Thursday, December 14, 2017

“Just You and I”: Performance, Nostalgia, and Narrative Space in The Return

By Katherine M. Reed

Part 13 of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Return approached its close, as had become expected, with a performance at the Roadhouse. As the opening guitar riff began, though, a collective groan rose among Twin Peaks fans. Creator David Lynch, in his perversity, had brought back one of the most mocked musical moments of the original series: James Hurley’s heartfelt throwback, “Just You.”

This musical performance was just one of many gigs at the Twin Peaks hotspot in The Return. Most episodes were marked by a final performance on the stage of the Roadhouse; most of these came from bands who exist in our own world, not just the fictitious narrative of the show. These Roadhouse scenes received a fair amount of fan attention<1>: did these vignettes have secret meanings? Just what was going on at the Twin Peaks Roadhouse?

Though this string of musical performances is diverse and resists easy interpretation, we can see each of them as serving an important narrative purpose. Here, with “Just You,” Lynch and Frost open up the world of Twin Peaks, questioning our nostalgic view of the town and the show, and bringing it much closer to our own world. Lynch is tapping into a favorite trope throughout his oeuvre: the performance of a familiar song by characters within the diegesis.<2> Typically providing us with an onscreen surrogate through whom to understand the performance, Lynch plays with our connections to the selected pre-existing music while giving us a lens through which to make sense of the scene and to enter more deeply into the narrative world of the work.<3> As Kathryn Kalinak has noted of the original Twin Peaks, the series’ music “gains its power by activating powerful conventions embodied in these models [film and television] and then both transgressing and reconstructing them.”<4> The Return plays with the expectations set by the original series, drawing on twofold nostalgia (for the song and the era it represents, and for the show itself) to complicate our experience.

Of course, The Return can be watched and enjoyed without previous knowledge of the show’s original run. I would argue, though, that Lynch and Frost seem to have conceived of this revival as existing in dialogue with their earlier work. In visual allusions, character interactions, and reused footage, The Return makes itself very difficult to watch without reference to the 1990-91 episodes. Twin Peaks has long been concerned with the passage of time (“I’ll see you again in 25 years”<5>), and this focus continues through Mark Frost’s summation of the show’s history to this point in The Final Dossier.<6> Given this, I approach this scene from the position of a repeat viewer of the show, drawing connections among episodes, though I acknowledge that this is not the sole possible spectator position.

The original “Just You” is sung in the second season of Twin Peaks by James, Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), and Maddie Ferguson (Sheryl Lee). Singing in the Hayward living room, the three perform for no audience but each other. The song is presented as a simple (if melodramatic) expression of teenage love, and its musical expression is built to match. “Just You” begins with a simple guitar riff that will serve as the counter-melody for James’ repetitive vocal line in the first verse. At the end of the verse, a bass line and spare drum set accompaniment enter, though neither instrument is present in the scene. The girls also join with echoing vocal interjections that flesh out a bit of sparse harmony. The sound of the song is unnatural, with vocal echoes on James’ line and phantom instruments. It intentionally sounds like a transmission from the past in its doo-wop style.<7> In line with the song’s lyrical content, the scene shows the growing feelings Donna has for James, brought to the fore by James’ love song. As Michel Chion notes, James and Donna are both characters whose legibility as types allows them to “enable identification” for the audience and draw us deeper into their drama.<8> Lynch’s careful use of reaction shots<9> (see chart below) accomplishes much the same.

In The Return, the song operates differently, both evoking and challenging its original presentation, though the sound itself remains exactly the same. We witness “Just You” through the eyes of an underdeveloped character, Renee (Jessica Szohr), whose backstory is unknown. Given the lack of information about the character, we are unable to identify with her engagement in the performance. Rather, we can see her reaction as a reflection of Donna’s, and the performance as an echo of the original. The end result is that, rather than being drawn deeper into the insular diegesis of the show, we are forced to confront these performances as existing in our own world. At the Roadhouse, we as audience members are witnessing performances of songs we may know, by their original performers, in a space which seems to transgress the boundaries of Twin Peaks’ narrative as we have come to know it. Lynch embraces the idea of the Roadhouse as a liminal space, but here it is a space between the reality of The Return and our own reality.

“Just You” illustrates this liminality perfectly. First, the sound of the song: The Return uses the same recording from Season Two, as many online commenters immediately noticed. Indeed, James Marshall himself was surprised at Lynch’s reuse of the recording without any editing. Just as Mark Mazullo has described in the original iteration, this recording again makes its remove from live performance felt very clearly. In this new performance, there’s yet another remove: the presence of our memory of the original, and this performance’s very direct doubling of it.

That doubling is not only musical, but also visual. Accompanying James on stage are two young brunette singers, dressed in cardigans and strikingly reminiscent of Donna and Maddie. More than that, though, Lynch frames this sequence to subvert our expectations, built from our repeated experience of the original.

As the chart below shows, Lynch shoots the opening of the performance similarly: showing James performing, and his love interest responding. It’s in the second verse, though, that The Return forces us to confront the falseness of our nostalgic reading. Lynch gives a wide shot of the entire stage, revealing the Maddie and Donna dopplegängers. We’re confronted with an image of James, aged more than 25 years since the original, as we hear his voice from the 1990 recording and see the reflection of his former youthfulness in the female singers. It’s here that Lynch inserts wide shots of the audience, dark and anonymous, further shattering the illusion that we could somehow witness the return of the childlike, intimate original performance. In conjunction with Renee’s incongruously intense crying, we are unable to enter the scene by identifying with her and are instead left to grapple with the distance from which we, and The Return, regard the memory of Twin Peaks.

It’s fitting that this performance comes in this particular episode. Though The Return was deeply concerned with nostalgia and the passage of time, Episode 13 in particular reminds us, in each storyline, of the disruption caused to our memory of Twin Peaks by the passage of time. A stultified Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) shows a glimmer of recognition at the smell of coffee and the sight of cherry pie – but that glimmer is soon snuffed. Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) and Norma (Peggy Lipton) appear to have finally found a way to be together when we see them at the Double R Diner—but it quickly becomes apparent that they’re still just friends. Even the Double R’s legendary cherry pie isn’t safe from the ravages of time, as Norma’s new business partner tells her it’s simply not profitable anymore. Throughout The Return, Lynch and Frost shatter our nostalgic view of the original Twin Peaks, but it is in this Roadhouse performance that the passage of time, in Twin Peaks as in the real world, is most clearly communicated, and our nostalgia for the Twin Peaks of our memory is questioned.
<1>For more on the Twin Peaks online fan community, see Henry Jenkins, “’Do You Enjoy Making the Rest of Us Feel Stupid?’:, the Trickster Author, and Viewer Mastery,” in Fans, Gamers, and Bloggers: Exploring Participatory Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 115-133.
<2>Gene Willet has discussed Lynch’s use of popular music as a catalyst for the shift into Lacanian fantasy. See, for example, Gene Willet, “Popular Music as Fantasy in David Lynch,” in Popular Music and the New Auteur: Visionary Filmmakers After MTV, ed. Arved Ashby (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 87-108.
<3>For more on this practice in Lynch’s films, see Katherine Reed, “’We Cannot Content Ourselves with Remaining Spectators’: Musical Performance, Audience Interaction, and Nostalgia in the Films of David Lynch,” Music and the Moving Image 9, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 3-22.
<4>Kathryn Kalinak, “’Disturbing the Guests With This Racket’: Music and Twin Peaks,” in Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks, ed. David Lavery (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995), 83.
<5>Link to clip from season 2 finale:
<6>See, for example, Mark Frost, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier (New York: Flatiron Books, 2017), “Interoffice Memorandum, September 7, 2017.”
<7>James Marshall notes that the song was essentially composed on set as a collaboration between Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch, and himself. See Pieter Dom, “How David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti, and James Marshall Wrote James Hurley’s ‘Just You,’” Welcome to Twin Peaks, August 13, 2017. Accessed October 21, 2017.
<8>Michel Chion, David Lynch, translated by Robert Julian (London: BFI Publishing, 2006), 101.
<9>For more on Lynch’s manipulation of reaction shots, see Chion, David Lynch, 177-179.
Katherine Reed is an assistant professor of musicology at California State University, Fullerton. Her research interests include musical semiotics, the use of pre-existing music in film, and British popular music, particularly David Bowie’s works of the 1970s. Reed’s work has appeared in Music and the Moving Image, The Avid Listener, and the Society for American Music’s Digital Lectures series. Her current book project, Hooked to the Silver Screen: David Bowie and the Moving Image, is supported by a research fellowship at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame library and archive.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this entry! This moment in _Twin Peaks_ makes me think of nouvelle vague cinema and particularly of Godard, who as auteur director so often seems to point to the strangeness of music in film. I'm thinking particularly of the frequent repetitions of the main theme in _Le mépris_ (1963), which happen so often or go on for so long that the original function (as sentimental "love music") is undermined. Again, thanks!