When Montaigne described his work as essays, he was using the term in a way we use less frequently today—the sense of the word, from the French “essayer”, which translates as “to try.” I love this idea of the essay as a place to explore, to enter without knowing quite what you’ll find. Many of my favorite essays for this series embody this experience of discovery, and I’m happy to add to this list Jared Stanley’s excellent essay, How Twin Peaks Bored Me to Tears. One has, while reading it, a palpable sense that the author is reaching through the ostensible material toward something deeper and more personal, and indeed where he goes with his investigation–an unpacking of childhood experiences of boredom, humiliation, and loss–is truly remarkable. I encourage you to give it a read, live today at Lit Hub.
A number of people have written for the Twin Peaks Project about the music of the show, but Kevin Titterton takes to an extreme the argument of the score’s centrality to the art entire. And does so convincingly, by showing how the themes for primary characters not only create context for their action, but seem to direct interpretation. Fortunately, he’s included a host of links to key songs and scenes, because reading his essay—published today over at The Rumpus—makes me want to rewatch the whole dang thing again. Read his excellent consideration of the Twin Peaks soundtrack here.
The sexual politics of Twin Peaks is complex, even contradictory, in large part because of David Lynch’s highly idiosyncratic style of writing and directing. Lacking the desire to be consistent, let alone expository, Lynch’s stories tend to operate on a level of subconscious association, his characters, settings, and scenes linked to highly charged symbols open to various interpretation. Nowhere has this dynamic caused more public contention than the role of women in his oeuvre. Adding insight and personal experience to the ongoing conversation, writer and conservationist Francis Chiem takes a closer look at female space in Twin Peaks in her essay “Evil that Lurks in those Woods”, up now at Two Serious Ladies.
I began working with Nathan Huffstutter while editing book reviews for The Nervous Breakdown. I always looked forward to his unique brand of intelligence and eloquence—his work was so fluent, in fact, that I’d worry his pieces would outshine their subject. His essay about Twin Peaks is proof that he needs not look far for a subject worthy of all the smarts and style of those reviews. A very personal and searching piece, he deftly weaves together the show’s themes with his own journey from adolescence into early adulthood. It’s a simply fantastic piece, and I encourage you to read it now at Los Angeles Review of Books.
Matt Briggs is one of those rare artists whose encyclopedic knowledge of the region in which they work is matched only by their enthusiasm for sharing it. In both his fiction and nonfiction, he never simplifies attitudes, ideas, or actions, but imagines and represents them in all of their glorious self-contradiction. He’s been an inspiring figure for me when thinking and writing about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, and his participation in the Twin Peaks Project was a true honor. Partially for reasons I list above, it’s difficult to describe his unique and shifting essay, though it turns around issues of modernity, romanticism, art, and the uses and abuses of nature. But it’s not difficult to recommend it–up now in the new issue of MOSS, an exciting new journal of writing about the Northwest.
Some people encounter a piece of particularly influential art with the shock not just of revelation, but of recognition. Linnie Greene’s own summer of Twin Peaks seemed itself to mirror the action of the show: the descent into the unknown, the exploration of dangerous territory, the temptation to release control entirely. The ultimate tragedy. Linnie bravely recounts that time and those feelings for us with exceptional clarity, intelligence, and insight in the moving essay, Our Doubles, Ourselves, up today at Hobart. I encourage you to check it out.
What Twin Peaks fan hasn’t wondered about Cooper’s never-seen secretary Diane? Apparently (though I can’t find anyone actually saying this) some suspect that she doesn’t actually exist. But it’s more fun to assume she does, in part because it allows us to imagine her life. And that’s exactly what Rick Stoeckel does in the next update, entitled, appropriately, Diane–the first (and perhaps last) fiction contribution to the project. And I’m happy this story follows the compelling essay about the show’s peculiar expression of the uncanny valley, because this is something Stoeckel nails. Pour yourself a cup of strong black joe and head over to Publishing Genius to read Diane.
You can’t write about Twin Peaks without mentioning Lynch’s particular brand of strange, and most people are content with relying on the apt if tautological term “Lynchian.” While this is obviously true, it must be said that Lynch employs a range of weirdness–the effect of Twin Peaks is different than that of, say, Inland Empire. So “Lynchian” is in need of fine-tuning. In the newest TPP essay, author Eileen Maksym proposes a characterization of the weirdness particular to Twin Peaks I hadn’t thought of or read before, and by which I felt instantly convinced. Read her compelling argument here.
Joshua Lyon’s moving and insightful memoir Pill Head chronicles his struggle with addiction to prescription drugs, so I almost feel like his contribution to the Twin Peaks Project is something like a prelude. And with the understanding of where the path he explores in this piece finally took him, his description of early experiments with drugs to the ever-present soundtrack of Twin Peaks can only be read with a measure of sadness, despite how well he captures the excitement of those first explorations into the thrilling dangers of adulthood. I encourage you to check out Lyon’s personal essay over at The Nervous Breakdown.
If the influence of a show like Twin Peaks stays with you, declaring itself here and there in both subtle and obvious ways, are you simply a fan or is the show somehow actually haunting you? For author Peter Korchnak, the distinction becomes nearly moot as the influence follows him over decades and continents from Slovakia to Oregon as a foundational and symbolic element of his experience during the transformation and westernization of his home country. Having written about nostalgia for my own contribution to this project, I read Korchnak’s take with great interest, learning that what Lynch and Frost created easily spans culture, time, and place. I encourage you to read this author’s account at his blog American Robotnik, where he writes about “the wonders of life as a transplant.”
He called it. A lot of people I’ve spoken to in recent months have said how great it would be if the show returned, but mere weeks before the announcement Scott’s opinion was a bit more fervent: “It is time for a Twin Peaks reboot.” Indeed. Apparently the show’s creators agreed. Because this was written before the announcement, the author of this installment in the Twin Peaks Project plays a fun game of Who-Should-Direct? And indeed, who else but Lynch would be worthy? Also discussed in this strangely prescient piece are some plot and characterization ideas–and since the universe took his first point so seriously, I’ll be looking for any semblance of these suggestions in 2016. Take a moment to fantasize along with author and editor Scott Whitaker about what a new season of Twin Peaks
would will look like.
Two of the things I like most about the work of BC Edwards–both in his prose and poetry–are 1) his way of making imaginative narrative leaps (you never end up where you expect to), and 2) his humor (both funny ha ha and funny strange). Happily, both are in evidence in his essay, up today at Monkeybicycle, about how missing out onTwin Peaks became a kind of badge he now wears with pride. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
P.S. A few weeks ago we ran another piece written by an author who hadn’t seen Twin Peaks, and a reader contacted me on Twitter to say he’d prefer essays by people who had (the note was good-humored, to be fair). Normally I’d sympathize–participants in a project nominally about a subject should obviously be able to demonstrate some understanding, even expertise, about said subject, right? And yet, because Twin Peaks was/is such a cultural touchstone, I think it’s interesting to hear from those on the sidelines, from people who, instead of being shot directly in the heart by this show, were merely grazed.
Michael Seidlinger was one of the first people to volunteer for the Twin Peaks Project. And judging from the excerpt from his forthcoming novel, Miseryhead, it’s easy to understand his enthusiasm. Much like in Twin Peaks itself, there’s a striking strangeness at work in the excerpt–a normal-ish high school setting is home to a “mannequin” toted around by the narrator, a principle who wears a suit of armor. There’s a delicate balance to be struck with this kind of casual surrealism. You don’t want to draw too much attention to it within the narrative, so it works away at the reader while he/she tries to focus on the goings on and more familiar logic of the frame story. It’s a balance Seidlinger, like Lynch in Twin Peaks, pulls off perfectly. The book should be out sometime in 2015, and I look forward to it. For now, we’ll have to be content to read Seidlinger’s excerpt at Everyday Genuis.
After a series of somewhat somber/serious/personal contributions, our next official Twin Peaks Project submish comes by way of Andrew Bonazelli. Back in his days writing for Seattle Weekly, Andrew was notorious for his killer karaoke version of Avril Lavigne’s breakout hit Complicated (which, listening to it now, actually sounds like a country song). I like to think he brings that same spirit to his Lynch listicle on the always-readable Towering Achievements blog. Life’s like this, Andrew. Life’s like this.
For his contribution to the project, JR Hayes of the metal band Pig Destroyer speaks to the anxiety of writing about a show that’s attracted it’s own version of psychotic superfans–an anxiety I totally shared when composing my own essay. Of course, he then goes on to break down some of the show’s most interesting aspects with an attitude I can only describe as “metal.” Read his rad essay for yourself over at Decibel Magazine.
The first of a handful of poets who will be contributing work to the Twin Peaks Project, Olivia Aylmer is a recent Twin Peaks devotee, having only finished the series for the first time last month. Her poem is called Lament for Laura Palmer, and as I read it I realized how unexpected I found it to begin in elegy. By the end of the show we feel close to this mysterious character, Laura Palmer, despite having only known her, to quote Aylmer, in “dim sputtering bursts.” In truth, I think viewers rather quickly learn to take Laura for granted and forget about, save obliquely, the tragedy that sets into motion all the bizarre action in the show. I encourage you to remember Laura for yourself, and let this poem jog your memory.
From the first moment I decided to write an essay about Twin Peaks, I knew I wanted to start with Invitation to Love–the show-within-a-show that appears throughout the first season. I knew something within that device held a key to what Lynch was doing within the show as a whole. But I had no idea what that would be, or where it would take me. Turns out it brought me into an investigation of melodrama, sentimentality, and how “unearned” emotion gets earned. The good folks at The Believer were kind enough to run the results, which used to live here, though the last time I checked, their site had been taken down.
Until they’re back up and running (fingers crossed), I’ll be posting the essay in its entirety right below. Thanks for reading.
On Continually Revisiting Twin Peaks
In episode four of the first season of Twin Peaks, Sheriff Harry Truman and Deputy Andy enter the police station looking for Agent Cooper, and find receptionist Lucy Moran watching a soap opera called Invitation to Love on the television at her desk. When Truman asks her what’s going on, she launches into a breathless recap of the goings on within the show-within-a-show, a series of shenanigans and backstabbings and double crossings fairly typical for the genre.
Truman clarifies, “What’s going on here?”
Modestly funny, but what’s funnier is that the plot of Invitation to Love mirrors the action in Twin Peaks itself, so Lucy is actually providing a decent—if abstract—overview of the shenanigans and general soapiness we’re tuning in for.
A David Lynch noob might mistake this for a subtle wink at the audience, a sign to resist taking the show too seriously—it’s a melodrama, after all. How else should we perceive the overwrought yet strangely wooden acting of the stock characters inhabiting this idyllic sawmill town in the Pacific Northwest?
But a viewer familiar with the eerie, epic melodramas Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart would have a different interpretation: it’s clearly playful, this self-reflexivity, but it’s no sly, pomo effort at self-sabotage. Those two now-classic films—the former became a critical darling; the latter won the Palm D’Or at Cannes in 1991—clearly established the concerns still presiding over the production of Twin Peaks: chief among them the struggle between good and evil within the context of kitsch, camp, and nostalgia. All three are set in a present heavily inflected by attitudes and aesthetics normally associated with the 50s, as though Grease were reskinned as a supernatural thriller. As with Twin Peaks, the challenge for the viewer is always that, faced with the superficiality of camp, one is tempted to laugh off the intensity and depth of the struggle. But it was truly the juxtaposition itself that interested Lynch.
Newsweek pronounced 1995 “The Year of the Internet.” It was also the year of the Oklahoma City bombing; Aum Shinrikyo claimed responsibility for a sarin gas attack in Tokyo’s subway; and both The New York Times and The Washington Post published an anti-technology manifesto titled Industrial Society and Its Future written by one Theodore John Kaczynski, AKA “The Unabomber.” That same year, all 29 episodes of Twin Peaks were released as a VHS box set, fully rentable at any sufficiently well-stocked video store. Twenty years later, they’re being re-released along with a new cut of the prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, on Blu-ray—a format whose physicality, despite its technical advancement, seems almost quaint in this age of cloud-based digital storage and file sharing.
No matter. I’m betting the re-release is going to sell gangbusters because unlike, say, the contemporaneous and at-the-time very popular television show (which ran for five seasons to Twin Peaks’ two) Northern Exposure, Twin Peaks has cemented its place in television history, not to mention popular culture, thanks in part to the ongoing impact and relevance of David Lynch, but mostly to the fact that it’s just a really fucking awesome show.
This release also happens to be perfectly situated in what everyone keeps calling television’s New Golden Age, in which no less a commanding middle brow institution than The New York Times itself is publishing op-eds comparing the latest crop of shows to Dickens, and in which no less a middle brow author than Lorrie Moore is writing, in the slightly-higher-than-middle brow New York Review of Books, that author events are crowded with writers swooning over the hot, macho, and vulnerable Tim Riggins (played by the equally hot, macho, and vulnerable Taylor Kitsch) in the runaway hit show based on a movie based on a book called Friday Night Lights.
Premiering five years before the box set finally arrived, Twin Peaks didn’t come out during a Golden Age of Television. It came out the same year as Beverly Hills, 90210 and Wings. Granted, 1990 also saw the premier of one of the most popular television franchises of all time, Law & Order, but the only thing golden about Law & Order is its unlikely longevity. And in a time when Billy Bob Thornton, discussing his decision to do TV (in his case, join the cast of an “original adaptation” of Fargo) offers, incredibly, “I saw friends of mine doing it,” it’s easy to overlook how groundbreaking it was for an esteemed-if-admittedly-not-household-name director to go straight from winning the Palm D’Or to having a show on the same network as the musical police drama Cop Rock, about which the less said the better. It’s easy to forget, finally, that in 1990, TV was just not where cool kids looked for identification.
Like a lot of Gen X’ers in high school during the early 90s, a typical evening for me was about experimenting with drugs both illegal and smart, getting high, and thumbing through a copy of Adbusters with aspirations of being a “culture jammer.” It was emphatically not sitting in front of the (still at that time) cathode ray boob tube. I’m not suggesting I was unusual in this regard—exactly the opposite. This was during the Gulf War, and counter culture was simply more mainstream, less “counter.” Granted my family lived in Seattle, but in protest to the war there was a walk-out that involved the entire high school system. We were radicalized, politicized, and deeply confused. Even when MTV’s Liquid Television premiered in late 1991, its “zany” non sequitur ethos was viewed with extreme skepticism—the way someone who really, really, really wants to be your friend is viewed. Which made the reception and success of Twin Peaks all the more remarkable.
In his (also) 1995 essay entitled “David Lynch Keeps His Head,” David Foster Wallace writes convincingly that Lynch is a filmmaker heavily influenced by the tradition of expressionist art, in which what is portrayed doesn’t gesture out beyond the film as representation, but back inside the director’s head to an inner landscape of thoughts and feelings, and that this, in part, is how his films achieve their power: “The extent (large) to which Lynch seems to identify with his movies’ main characters is one more thing that makes the films so disturbingly ‘personal.’”
It’s definitely hard to ignore the similarities between Special Agent Dale Cooper and Lynch himself: both exceedingly polite in a kind of quaint, retro way, both fascinated by the supernatural (Cooper is drawn to Tibetan Buddhism, Lynch to Transcendental Meditation), both Eagle Scouts. But if we look at Lynch’s work from an expressionist perspective, I think we need to look at Cooper not as a character in the traditional, rounded sense, but as one color (albeit primary) among others in the palette Lynch used to while filming in the late 80s and early 90s. In other words, it’s not just the main characters, but all the players that Lynch identifies with, who together express a kind of chorus for the moods and messages Lynch is signaling from whatever deeply personal reserve is the source for his visions. His oeuvre is not one of story-telling so much as it is self-portraiture, and this is what was perhaps the most striking thing about Twin Peaks: you didn’t feel like the point was to sympathize with the characters. The point was to empathize with the director.
This is why no single Twin Peaks character or subset of characters has a monopoly on the insight and truth-telling that pushes the narrative forward in epiphanic leaps. No one who has read Lynch’s 2006 memoir about creativity called Catching the Big Fish would doubt, for instance, that the Log Lady and her log are also projections of the director, of the Lynch-as-half-mad-seer that he must infrequently recognize in people’s responses to him or his ideas.
Perhaps the best early example of this comes in the third episode of the first season, “Rest in Pain,” at Laura Palmer’s funeral. Until this point, we are told by nearly every character in the show what a surprise Laura’s death was, and yet her spurned boyfriend Bobby Briggs, a meat-headed drug-dealer jock who basically did everything Laura asked, flashes an insight that arguably sets the larger thematics of the show in motion by implicating the entire town in her death, saying, “You want to know who killed Laura? You did!”
What seems like a juvenile projection of guilt actually gains gravity over time because, as the show goes on to explore, the “good people” of Twin Peaks are indeed involved in various ways in the machinations having lead inexorably to the prom queen’s death. Of course, because this is Lynch, they are also victims of dark, elemental forces that, as Deputy Hawk tells us in season two, are “as old as the woods themselves.” In due course nearly all the characters contribute something, and it’s usually out of nowhere, and in ways that take on increasingly new and different meanings as the show unfolds, upsetting any easy or clear classification of how character arcs are supposed to behave.
All of which is to say that the excitement and thrill of watching Twin Peaks back then was twofold: it was the discovery, first of all, of someone who “gets it,” and it was proof that this type of someone could jam culture on a truly massive scale.
By 1995 I was attending college in a small town in the Midwest, the kind of environment that isolated students from nearly everything familiar, forced them together in strange combinations, and inspired dubious and unnatural ways of coping. I remember being oddly moved by the following coping mechanism practiced by a woman down the hall from me in my dorm: She would watch movies the way other people listen to music. The TV would just be on, and though she wasn’t paying attention she’d look up now and then, right before a scene she loved, and speak the lines like someone singing along to a chorus of their favorite tune. Somewhat predictably, her tastes revolved around the John Hughes oeuvre, which I hadn’t yet come to appreciate, and though it wasn’t the kind of overt, self-destructive act that made headlines in our college weekly (Student Found Walking Through Back-campus While Naked in Below Freezing Temperature; Student Climbs to Top of Radio Tower and Refuses to Come Down; etc), I found the behavior intriguing and strange. How could she watch the same program over and over, the narratives becoming almost a second, parallel reality to her own? It works for small children because they’re learning for the first time to see their own lives as story. But for a young adult? It didn’t make sense to me at the time, but it turns out I just hadn’t found the right show.
I began rewatching Twin Peaks in 2005, after moving to another place of isolation that inspires dubious and unnatural ways of coping: New York City. And although I’ve since found friendship and love in this place, I’ve never stopped re-watching. It’s not the kind of feverish binge that Netflix has become famous for promoting, nor is it really methodical. It’s just there, a kind of pleasant background noise that I can tune in and out of. Like a lot of people James Franco knows (according to a recent article in Vice), I keep returning to that small sawmill town with its shenanigans and backstabbings and double crossings and general soap operatics. But whereas Franco seems satisfied to cite our current obsession with season-long mysteries as the source for the groundswell in Twin Peaks interest, for me—and I have to believe other Gen X’ers out there returning to the show—it’s due to something deeper and more complex.
Larry McMurtry, author, bookstore owner, and now-famous re-reader in part thanks to this oft-quoted admission, wrote in an essay for New York Review of Books, “If I once read for adventure, I now read for security. How nice to be able to return to what won’t change. When I sit down at dinner with a given book, I want to know what I’m going to find.”
No doubt. But the act of re-watching performs another function as well. It stitches the re-watcher’s present time and place together with the time and place of the original watching, and the narrative begins to act as a kind of medium for the memories evoked, which become distorted by nostalgia in weird and revealing ways.
In the summer of ‘95 I was home from college after having abandoning the “college project” due in a broad sense to the fact that in light of the global scale chaos of the first half of the 90s, isolating myself for the second half seemed absurd. In a narrow sense, it was due to being dumped by a woman who took great care in causing tremendous psychological pain and then, like, laughing about it. It was also because these macro and micro goings on seemed, in my mind, inextricably linked. Surely, I figured, there was a more interesting, less excruciating way to spend my time.
So in true slacker form I moved in with a friend, got a part time job in the kitchen of a fancy-for-Seattle brunch spot, and just basically hung out and put off making any big decisions.
I remember that time as faultlessly, eerily clear and warm, the middle class neighborhood we lived in lousy with gardens and toddlers and dogs. My friends and I were all on the cusp of adulthood, which meant many still lived with parents but everyone had cars and jobs and a little money, and though there were plenty of drugs (though “smart drugs” had completed their very short pop culture life cycle even by then), I had even more free time than I could fill with getting and being and coming down from being high, so apparently I rented the Twin Peaks box set, one VHS tape at a time, and plowed through it.
I say “apparently,” because this isn’t how I remember it at all. I remember or seem to remember flipping back and forth between televised footage of Operation Desert Storm and Twin Peaks while house-sitting with Mylinh, my then-girlfriend, who would go on to live with my friend Brady in the basement of my parent’s house and join a weird Kung Fu cult until Brady became a junkie and she moved to Vietnam. I remember Brady confessing to me that he’d been in love with Mylinh throughout our relationship, and that he’d hated me for the way I took her for granted.
Brady was kind of an adopted brother in our family. He’d been living with his father who worked nights, introduced us to Steely Dan, and once slept with one of our high school friends. From my perspective, Brady had an enviable degree of freedom. From his, I think his life lacked support. He stayed with us for a year or so during high school, slowly grinding down my father’s patience with his huge appetite and underdeveloped self confidence. My father, who at the time praised self-reliance above all else could not stand the way Brady would ask permission for everything. But my dad’s obvious irritability only exacerbated Brady’s self-doubt, so the pattern reinforced itself until, of course, we all packed up and went on a four month sailing trip to Mexico where the real meltdowns and confrontations could take place, a trip that ultimately resulted in my mother flying home early to return to work, my brother moving into a small shack on the property of a local fisherman, me flying straight to college (see above re: Midwest isolation), my father having an affair with a vacationing grad student studying politics in DC, and Brady being asked to mule a bunch of coke back to the States by train.
But Brady wasn’t the only friend of mine taken in by my family. Before him there was Dan. Dan’s family life was more stable than Brady’s, but he personally was more unstable than Brady, so it balanced out. Whereas Brady had simply “moved out,” it would be safe to say that Dan had “run away” just a few years earlier to live within the anti-war vigil at Gas Works Park. Fancying himself a sort of raffish vagabond, a modern day Dickensian street hustler, Dan only condescended to moonlight back in the middle class banality of my home after having been hit by a car while high on acid and winding up with a broken ankle. Having responded to his distress signal, my father used the occasion of driving Dan to the hospital as a chance to share the story of the time his testicle, crushed in a football tackle, swelled to the size of a grapefruit. It is a story, complete with my father’s stutter and gesticulations, Dan repeats to this day.
In other words, re-watching Twin Peaks opens a window not to a lazy summer in ‘95 but to a torrent of dramas that spanned everywhere from the beginning to the end of the decade, and paints a group of somewhat indelicate people being anything but tuned- or shut-in. It evokes memories of my disillusioned and reckless Gen X cohorts in actual, fleshy contact with the dangerous, unfamiliar, and unplugged—much like the teens of Twin Peaks.
The word melodrama is derived from the Greek melos, meaning music, and the French drame, meaning what it sounds like, and what it originally described was literally drama set to music. I think it’s interesting how straight a line exists between this basic origin story and what immediately comes to mind when the word is used today: the big, overblown emotions, stereotypical characters, and the broad themes of betrayal, love lost and so on. Though it’s picked up a lot of baggage in the two centuries since the word was coined, it’s still impossible to imagine melodrama without that soaring string section. In effect, definition has become synecdoche.
A longtime collaborator with Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti composed the soundtrack to Twin Peaks (all I have to do is hear the first three notes of any of its songs or “themes” and I get all tingly), and what’s so impressive about the melodrama is also perfectly enacted by its music. Because the central Good vs. Evil dynamic within Twin Peaks hinges on a central Fall From Grace (Laura), there is alive throughout the action a palpable sense of Before and After. In episode after episode, characters face or propagate the menace of the Now/Near Future while indulging in nostalgia for the What Once Was. And in large part thanks to the Badalamenti’s score, this high wire act of scheming and reminiscence is played out with incredible economy within one short scene.
Ben Horne is the stock local business magnate and all-around capitalist. He’s the kind of character who doesn’t show up a lot in Lynch’s work—a man who’s amoral but not really interestingly evil, per se, too caught up in pedestrian deceit to be truly transgressive. But in the second episode his brother Jerry comes home from a trip and disturbs the family dinner with sandwiches from Paris. Two bites in, Ben is swooning over the “baguette with brie and butter” and finally exclaims excitedly through a mouthful of food, “You know what this reminds us of? You know what [unintelligible]? It reminds us of Jenny and Jenny down by the river!”
Jerry agrees and the mood is light and giddy, and they peel off from the dining room into a hallway where Ben shares with his brother two pieces of exceptionally bad news, one being Laura’s murder, at which point the mood predictably takes a hit. But not for long! As a tonic, Ben tells Jerry that there’s a “new girl at One Eyed Jacks.” The first-time viewer doesn’t know from One Eyed Jacks, but now the mood is again up tempo. Whereas before there was no diegetic or non-diegetic sound accompanying the onstage glee, however, now we hear the first low electric brooding strings of “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” a sure sign that whatever One Eyed Jacks holds in store is pretty shady indeed. And so there you have, within about three minutes, an amazingly broad spectrum of the show’s hangups and conflicts offered up brie and butter style: the innocent sexual exploits of youth turned corrupt, the familiar (Good) gone strange (Evil).
What does this remind us of?
All our own Jenny and Jennies, of course. All those encounters that seemed somewhat risky, a bit dangerous at the time and now appear simply and refreshingly foolish. Like the time I had sex with my girlfriend Mia by candlelight in the oversized bathtub at a party, and our friend Daniel came in to serenade us on guitar. Daniel had been my frenemy until that point, at one time kicking me out of his house for the astonishingly dickish move of ashing my cigarette on his head. He went on to study classical guitar at Yale and make the rest of us look bad.
And the time my friend Dan (while he was living at my parents’ house) and I wound up having a playful threeway with that same girlfriend only to have my father burst into the bedroom, yank the covers off of us, and call us “sick” before storming back downstairs. Our embarrassment turned almost immediately into disdain, and we marched ourselves right downstairs after him and into the night, but not before yelling at him as we left, “You’re the sick one!” Mia wound up sleeping with a much older man who owned a bookstore in the University District and gave her a first edition copy of Alice in Wonderland worth 20k. We broke up shortly thereafter.
And the time I ran off to Port Townsend with my friend Gunther, where we spent a weekend breaking into houses and sleeping in an abandoned trailer. All we wound up with was a couple jars full of change, but I woke one night to find his hand down my pants. Gunther and I hotwired my parents’ car and drove it first to San Francisco where we bought a bunch of acid, then to Maryland, where we thought we’d get a good deal for it. Not two weeks would go by before I was being bailed out of juvie by my mother, and helping her hotwire the car every morning on our very awkward drive back to Seattle from Wisconsin.
I revel in these memories not simply for the innocence they now seem to represent, but for the way they seem to gesture toward the possibility of a life dramatically different than the one I’m living now. There’s no dead prom queen. There’s no One Eyed Jacks. But as I gain weight and hump off to my job helping people sell useless crap, an ominous string section starts to swell with its own set of implications, more banal if no less eschatological. And this, finally, is perhaps why we Gen X’ers are returning to this show now, why it feels so important to us at the cusp of middle age: we’re again facing truths as substantial as those we faced on the precipice of adulthood. Our parents are dying. Our babies are being born. Our health is becoming something other than adjectival. Looking forward from this point, it’s not difficult to see why our youthful frolics—charged with unpredictability as they seemed at the time—would be appealing to revisit. And Twin Peaks, more then any other show of its era, is the perfect medium for that reminiscence.
Leslie Jamison’s essay “In Defense of Saccharin(e)” circles around the core metaphor of sugar substitute as sentimentality to show how both cause suspicion (fear) because in both cases our pleasure is unearned. It’s a terrific essay, but the author misses a pretty neat opportunity to complicate the dynamic even further with science. There’s mounting evidence suggesting that the body responds to artificial sweeteners in all kinds of messed up ways, including a stimulated appetite and compromised ability to control it. In the presence of these sweeteners, the body redoubles its efforts to ingest real calories as though they’re opening up holes the body needs to fill.
That same thing happens when we re-watch Twin Peaks. The yearning arises as we get riled up alongside Bobby Briggs’ j’accuse routine, or reminisce with the Horne brothers, or weep with Laura’s mother, played by the excellently cast “Amazing Grace” Zabrinski, after she learns of her daughter’s death. Who are we really getting choked up about? Or better yet: what? The high emotion, empty calories, and fraught nostalgia of the show make it a perfect vessel for the sweetness, sadness, and resignation of our memories. We become the actors, dredging up our own stories, picking our scabs to bleed for the act of watching. The show itself becomes a more intimate show-within-a-show, and provides a window, a decent if abstracted overview of the shenanigans and general soapiness of our own high school years. What we once watched to admire the man behind it, we now embrace to inhabit the dark, pliant husks of its characters. Their unearned emotion becomes earned. David Lynch’s soaring selfportrait has finally, 20 years after its inception, become our own.
Twin Peaks first aired a couple months shy of my 15th birthday. I fell in love with it immediately, but it wasn’t until the full VHS box set release five years later that I watched the show in any organized way—largely because my life at 15 was too adolescently unpredictable to afford time for regularly scheduled programming.
Since 1995, I rewatched episodes of the show now and then, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York in 2005 that I began rewatching in earnest. Since then I haven’t stopped. It was only a matter of time before it worked its way into my own work, and with the publication of The Guild of St. Cooper in 2015, I feel like the show’s influence, and my fandom, will have come full circle.
Over the last year as I described The Guild, and the role Twin Peaks plays in it (see synopsis), I began to realize how many other writers were heavily influenced by the show. I began to look forward to sharing stories about discovering the show, to hearing about how other writers have been drawn back to it over the years. To exploring the hows and whys.
The Twin Peaks Project is the result of those conversations. It will be a series of essays, articles, and other works by writers and artists discussing their personal connection to the show. These pieces will be published and posted in participating online journals and blogs, and will be introduced and indexed here on this site.
The Twin Peaks Project will officially kick off later this summer with the publication of my own essay. Until then, I’m gathering works by writers, and speaking with publishers and editors interested in hosting a part of the series.
If you’re a writer, publisher, or blogger, I invite you to Join the Project.
Thanks for stopping by,