The composer of TWIN PEAKS and BLUE VELVET scores talks to S&F about David Lynch, the Olympics, and the magic of music.
YELENA DEYNEKO: “Twin Peaks” is returning to television.
ANGELO BADALAMENTI: Between you and me, I knew about this two and a half years ago. David told me and said, “Please don’t tell anybody.”
YD: Was there a “Twin Peaks” movie?
AB: “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.” It came out and got knocked. It’s one of my favorites that David did. Very underrated and only now being recognized. Like Stravinsky and “The Rite of Spring” – at the premiere they were throwing tomatoes at him, booing and walking out on this great masterpiece. They didn’t understand it.
YD: It had to grow on people.
AB: At least in his lifetime he saw people make the turnaround. I pity people like Georges Bizet who wrote “Carmen,” which everyone hated; I think he died before it became one of the great operas of our time.
YD: Who was your favorite character to translate to music?
AB: Well, “Twin Peaks” characters are so outrageous. But Audrey, [chuckling] she was just so sexy. God almighty! It was marvelous to see her dancing to this abstract jazzy music. [plays a bit of “Audrey’s Dance”] – that music is dreamy but sensuous and sexy. She played with all this innocence, a little teenage girl from junior high school with a short skirt, it was incredible, this other side of her. But underneath it she was also a pretty dark character.
The notes just came out. David was stunned, as was I. The hair on his arms was up and he had tears in his eyes: “I see Twin Peaks. I got it.” I said, I’ll go home and work on it. “Work on it?! Don’t change a note.” And of course I never did.
YD: What’s your favorite musical theme from “Twin Peaks” series?
AB: “Twin Peaks Theme” – Laura Palmer’s theme – and it’s amazing how that was written.
David came to my little office across from Carnegie Hall and said, “I have this idea for a show, ‘Northwest Passage.’” I remember saying, “That sounds like something I read in junior high school.” [chuckles] He sat next to me at the keyboard and said, “I haven’t shot anything, but it’s like you are in a dark woods with an owl in the background and a cloud over the moon and sycamore trees are blowing very gently…” I started to press the keys for the opening chord to “Twin Peaks Love Theme,” because it was the sound of that darkness. He said, “A beautiful troubled girl is coming out of the woods, walking towards the camera…” I played the sounds he inspired. “And she comes closer and it reaches a climax and…” I continued with the music as he continued the story. “And from this, we let her go back into the dark woods.” The notes just came out. David was stunned, as was I. The hair on his arms was up and he had tears in his eyes: “I see Twin Peaks. I got it.” I said, “I’ll go home and work on it.” “Work on it?! Don’t change a note.” And of course I never did.
YD: You winged it.
AB: Ooh, hey! Improvisation. But the words inspired me. He is such a visual person and I was able to translate that into the sound and identity for “Twin Peaks.” And it’s a series, these themes get repeated with these characters and even twenty-five years later. The characters change – physically. They are not quite the same, but the music transcends age. It’s got beauty, but with darkness and sadness. Just as Laura Palmer is beautiful, there’s something menacing under the surface.
YD: Just like life.
AB: Exactly. We’re all part of that world. David came up and was talking about music, maybe not even thinking that I’d do anything on the project, but I’m spontaneous. I hate to say this, but music and composing come very easy to me. It’s almost not fair. It’s just always there. I do have fear in nightmares every now and then: Do I still have the music? Is there another beautiful melody in Angelo Badalamenti? But only in nightmares.
YD: You never had a block?
AB: I guess. The Summer Olympics committee in Barcelona called me to do music for the opening Torch Theme, where a flaming arrow flew over the cauldron. I knew it had to be exceptional. They said, “We need a demo, because we have to time the guy who runs around the arena with the torch, goes up on the stage, lights and shoots the arrow.” Two months pass and I wasn’t happy with anything I had. And they kept mailing and calling. “Dear Angelo, we need this demo…” “I am still working on it!” Finally they stopped the “Dear Angelo” and were saying, “Dear Mr. Badalamenti” – and when they call you by your last name, you’re in trouble. I still didn’t have it. One Saturday night my wife and I are getting ready to go to a wedding, I’m in the shower and start singing bom-bom-bom-bom…“What the heck am I singing?” And it hit me! “My god, The Olympics!” So I put a robe on and ran down to the piano and in fifteen minutes, wrote the five-and-a-half minute piece. The point was that it seemed like a writing block at the time, but it’s working inside you. I wanted to make sure it was outstanding so I took more time; even when it eventually came out in fifteen minutes, I was writing it all along, I just never knew it.
YD: How did you know you had talent?
AB: When I was eight my piano teacher told my parents, “This boy has some talent.” I had to practice after school, and I’d look out the window in Bensonhurst at my friends playing stickball, punchball, stoopball, ‘Johnny on a pony,’ laughing and having fun – and I’m going “do re mi…” So I told my father, “I don’t like music or practicing. I want to stop lessons,” and because it was costing five dollars a week and things were tough, I stopped. It was over. No music. I played with my friends and had a grand time! Then my older brother came home from the army and said, “How’s your piano lessons?” I said, “I told Daddy I don’t like music,” and he said, “We we’re gonna see about that,” and he went to my parents and reprimanded them. And I went back to practice. Then I’m twelve and in junior high school. I’d sit at a piano in an auditorium and a girl would sit next to me –“Oh Angelo, that’s so nice.” So I went home and practiced more. And the better I got, more and more girls would come. That’s what sold me. I played piano and French horn in the school orchestras.
YD: When did you start writing?
AB: I was always writing. I got up on weekends and wrote instrumentals, one after another. I would advertise in magazines and newspapers for people to send me lyrics and got letters from all over America. This guy, John Clifford from Lawrence, Kansas sent the most intelligent lyrics so I wrote songs with him.
YD: How did your first record happen?
AB: At the time I wrote two songs, with lyrics by John Clifford. What do you do with songs?
I saw “Nina Simone Enterprises” in the Yellow Pages. I didn’t know better: “What have I got to lose? Let me go and play them for her.” I go to her Fifth Avenue office and a man opens the door – her husband and manager. I said, “I’ve written two songs I’d like to play for Ms. Simone.” He said, “She’s out shopping on Fifth Avenue and she’ll be back in an hour and a half.” I said, “Okay, I’ll wait.” “I don’t know if she’s gonna wanna hear your song, son.” “I’ll still wait if you don’t mind.” In comes this beautiful, elegant woman with a fur coat and stole; she puts down her shopping bags and the husband says, “Nina, this young fellow has a couple of songs he’d like to play for you.” “Yeah? Sing the songs.” “I don’t see a piano, Ms. Simone. I gotta accompany myself.” “No, just sing.” I sing “Hold No Grudge” and she says, “Give me that lead sheet. What else you have?” I sing “He Ain’t Comin’ Home No More.” She says, “Okay, give me that lead sheet too – ’bye, nice meeting you.” On my way out the husband says, “Come to A&R Studios next Wednesday and you’re gonna hear Nina and the piano with forty violins and orchestra, and these two songs. I know my wife; she’s gonna record them.” I thought, “My god, what an easy business!” So I go to the studio and as I’m walking down the hall I hear the ending of “Hold No Grudge,” and there’s Nina at the piano. She did it in one take – the orchestra stands up and applauds. Quite a lady! I wrote three songs for her. It was aggressive for a young person, but it worked. I was also very confident sitting at a piano and singing my songs for anybody because… I don’t want to brag, but I knew I was good. Especially for the kind of songs I’d written for Nancy Wilson and Nina and Melba Moore and Patti Austin; a lot of pop and R&B lady singers recorded my songs because of the emotion. I was and am still a good demonstrator. Whether they like the song or not, that’s sometimes yes, sometimes no.
YD: That’s how you first started to make money?
AB: No, my first job was teaching seventh-graders at Dyker Heights Junior High, P.S. 201. My fifth year there we did a Christmas show. I didn’t like the repertoire so I said, “Why don’t I compose?” I’m not a lyric writer so I wrote my friend in Kansas, who I never met, and asked him to put together a book based on Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” We put on a show and the principal, teachers and parents loved it and called the Board of Education to come down; they said, “This is marvelous,” and called Channel Thirteen, PBS. They came down and said, “We’d like to take your kids into our studio, put a little band together, videotape it and show it on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”
YD: Was that your “big break”?
AB: It was a good start! The Monday morning after it showed, I got a call from a small music publisher in New York. I went up to his dingy office at 1674 Broadway and he said, “Write me some instrumentals.” I went home and wrote, sat down in his office again and played them. He said, “You should resign from teaching and do music full-time. I’ll make you my fifty/fifty partner. All you do is write all day.” I was twenty-seven and loved my job, so I was torn. The school principal said, “The children love you and the work you’ve done here is incredible, but I’ve known too many talented people who never gave themselves a shot to pursue their dreams.” So the guy and I became partners, I kept writing and things developed.
Had I been married, there was no way in hell I would do that. It would be totally irresponsible if you had a child. Thank god I was lucky enough to afford to take that chance.
YD: What does it take to become successful?
AB: Being in the right place at the right time. A good attitude. I’m in touch with incredibly gifted young composers. Who are the lucky ones? The first thing, is don’t give up. And always keep a smile on your face to deal with rejection. I’ve known some talented young people who could not take it. You just accept it and say, “Sorry you didn’t like that piece I wrote, but maybe I’ll bring another next week.” If you smile you can go back. But if you say, “You don’t know one note from another and you’re telling me?!,” it’s over.
YD: Have you been rejected?
AB: Oh, I went into a terrible depression for nine months. I wrote music for a show which starred Winston Churchill’s daughter Sarah, a singer who had written a book called The Boy Who Made Magic. My publishing partner and I turned it into a musical at the Hayloft Dinner Theater outside of Washington DC, and we got Sarah to star in it. We had great hopes but terrible reviews – all these Broadway dreams, and then bang. Everything changed. Food and coffee tasted different. Our partnership got hurt. It had a very traumatic effect. It was shocking that something could fall apart after such hard work.
YD: How did you recover?
AB: Starting over and working on songs. It was before I got involved with movies. I started to get records and was being very aggressive going around to publishers and record companies. Finally I forgot about that fiasco.
YD: How did you get into movies?
AB: There was a script called “Gordon’s War,” one of those black exploitation films by Ossie Davis. He was finishing shooting and I said, “I know you’re editing, but I saw your script and wrote a couple of themes.” He said, “This is an all-brother, black-oriented film that takes place in Harlem – nightlife, drugs, cocaine and other darkness of that world. Barry White wants to do the music.” Barry White was very hot. I said, “Just let me play you the songs… See now, the troubled girl whose husband is in the army and the druggies have gotten to her” – and I started to sing and play “Child of Tomorrow.” He says, “That’s beautiful.” I said, “Now, for the pimps and prostitutes and druggies walking down the Harlem streets [plays “Come On and Dream Some Paradise”] – he said, “That’s the streets of Harlem at night…” I said, “Ossie, my roots are Sicilian. Look on a map at the bottom of Sicily – you do seven strokes from Sicily and you’re in Africa. I may not be your brother but I’m certainly your cousin! [laughs and plays a chord] He said, “Do the movie!” And that’s how I did my first film.
I went to see “Bye Bye Birdie” on Broadway and at intermission I noticed Nat King Cole in the men’s room doing his thing. I said, “Do I have a song for you!” He looked at me like, “Son, there’s a time and a place for everything, and this ain’t it!”
YD: Perfect timing!
AB: A thought on timing! I was very aggressive as a youngster. I went to see “Bye Bye Birdie” on Broadway and at intermission I noticed Nat King Cole in the men’s room doing his thing. I said, “Do I have a song for you!” He looked at me like, “Son, there’s a time and a place for everything, and this ain’t it!” [laughs] Of course, I didn’t get a Nat Cole record, but that takes chutzpah. If you get enough shots and make noise, things follow. Of course the greatest for me was meeting director David Lynch.
YD: How did it happen? I hear it’s quite a story!
AB: My friend Peter Runflo said Lynch was shooting in North Carolina and Isabella Rossellini wasn’t happy with the people teaching her to sing. Why don’t you go down?” I said, “You can get anybody for that. I gotta wash my car.” [laughs] I was more into arranging and orchestrating and didn’t know who David Lynch was. But he convinced me by saying it’s a Dino De Laurentiis movie – I knew that name. I met with Isabella and after a couple of hours with a piano and a little cassette recorder, we got a decent vocal. So we go over to the set where David is shooting the last scene; I never saw hair so tall in my life, tight shirt and jacket, y’know. He puts on the earphones, listens to the recording and says, “Peachy-keen. That’s the ticket!” I’m from Bensonhurst; I didn’t know what that meant! Then he said, “Why don’t you take Isabella to New York, get a band together and record her?” I believe David took little if any money to direct, but contractually he had total creative freedom, within limits, and he wanted to use “Song of the Siren” by the Cocteau Twins, his favorite song at the time – but because they wanted fifty thousand dollars for the rights, Dino De Laurentiis says, “Tell this music guy to write a song like the one you want” and to pacify De Laurentiis, David said, “Ok, I’m gonna write a few words and let this guy from New Jersey write a little music, and then say, ‘I heard it and don’t like it, but at least I tried’ – and then just use the record.” So Isabella comes to the studio with a little piece of yellow paper that says, “Mysteries of Love: Sometimes the wind blows and you and I float in love and kiss forever in the darkness.” I’m reading this and saying, “This is not a song. There’s no rhymes. I write songs that have a hook. I’m so sorry I asked this guy to write a lyric!” So I called David and said, “Your lyric is really something” – I didn’t say bad or good – “and by the way, what kind of music do you hear?” “Oh, just let it float like the tides of the ocean, make it collect space and time, timeless and endless.” So Julee Cruise comes in and sings it in a beautiful, soft tone in the upper register. That song created the sound. Radio stations had a hard time playing it. It’s not pop, R&B, jazz, country – what is it? It was a tone poem and “Twin Peaks” integrated it.
So David and I started to collaborate. He said, “I need a main-title theme with a Russian sound.” He wanted to use Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony for Blue Velvet, which would not have cost much. He asked, “Can you write like Shostakovich?” I said, “You’re talking about one of my favorite composers. I’m not half as good, but I can write in that style.” And on the plane to LA I wrote the music and he flipped: “It’s Russian, dark, a little dissonant – beautiful but strange at the same time.”
YD: You understood each other.
AB: We’re like brothers; when we work there’s little to say. David’s into so many worlds. His art is the most important thing in his life. He’s into music, he’s a carpenter – and of course there’s transcendental meditation. We were shooting Blue Velvet at around 4:00 in the afternoon and he said, “I’ll be back in an hour.” The production guy says, “We’re shooting!” “No, I’ve gotta meditate.” He didn’t care that they shut down and it’s gonna cost all this money to wait. He meditates twice a day. And his foundation is doing wonderful things for children: There’s a middle school in San Francisco known for violence, stabbings; David got them involved with meditation and the kids are starting to excel and work.
YD: Did he encourage you to meditate?
AB: For years, and my answer was, “I’m a happy camper, I don’t need it.” He said, “It’s not just about being happy.” He was relentless: “Please see this person in New York and try lessons for five days.” I spent four hours a day doing all the proper meditation. [chuckles] My wife and I did it for a while afterwards and started to feel pretty good, but haven’t continued.
YD: You meditate through music.
AB: I close my eyes and do a pedal, like an F sharp – which is supposed to be the balance of the universe – and an A 440. There’s a stability to it. It’s the vibration of the center of all things. I let that get inside me and whatever it is just flows right out of me. And everything I play is recorded. That’s my meditation.
YD: Has your music ever affected the development of a character or script?
AB: With David’s movies for sure, because I do most of it before he shoots, and he might play it while shooting so the actors can speak to the themes, tempo and feel. But with almost every other director or movie, a composer comes in last, because film is edited in order to compose to split-second timing. That’s when nothing can change in the script.
YD: What’s the difference between scoring for film and a series?
AB: Television is creating themes for characters who come back every week. You orchestrate and rearrange them to build a library of sounds, but the theme still relates to those people. You don’t have that opportunity in a two-hour film. Sometimes you just want the music for a character to be so subliminal that the audience will think, “My god, why is this other scene relating to that person?”
YD: What were recent exciting projects?
AB: Stalingrad, directed by Fedor Bondarchuk. They flew me to Moscow to record with the Russian orchestra. As soon as I got to my hotel, everybody in Moscow knew Angelo Badalamenti’s checking in! Even the flight was great; they have “Imperial Class” right behind the pilot and rather attractive young hostesses: “May I make your bed, Mr Badalamenti? May I cover you now, Mr. Badalamenti?” “Yes, that’d be okay…” And a gourmet meal! It’s like twenty courses!
The concept was the battle of Stalingrad over access to oil fields and the name “Stalingrad” – Hitler wanted to wipe out the city. What attracted me was an opportunity to use what I call my classical chops. At first I thought, “Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev… why is Bondarchuk calling an Italian from Brooklyn?” But I had a couple of themes for the struggle and pain and relationships of this young girl being cared for by five Russian soldiers in the Pavlov House – which the Germans tried to take, but it’s still standing in Stalingrad.
Two weeks before the final cut, Fedor says, “Can you write one more theme that just tears the heart out?” I said, “You gotta be crazy, I’ve given you an hour and thirty minutes of music.” But I wrote one more; he loved it and said, “I want Anna Netrebko to do this part” – one of the great Metropolitan Opera singers. He sends her this music and she says, “I love it. l’ll do a vocalise.” She comes to the studio in jeans, no makeup; she is no diva. Gorgeous lady! The project turned out to be the biggest box-office success in the history of Russia. In a few weeks they did over sixty-two million dollars.
YD: Tell the Paul McCartney story.
AB: I got a call from his office: “Paul would love for you to come out to Abbey Road Studios for an orchestration project; it would be you and him and the engineer and an orchestra.” I said, “I’m too busy on a movie.” They come back with, “Paul will do anything, he’s gotta have you. We’ll send you on Concorde back and forth.” I go out and meet with Paul. I’m rehearsing the orchestra, everything is going great and he comes over to where I am by the conductor. “Stop the orchestra, it sounds fine,” he says, “and let me tell you this: I was invited by the Queen’s office to perform forty minutes of my music at Buckingham Palace to celebrate her birthday. I was very excited. So the night of her birthday, my band is on stage, I’m about to go on and the Queen comes by and says ‘Mr. McCartney, it was so lovely to see you today.’ And I said, ‘Your Highness, thank you so much, I’m honored. I’m gonna go up and perform for you.’ ‘Oh, Mr. McCartney, I’m so sorry, I can’t stay. It’s five minutes of eight – I must go upstairs and watch ‘Twin Peaks.’” And Paul punched me on my arm; I’m still black and blue!
YD: Bowie and Bono story?
AB: So a record company that did AIDS charity albums invited me onto a record of collaborations on George Gershwin songs. I did a dark, mysterious six-minute orchestration of “A Foggy Day” – wrote an overture, put down a reference vocal. They loved it and said, “Which singer do you want to collaborate with?” I said, “I just sang on it.” “Oh no, you have to collaborate with someone.” “I did collaborate.” “With who?” “George Gershwin!” So they left the room and didn’t know what to think, and that was that. Finally the phone rang and David Bowie says, “This track is incredible. Would you let me be the singer? I gotta do it.” I thought for a second. “Alright, David, you’re capable of that cool sound and I love the way you sing.” Next morning at seven o’clock, my phone rings and I hear static and then, “Angelo, this is Bono. I’m in my limousine in Ireland doing my album and touring, so this track is the last thing I wanted to hear because it’s so beautiful. Can you let me be the singer?” I said, “I committed last night to Bowie.” He said, “Well, he sings good, too.”
YD: Do you compose for yourself?
AB: I’m working on projects almost all the time. But now I’m having a little fun. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe came to me three months ago and said, “We’re doing a Pet Shop Boys night for ‘BBC Proms,’ a big event. The first half is five songs with a Symphony Orchestra – could you arrange an orchestration?” That was fun; they used the singer from The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde. And Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries and I are working on her album; she’s a wonderful lyricist with an edge to her voice. And there’s a couple of movie projects down the line. So every day is a new day.
I don’t have to worry about making money to buy bread and milk for my children. My agent doesn’t like it; they keep sending me projects and I turn down most of them. It’s gotta really move me.
YD: Keep on going…
AB: Some people say, “Shouldn’t you retire?” I answer, “From being creative?” As long as the well doesn’t run dry I’m okay. I’m only gonna work with people I like. I don’t have to worry about making money to buy bread and milk for my children. My agent doesn’t like it; they keep sending me projects and I turn down most of them. It’s gotta really move me.