Angelo Badalamenti: an Appreciation
By Brantley Thompson Elkins
“Few know Angelo Badalamenti by name. Probably even fewer by face,” Eunnie Park wrote in the Dec. 5, 2004 Bergen Record, for which she interviewed him on the occasion of the U.S. release of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement (2002). “But millions know him by sound.”
If Badalamenti still isn’t a household name, it must be largely because – unlike John Williams or Howard Shore – he hasn’t done any work for blockbuster movies like the Stars Wars or The Lord of the Rings. But just as important is the fact that his work is so eclectic.
One John Williams score is pretty much like any other John Williams score – although there are exceptions, as witness Catch Me If You Can. Badalamenti’s scores are so far ranging that casual listeners might not realize that the same man produced the music for Twin Peaks, The City of Lost Children, Holy Smoke, The Beach, Secretary and A Very Long Engagement.
A Google search brings up about 255,000 references to his name, and yet he doesn’t have a single entry in encyclopedias of popular music – and hardly any Who’s Who listings. He has his own website (http://www.angelobadalamenti.com), which includes a “radio” link playing several of his pieces; and occasional announcements of new movie projects – most recently A Woman. He is still known primarily, but no longer accurately, for his work with David Lynch.
It was with “Mysteries of Love” and his incidental music for Lynch’s 1986 Blue Velvet that Badalamenti first came to wide notice, and only with Twin Peaks four years later that he gained some measure of popular success. If we didn’t know better, we might think that he had been a young composer at the time, like Jon Brion when he produced his precocious orchestral score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.
But in fact, Angelo Badalamenti was nearly 49 when he began working with Lynch. He had been a professional composer for more than 20 years, with dozens of songs and two movie scores to his credit. His pre-Lynch music is rather hard to find now, and while he worked in a number of genres – light pop, country, soul, even electronic – none of it seems anything like his post-Lynch work.
“My (musical) world is a little bit dark. . . a little bit off-center,” he said after Twin Peaks (1990-91) had put him on the musical map even more than Blue Velvet. “I think of it as tragically beautiful. That is how I would describe what I love best: tragically beautiful.”
The story of how Badalamenti met Lynch in connection with Blue Velvet – first as a voice coach for Isabella Rosselini, then as a composer – has been told a number of times. Here’s one of his tellings:
This led to “Mysteries of Love,” a song he wrote for the movie after Lynch couldn’t get rights to another song he wanted. It was sung by a new discovery – Julee Cruise, previously a talent scout:
And that in turn led to Industrial Symphony No. 1 (1990), doubtless the strangest musical stage show ever, as witness this production number with Cruise:
And then came Twin Peaks, as Badalamenti explains:
Cruise had already been collaborating with Badalamenti and Lynch (who wrote the quirky lyrics) on an album, Floating into the Night (1989), which became a cult hit. She appeared several times on Twin Peaks, the oddball 1990-91 TV series about a small town and its secrets that Lynch co-produced with Mark Frost. Several songs from the album were used on the show, for which Badalamenti composed the incidental music, and one of them, “Falling,” was adapted as its opening theme:
Twin Peaks was known for its weird situations and weird characters, like the dwarf played by Michael J. Anderson, who dances at the end of a dream sequence to a jazzy piece titled (what else?) “Dance of the Dream Man:”
A strange spin-off from Twin Peaks was “Black Lodge,” a song Badalamenti wrote for the thrash metal band Anthrax that appears in their album Sound of White Noise (1993). The Black Lodge was an evil cult in the TV series, and Badalamenti and the band wanted to catch its essence. The opening bars are stylistic riffs from the series:
Another collaboration, much later, was Booth and the Bad Angel (1996), with Tim Booth, the British rocker then with a band called James, who had admired Badalamenti from afar and spent years trying to hook up with him. Again, there’s a Twin Peaks feel – but the good side of the town – to “Fall in Love with Me.” Here’s Booth’s music video, which might have been set in the Double R Diner from the show:
Born in Brooklyn in 1937, Badalamenti grew up in a household of both opera and jazz fans (His father was an opera lover and his older brother a jazz trumpeter) and that is probably why classical and jazz-pop influences are often combined in his work, as in “Moving Through Time,” one of the tracks for the 1992 movie prequel to Twin Peaks, Fire Walk with Me:
But long before he met Lynch, he had collaborated with Frank Stanton and others on dozens of songs under the name Andy Badale. Although they are hard to find on YouTube, there are examples of his work from this period. A number “Badale” songs were commissions for, or at least sold to, major jazz, soul and country artists – including Nina Simone, Melba Moore, George Benson, Mel Tillis, Pam Austin, Roberta Flack, Barbara Mason and Nancy Wilson. The clip below is of a song he wrote for Wilson but is performed here by a lesser known pop singer, Stormy Wynters:
And here’s Simone performing his “I Hold No Grudge:”
It was as Badale that Badalamenti composed his first movie soundtrack for Gordon’s War, a 1973 black film directed by Ossie Davis, who had intended to hire a “brother” for the score, but liked what he was hearing from the white Brooklynite (who kidded that because his ancestors were from Sicily, he was likely a “cousin”); here is “Hot Wheels” from that score:
During his Andy Badale days, Badalamenti’s work also included collaborations with Jean Jacques Perrey, French pioneer of electronic music. Back then, electronic music was a novelty, a stunt – as in “switched on” classics and new works like “E.V.A.,” which originally appeared in a Perrey album called Moog Indigo (1970), and is credited below only to Perrey, although Badale shares credit in the album notes:
In 1999, Badalamenti composed an opening theme, “Bloody Boy,” for Arlington Road that is just as techno, but no longer just a novelty or a stunt: a piece that starts off deceptively soft but builds to a percussive crescendo in a style Stravinsky might have used if Stravinsky had ever composed electronic music. Moreover, it actually helps dramatize the scene. Here it segues at 3:37 into a piece called “Neon Reprise” by the British techno band Lunatic Calm (the current YouTube versiion is credited incorrectly to The Beach):
“Bloody Boy” is just one example of how Badalamenti has transformed electronic music from a novelty to an art form. Another example is “Bizarre City,” from the score for The Beach, here used for a montage video:
Yet for the same score there’s this lush orchestral theme, “Swim to Island,” that is reminiscent of vintage Miklos Rosza:
But “Beached,” a variation of the same theme in collaboration with British techno band Orbital, turns it into something quite else:
The opening title theme of The Comfort of Strangers (1990) is another example of Badalamenti at his most classical – and in this case his most Italian:
Badalamenti has done much else in a classical vein, but some of his pieces are truly unique, as in a cut called “Irvin’s Birthday” (Irvin is the brain in an aquarium) for The City of Lost Children (1995), one of the oddest and most hypnotically charming science fiction movies of all time (now seen as part of the steampunk subgenre), produced by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro:
The City of Lost Children led to a continuing relationship with Jeunet, who on his own directed the acclaimed Amélie and A Very Long Engagement (2004) and commissioned Badalamenti to score the latter. Linked below is the moving finale of A Very Long Engagement, the story of a woman who – against all odds – has found her lover, a soldier who went missing under fire during World War I. Manech has been through hell, and doesn’t even remember her. But we can sense that he’ll fall in love with Mathilde again, and it is the score that makes us certain of that:
The Jeunet connection has led to work with other French directors, as with Nicole Garcia for L’Adversaire (The Adversary, 2002):
You wouldn’t expect to find classical music in a video game, but that’s just what Badalamenti contributed to Fahrenheit, an X-box game released in 2005. Here are two tracks from that which have been posted online:
Yet Badalamenti’s range also extends to his country-influenced “Laurens Walking” for The Straight Story (1999):
Or the light love theme for the romantic comedy Cousins (1989):
Then there are the songs. Besides Anthrax and Booth, Badalamenti has collaborated with other singers since Julie Cruise. One is Marianne Faithful, the veteran British rocker turned chanteuse with whom he worked on A Secret Life (1995), an album thematically similar to Cruise’s Floating into the Night. Here’s a clip of “Who Will Take My Dreams Away” from The City of Lost Children:
An unfinished Badalamenti project is an album with Delores O’Riordan, late of Cranberry, with whom he had already collaborated on songs for Evilenko (2004), a film (based on a true story) about the hunt for a child murderer in Soviet Russia. An online videophile created his own video to go with O’Riordan’s “Butterfly:”
In an entirely different vein, he worked with Siouxie Sioux, late of the Banshees, on “Careless Love,” a song in a Kurt Weill vein for The Edge of Love (2008). She performed it again when Badalamenti was honored in 2009 at the World Soundtrack Awards.
One of the things that Badalamenti does best is to recreate pop classic forms from an ironic or nostalgic point of view – something akin, I think, to what Khachaturian and Ravel did with the Viennese waltz in “Masquerade” and “La Valse.” Mulholland Drive (2001), for example, opens with a piece titled simply “Jitterbug,” and while the musical genre is instantly recognizable, it is somehow different, like nothing composed and played in the thirties or forties:
Here’s his take on the classic tango for Holy Smoke (1999):
And his off-center version of 1930’s jazz piano in “Fats Revisited” (Fats Waller was a legendary jazz pianist) for Lost Highway (1997):
Elsewhere, I have noted that Badalamenti has worked in a medium I call “film noir jazz,” with the opening theme for Fire, Walk With Me (1992): very slow, very moody:
But he has played about with a lot of other forms of jazz, as in “Red Bats with Teeth,” a disturbing piece played by a severely disturbed jazz saxophonist in Lost Highway:
You can expect the unexpected from Badalamenti. His latest film score as of mid-2010 is for 44-Inch Chest, and it sure isn’t the kind of music you’d expect for a movie about gangsters:
In addition to film scores and songs, Badalament’s works include “The Flame and the Arrow,” the theme for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics:
But another recent project of his is the creation of a suite based on his introduction for the TV interview series Inside the Actors Studio:
As of this posting, he has scored four more movies that are in various stages of production and post-production.