“Today, no music”, David Lynch slipped sharply on Monday in his usual weather report on YouTube (rain, cloudy weather, 7°C). Silence. Modest way to announce that day the death of his musical collaborator and artistic twin, the composer Angelo Badalamenti, at the age of 85. Of blue-velvet at Twin Peaks, the Return, the musician instinctively knew how to put Lynch’s universe into sound: soundtracks of black films from elsewhere, lounge music for fallen angels on vocals, mental wallpaper for the vitiated dreams of young high school girls, decadent strings and petrifying synths. To measure the degree of symbiosis between him and the filmmaker, you have to see this video where Badalamenti explains the genesis of Laura Palmer’s theme in Twin Peaksin the tone of a schoolgirl recounting her first night of love: Lynch, who had not yet shot a single scene in the TV series, described to her the images that came to mind and Badalamenti responded by improvising on the keyboard, like an invocation. “Behind a tree in the woods is this lonely young girl and her name is Laura Palmer, and it’s very sad…”
Born in Brooklyn in 1937 into an Italian-American family, he dabbled in the piano from the age of 8 (to be popular with young girls, he would say) then the French horn. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music in 1959, Badalamenti recounted his brave initiatives to fit his compositions by approaching artists directly: Nat King Cole in the toilet during the intermission of one of his concerts (“this is not the moment”, he will answer) and, with success, Nina Simone for two songs (I Hold No Grudge and He Ain’t Comin’ Home No More, under the much less angelic pseudonym of Andy Badale).
“Make it float like the tide”
After having been a music teacher and having provided the repertoire of soul singers (Nancy Wilson, Melba Moore) or even Enrico Macias, he made his first foray into soundtrack on a blaxploitation film, Gordon’s War (1973). Where he convinces the African-American filmmaker Ossie Davis of his closeness to the genre because his Sicilian roots place him “not far from Africa” (the director’s first musical choice was initially Barry White). His arrival at Lynch will be curiously less straightforward. On blue-velvet (1986), he was first called upon to be Isabella Rossellini’s vocal coach, then, one thing led to another, he composed the song Mysteries of Love (performed by Julee Cruisealso French horn player) on these instructions from Lynch: “Make it float like the tide, make it gather time and space.” Badalamenti would eventually compose all of the film’s music and work on Lynch’s subsequent works. He will be such a part of the set that he will play the piano on the set of blue-velvet to inspire the actors and will make a memorable brief appearance as a very fussy mobster about the quality of his espresso in Mulholland Drive (2001).
In 1990, the themes of TV series credits sold the spotlights of Beverly Hills or the triumph of the American justice system in New York. The haunted one of Twin Peaks would earn Badalamenti a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Better still, he endows each character with his own tailor-made theme: the victim Laura Palmer of course, but also Audrey Horne, who likes to sway to the tune of this Audrey’s Dance which she describes as “dreamer”. “Abstract Jazz” sums up Badalamenti more prosaically. He will be able to maintain Lynch’s other wet nightmares wonderfully in any context, such as existing in the midst of the luxurious dark rock’n’roll cast (Bowie, Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson) from the soundtrack of Lost Highway (1997) letting go dub-driving under Jamaican influence.
behind a red curtain
But, musically versatile, Badalamenti is fortunately not only “Lynchian” when he plants country-bluegrass accents on the most accessible and luminous A true story. Or that he works for other a priori distant filmmakers like Chuck Russell (The Claws of the Nightmare3rd installment of Freddy Krueger with the chilling soundtrack, in 1987) Caro and Jeunet (the city of lost children in 1995), Danny Boyle (the beach in 2000) or Nicole Garcia (the opponent in 2002). Badalamenti confessed to being fond of his soundtrack for the unknown Strange seduction (1990) by Paul Schrader, a twisted thriller whose Venetian setting pushes the composer to draw on Nino Rota or Ennio Morricone to deliver an opulent score.
Outside the cinema, his collaborations could have a certain obviousness when he remains in the Lynchian bosom with the album of Julee Cruise, Floating in the Night (1989), or provides a setting for another idiosyncratically vocal singer like Marianne Faithfull on her album A Secret Life (1995). But he will also provide strings to the synth-pop Pet Shop Boys, cover George Gershwin with David Bowie, get his hands dirty with the metalheads of Anthrax or even compose the anthem of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 – a theme that he unearths in the shower after drying on it for a long time. He had of course returned in the final season of Twin Peaks, with sparing use of well-known themes, more gloomy new pieces or the secretly bright and future classic Heartbreaking, piano tune that hypnotizes Dale Cooper – Lynch had commissioned Badalamenti “Italian restaurant music” for this scene. Here come the fans heartbroken, heartbroken, not far from imagining Badalamenti now strolling behind a red curtain, somewhere between the white and black boxes, those labyrinthine beyonds of joy and terror that hover over the town of Twin Peaks.