The iconic dream pop singer Julee Cruise tragically passed away on Friday. Cruise was beloved among film fans for her collaborations with surrealist filmmaker David Lynch and his composer Angelo Badalamenti. The three artists worked in tandem to create unique, unconventional soundtracks. Lynch provided the memerizing visuals and Badalamenti delivered the haunting overtones, but it was Cruise who found the beauty amidst the darkness. What’s scary about Lynch’s work isn’t that he’s showing a world without hope; he takes the time to spotlight moments of beauty, and show how they are corrupted.
Lynch’s 1990 series Twin Peaks changed the history of television forever. The entire concept of the “Golden Age of Television” in some way derived front the precedent that Lynch set; Twin Peaks was a week-to-week narrative that brought the craftsmanship of television productions up to a new level. Although it was initially the mystery of Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) death that entranced viewers, Twin Peaks is a deeper tragedy than it initially appears to be. There is no end to the cycle of violence that is bound to continue. Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) investigation will not bring Laura any justice, but by continuing to search for her, he’s keeping the beauty of her memory alive.
These themes of tragedy and lost beauty are most evident during a pivotal sequence in the Season 2 episode “Lonely Souls.” Various characters are drawn together at The Roadhouse. As Cooper hears a message from The Giant (Carel Struycken), the identity of Laura’s killer is finally revealed. Her father, Leland (Ray Wise), was possessed by the demonic entity BOB (Frank Silva). The truth does not set anyone free; under BOB’s control, Leland murders Laura’s identical cousin, Maddie Ferguson (Lee). “It’s happening again,” The Giant says to Cooper.
What makes this moment so much more heartbreaking is Cruise’s song “Falling,” which plays throughout the intertwined sequences. Cruise’s bittersweet vocals capture the inherent tragedy of Twin Peaks; just as one beautiful thing is set free, another one is taken away. The words reflect that while there are wondrous occurrences in nature, “something is different.” Does loving something, or someone, make it even crueler when it’s stolen away? Or is love the only thing that draws in violence to begin with? It’s one of the most profound moments in all of Twin Peaksand it would not have been nearly as effective without Cruise’s work.
Twin Peaks is inspired by classic noir, which put it at odds with virtually every other “procedural” detective series on network television at the time. Lynch was not interested in “moving on” to a new case each week; the procedural structure seemingly provided “closure” to these mysteries, and did not take the time to contemplate the victims’ lives. To “move on” from one murder to another would only normalize it. Like the classic noir cases of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, the Twin Peaks characters took time to reflect on the cruelty of the world. Cruise’s music was integral to capturing the jazzy atmosphere of a 1940s nightclub.
The Roadhouse frequently draws together characters from the Twin Peaks universe for these important moments of contemplation. There’s an aura of tragedy that haunts the location, and Cruise’s music is frequently heard in the background. “Lonely Souls” featured the most extended musical number in the show thus far. It marked a true turning point in the show’s narrative, even if it was not the one that Lynch had originally intended.
Lynch had never planned to reveal the identity of Laura’s killer, but network interference from ABC forced him to give the mystery the type of “wrap up” that he’d wanted to avoid. “Lonely Souls” transitioned Twin Peaks from a show just about Laura to a series about the town itself. Laura’s death only revealed the darkness that had been brewing beneath the town’s semblance of idealism. In order to make this shift apparent, Twin Peaks had to take a moment to reflect on the past. Lynch knew that Cruise’s song was the perfect way to do so.
“Falling” had been the series’ theme song from the beginning, but “Lonely Souls” was the first time viewers got to hear the full version with lyrics. The critical moment was solidified by Cruise herself, who appears during The Roadhouse sequence in a cameo role. This was the first time that Cruise had acted in the series since the pilot episode.
Anytime that Cruise graced Twin Peaks with a personal appearance, viewers knew it was an important moment where the saga would change directions. Cruise reprised her role in Lynch’s 1992 prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which explores the events leading to Laura’s death from her perspective. When Cruise begins singing on stage, Laura begins her descent into darkness when she starts talking to two men. It was the beginning of her end.
Cruise reprised her moment once more in Lynch’s 2017 sequel series Twin Peaks: The Return. In “Part 17,” Cooper travels back in time to literally “save” Laura from her death, thus rewriting history and spiraling the universe into chaos. Any good intentions he had were immediately subverted; Laura is confused and terrified. As the episode closes, Cruise appears on stage again to indicate that Laura will never escape her fate. Cruise is accompanied by The Chromatics for a performance of “The World Spins.” It was a great generational moment, as the music of The Chromatics provided the same atmosphere for The Return that Cruise had provided for the original series.
Lynch himself delivered a heartfelt video tribute to Cruise’s legacy, where he called her “a great musician, great singer, and a great human being.” The Twin Peaks cast has been similarly respectful, and MacLachlan also paid tribute to Cruise in a touching social media post. Her impact on Twin Peaks remains a significant reason why the series became the cultural game changer that it was.