of the top ten characters in episode 14.

Best Scene
Episode 14: The singer provides the soundtrack for the heart and soul of the whole series.

Best Line
“Is it me? Is it you? Questions in a world of blue...”

Additional Observations

• There are a few other "lines" I wanted to choose but they didn't quite work. One evocative lyric "Moving near the edge at night/Dust is dancing in the space" (from "The World Spins") is partially cut off in the episode. My favorite Julee Cruise lyric of all is never featured on the series at all, nor is the song. "Floating" kicks off Floating into the Night when Cruise sings, "When you told my secret name, I burst in flames and burned..."

*I'll probably have to address it again elsewhere, but the Fire Walk With Me timeline is a little hard to pin down. I'm locating Laura's Road House encounter on a Sunday night because in The Missing Pieces Lynch shows an establishing shot of a church with parishioners filing outside several minutes before a deleted scene from the Road House/Pink Room trip. Keep in mind too that the next day was historically a holiday (President's Day).

• In my Journey Through Twin Peaks series, I always bracketed each of the four parts with a Julee Cruise song that wasn't featured on the show. With the clips cued up to the appropriate spot: Part 1 kicks off with "Floating" and ends on "Up in Flames"; Part 2 stretches from "Mysteries of Love" to "Movin' on Up"; Part 3 opens with "I Remember" (picking up a different part of the song a few minutes later) before closing with "I Float Alone"; and Part 4 is launched by "She Would Die for Love" (whose lyrics eerily evoke the narrative of Fire Walk With Me) and concludes with "Until the End of the World".

When I published my initial entry on the singer I wrote the following in the "Showtime" section: Yes, Cruise is on the cast list for 2017! (Apologies to the early readers; I initially got this wrong.) This is great news. She will be joined by later Lynch collaborators like Chrysta Bell but nothing will top seeing the original Road House muse, hopefully in her original haunts. She's been cloaked in red (framing violence), white (marking lost innocence), and black (on a day of mourning). How will she appear this time?

The costume would be black once again (a dress this time rather than a leather get-up), mourning perhaps not just the events onscreen but the passage of time and with it, the singer's central place in Twin Peaks (town and show). Cruise appears just once in the new season, lip-syncing to what sounds like the same recording used in episode 14 - despite the fact that Lynch apparently prompted and shot an "insane" live performance so powerful it caused Chromatics member Johnny Jewel to weep after playing back-up in the scene. (This fueled one writer to meditate extensively on what and why Lynch might have whispered to Cruise before the recording, although - adding to the confusion - Jewel implies in another interview that the plan was always "going with playback".) We only hear a portion of "The World Sings" with Cruise's image and voice very slowly fading in from the woods where Cooper has just lost Laura. The lighting is quite dark, and credits roll over most of the sequence. This entire presentation infuriated Cruise (it looked like a snub, intentional or otherwise, to many fans as well), and she took to Facebook with some sharp words for Lynch and the whole experience. The Return's producer Sabrina Sutherland would later say (although unfortunately I can no longer find the citation) that Cruise would speak with either her or Lynch - or both - and resolved their differences after an explanation was offered. In a 2018 Pitchfork piece, one of Cruise's last interviews, she commented on the broader ups and downs of her collaboration with Lynch. Having referred to him derisively as "Emperor" in comments following her Facebook post the year before, she now framed him another way, still exasperated but more affectionate. "It's like I'm his little sister: you don't like your older brother telling you what to do. David's foppish. He can have these tantrums sometimes. And have you ever seen his temper? Anybody can look funny when they get mad. But I love him."

Nonetheless, Cruise remained clear-eyed and assertive about her work and persona quite separate from the meticulous image crafted in her most famous collaboration. She may have been proudest of the parts of her legacy which felt more like they were on her own terms. When spouse Edward Grinnan revealed her death, in what was widely reported as a suicide (apparently planned with composure and shared with loved ones), he noted that her final moments were accompanied by her music...with the B-52s, specifically the song "Roam". Calling that period touring as a replacement "the happiest time of her performing life," Grinnan added, "Now she will roam forever."

While Cruise felt disrespected by The Return, in at least one respect the new material paid her the ultimate tribute. In the credits of the pilot, she is listed as "Girl Singer"; after the killer's reveal, just "Singer", and in Fire Walk With Me, "Roadhouse Singer". Twenty-five years later, following a little space after the rest of the cast list in Part 17, she is attributed as:

"Julee Cruise ... Herself"

Next (available now): Ronette Pulaski
Previous (active on Monday, March 13, 2023 at 8am): Freddie Sykes

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(at the time of publication, this includes full entries on new or revised characters among #61 - 42)

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