Remembering the ethereal voice that guided the world of Twin Peaks and set the Dream Pop template.
The sound of David Lynch – or at least the sound of Twin Peaks, which might be much the same thing in the end – is the sound of Julee Cruise. This connection seemed to be more problematic for Cruise than for Lynch over the years – while he had lots of creative things going on, she would forever be linked to one TV show and one director, something that seemed to cause both pride and resentment.
Cruise was picked out of relative obscurity by Angelo Badalamenti in 1985 to sing Mysteries of Love, a track that he and Lynch had written to replace the prohibitively expensive Song to the Siren by This Mortal Coil. You could call the track a copycat piece – a minimalist and unsettlingly dreamy track with ethereal vocals – but it worked perfectly and Lynch saw something there that would work perfectly for more expansive projects. The first of those was the extraordinary 1989 LP Floating Into the Night, with music by Badalamenti, lyrics by Lynch and vocals by Cruise, which Lynch then used as the centrepiece of his much-underrated performance piece/long-form music video Industrial Symphony No.1, an odd missing link between Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks. Both are incredible pieces but the album is just gorgeous – dark, trippy, heartbreaking and spooky. Every shoegazing band since has wanted to be this good but none have come close.
But it was the theme song to Twin Peaks that really made Cruise a name. While the TV show used the instrumental version, the vocal version appeared on the soundtrack album and was released as a single – her only significant hit. In the show, the Badalamenti instrumental sets the scene for a dark dreamscape; the vocal version, however, enhances the sense of tragedy and mystery. Cruise would appear in the show and Fire Walk With Me as a torch singer at the Roadhouse, appearing in significant episodes to perform tracks from Floating Into the Night – her performance of The World Spins as the characters somehow realise that something awful is about to reoccur is one of the most effectively unsettling and unforgettable moments in TV history.
The problem, of course, with being so connected to a single TV show and a director as singular as Lynch is that once it ends, you’ll struggle to find your own identity. As much as it was Cruise’s haunting voice that made those songs come to life, they were still Lynch/Badalamenti songs at the end of the day. They had a sound that came from the Lynch universe and once you are removed from that, everything else you do will seem lacking. Her second album with the duo, 1993’s The Voice of Love, was a collection of leftovers and soundtrack songs, and it’s good – just not as good as Floating Into the Night. She probably needed to move on and find her own sound, but her third album would take a decade to appear and for most of the 1990s, Cruise was a touring singer with the B52s – not a full band member but simply filling in for the absent Cindy Wilson at live shows. This may have been financially worthwhile but it didn’t feel like a great creative move – by the time she returned to recording as a solo artist, the public interest had dissipated.
However, she did a lot of musical theatre and guest appearances/collaborations with a variety of acts. Her post-Lynch solo albums – 2002’s The Art of Being a Girl and 2011’s My Secret Life – have their moments but they seem to lack direction, aiming to move away from the previous dream-pop sound but not really having anywhere else to go. Had the earlier albums not existed, they’d seem fine; as it is, they are somewhat lacking. And invariably, everyone still wanted to talk to her about Twin Peaks. In 2017, she was part of Twin Peaks: The Return, appearing in episode 17, but although she was gushingly complimentary about Lynch, Badalamenti and the show during production, after it aired she called it “a slap in the face” after the track – another performance of The World Spins – was cut short (much as it was in the original show) and dismissed Lynch as an “Emporer” and claimed to have been treated like trash. Eyebrows were raised at the seeming contradictions and at first, it seemed like nothing more than a bruised ego – unlike in the original series, Cruise was just one of many musical performers in this third series. However, the revelation that she suffered from depression made her emotional shifts more understandable. By 2018, the rift seemed healed as she stated in an interview “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.”
Indeed, illness would, unfortunately, plague Cruise from this point on. In 2018, she announced that she had systemic lupus, which made it difficult to walk or even stand and left her in continual pain. It was perhaps not a complete surprise, then, that she would choose to put an end to this continual suffering. Her husband Edward Grinnan stated that “she left this realm on her own terms. No regrets. She is at peace”.
Julee Ann Cruise 1956 – 2022.
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