When David Lynch’s eerie cult melodrama Twin Peaks first aired in April 1990, it delivered an unsettling intrigue like nothing else on television at the time. Its idiosyncratic script, characters and visual aesthetic were hugely influential but its haunting music, co-written by Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti, arguably had the most widespread appeal – and the voice which whispered its bittersweet nothings so seductively belonged to Julee Cruise.
Cruise, who has died by suicide aged 65, was a performer more used to belting out lusty musical theatre numbers when she first met Badalamenti in New York in the early Eighties.
Their first filmic collaboration was The Mysteries of Love, written for weirdo classic Blue Velvet, the 1986 film which cemented David Lynch’s twisted picket fence vision. Lynch could not afford to license his initial choice of music – This Mortal Coil’s spectral Song to the Siren, sung by Cocteau Twins’ frontwoman Elizabeth Fraser – so he and Badalamenti wrote their own equally ethereal orchestral pop reverie.
Cruise was asked to scope out a suitable singer – when her initial suggestions were turned down she took on the gig herself, curbing her natural full-throated tendencies to create what became her signature wispy delivery.
She and Badalamenti had even greater success with Falling, recorded for her 1989 debut album Floating into the Night. When Lynch used an instrumental version of the track as Twin Peaks’ plangent twanging theme tune, it propelled Cruise to unexpected chart success.
When she got the call to appear on Saturday Night Live, she was working as a waitress – instead of calling in sick, she said that she called in famous. The exposure from the show led to three more solo albums.
Cruise cemented her place in Lynchian lore by appearing in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, singing Falling in the town’s freaky Roadside bar. She made subsequent cameos as Girl Singer during the show’s original run and also appeared in the follow-up feature Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) and the belated third series, Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), singing The World Spins from Floating Into the Night in the penultimate episode.
Reflecting on her Twin Peaks experience, she told the Los Angeles Times that “it was so much fun to be part of something that just went ba-boom! You didn’t know it was going to do that. What a nice surprise life takes you on.”
Julee Ann Cruise was born and raised in the railroad town of Creston, Iowa. Her father John was the town dentist; mother Wilma managed his office. She studied French horn at Drake University in the state capital Des Moines, before moving into singing and acting, relocating first to Minneapolis and then New York in the early Eighties, where she appeared in musical theatre and sang the role of Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway production Beehive: the 60s Musical.
She and Badalamenti first crossed paths when she was cast in a country and western show but the music they went on to create had its roots in Fifties pop balladry and the teenage tragedy sub-genre typified by the likes of Johnny Remember Me and Tell Laura I Love Her. At first, they struggled for recognition, with Badalamenti noting “even the more avant-garde stations found it unusual, so it was difficult getting airplay. But when Falling came out as the main title theme of Twin Peaks, that was a whole different story.”
Fellow Lynch alumnus Chris Isaak also mined the retro Americana seam on the Wild At Heart soundtrack and, in 1990, Cruise appeared alongside Wild at Heart stars Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern in a Lynch theatre extravaganza called Industrial Symphony No 1.
She also covered Elvis Presley’s Summer Kisses, Winter Tears on the soundtrack of Wim Wenders’ sci-fi odyssey Until the End of the World and released her second album, The Voice of Love, in 1993. Cruise later described it as “soup”; it was her last album collaboration with Lynch and Badalamenti.
Her next release, The Art of Being a Girl, released in 2002, moved away from dreamy pop towards lounge jazz and featured her own compositions. Her final album, 2011’s My Secret Life, was a trip-hop-inspired collaboration with DJ Dmitry, formerly of Groove is in the Heart hitmakers Deee-lite.
In 1988, Cruise married author and publisher Edward Grinnan, who noted that the happiest time of her working life was touring as a member of The B-52s when one of their original members, Cindy Wilson, took a sabbatical in the Nineties. Cruise’s unwitting audition was her role in a 1991 production of Return to the Forbidden Planet.
Cruise also toured with jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin, sang alongside Pharrell Williams on Handsome Boy Modelling School’s song Class System and played a variety of plum roles in New York’s Public Theater production of Keith Haring bio-musical Radiant Baby – including Andy Warhol, Haring’s mother, a demonic nurse and a critic with a close resemblance to Susan Sontag.
However, Cruise was diagnosed with systemic lupus in 2018, drastically affecting her mobility and exacerbating her depression.
Her final musical release was a 2018 EP called Three Demos, which featured the original demo recordings of Lynch/Badalamenti classics Floating, Falling and The World Spins.
On hearing of her death, Lynch hailed Cruise as “a great musician, a great singer and a great human being”, while Twin Peaks’ star Kyle McLachlan posted that “her angelic voice transported us all to another dimension. Now, she’s floating among the angels.”
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