Interview with David Lynch: "Even in the so-called dark things there is beauty" (2023)

From the darkness of Mulholland Drive to the towering Twin Peaks, Angelo Badalamenti has created a soundscape that accompanies the vision of director David Lynch. The composer died in December 2022 and now Lynch has been interviewed by BBC Radio 3's Sound of Cinema. "There is beauty even in the so-called dark things," says Matthew Sweet.

Listen to the interview on BBC Radio Threemovie sound, which will air on May 27 at 3 p.m. BST.

David Lynch: Angelo, he can do anything, he can write any kind of music. He's studied all the classical stuff, but he's been writing jingles for a long time, so he can do anything. Angelo's secret is that if you know what you want, you have to get it from him. It's in it, but you have to get it out.

Matthew Sweet: You first met him on the set of Blue Velvet, can you describe how he hit you? It was love at first sight?

DL: In a way it was: Wilmington, North Carolina, was where we were. I wanted a local band, not a good band, just a hard working local band to support Isabella Rossellini singing Blue Velvet. We worked away, we worked away, and nothing happened. I thank Fred Caruso because he kept saying to me, “David. It doesn't work, let's call my friend Angel', but then his name was Andy. Angelo passed Andy Bedali at the start, God bless his heart, he certainly didn't have to, but he did, and Fred said, "Andy's coming to fix it." And I said, "well, bring Angel." And the next morning he was working with Isabella in the lobby of her hotel, that she had a piano that came in at noon and played the Beaumont house in Blue Velvet. And I said, Angela, we can put it in the movie as it is! That is fantastic!

The lyrics start to say something to Angelo's musical brain and that feeling comes from the lyrics. Because he can do anything, I could tell him something and he would touch it. And if I didn't like it, he would say something else and change!

MS: You wrote the lyrics for him in Mysteries of Love in Blue Velvet and I think I can say that Angelo Badalmenti loved you because in interviews he said that David Lynch gave me those lyrics and they didn't rhyme, they didn't have hooks what do I have to do with that!

DL: Angelo is a bit old school, so I messed with him a bit, and he liked the rhyming letters and he liked the shape, but he could easily break the mold if you trick him. And bless his heart, this guy could do anything! Another thing, said Fred Caruso, "You're always writing these little things on pieces of paper, why don't you send something to Angelo?" I said, “Fred! Give me a break!" Anyway, one thing led to another and he wrote Love Mysteries. And then I was like, "Okay, Angela, I want you to put this picture up." And all the time I listened to Shostakovich in A minor writing it, he must have had this Russian-American feeling on this film, and he said “okay” and walked away. And then we started working together, a long time after that.

MS: We got to hear about what happened when they were in the room together, there's something a little alchemical about it. I heard him describe it as if you had a premonition or a dream or a vision and he is right next to you and translates it into music. What would you say to him, describing what you wanted the theme song for Twin Peaks to be?

DL: Well, the main theme of Twin Peaks is fall. And Falling was something that Angelo and I wrote and Julee Cruise sang it. We wrote this back when Twin Peaks was just a dream, just at the beginning, and I told you what this show would be about. And they looked at me like, are you crazy?

MS: You describe being in a room...

DL: The way it always works with Angelo and me, I know the mood of things and the feel of things. So when I'm with Angelo, I sit next to him on the bench or always near him and I'm like, "Angela, he's got to have that vibe." He closes his eyes and plays something and I say "no, he has to be shorter or slower or more mysterious" and then he starts playing something else. And then I'm like, "no, it's still too fast, it's not dark enough, it's not heavy and sinister enough." And then he starts playing something and everything comes to his mind and I'm like “that's the beautiful angel” and I try to think of the next material in my head. But because he got the first thing, it makes sense in the music world that these other things would follow, and he knows it, and he's there, and he takes it out, and it's there, no question about it.

MS: I feel like they're almost trying something together. Those climbing piano notes in the Laura Palmer theme, under which the synth bed was held. Where are you and him going together in this music?

DL: Well, Angelo will definitely be flying to the stars. He grabs something and I'm there as his brother, filling the air with this freedom and energy to get it. It's so fragile, the early stages of everything are so fragile and it just has to be safe and full of potential for Angelo to find it. Then when he gets it, he's so amazing, so amazing.

MS: Sadness and the feeling of sin are present in many of your songs together. Angelo said that you brought out the dark side of her, what did he mean by that?

DL: I brought out, if nothing else, the real Angel, which is love. The feeling you can have is the feeling of the heart, full of heart, deep love, deep, deep love. Even in the so-called dark things there is beauty. It may be a premonition, but there is something else that is bigger. This is true.

MS: Let's talk about Lost Highway, a movie that gave me nightmares. It's a good example of how music conveys the character of a character because the character Bill Pullman plays is a saxophonist and he plays this crazy sad riff in the song called Red Bats with Teeth. Did you want that touch of madness featured in this tip? His madness.

DL: I think his name is Bob, he's a saxophonist and he's a great saxophonist. I think we were at Capital Records and Bob was riffing. And I was like, "Bob," and that happened all along the Lost Highway, there was this kind of conversation, "Bob, I go to sleep with as much energy as you. You send me to sleep, man. And then he looked at me weird. and he played harder, with much more force. I'd say, “Bob, I'm talking about falling asleep, I actually fell asleep during that last one, come on!” Shortly after, Bob is completely crazy and comes across something like this. And he really liked it.Angelo was there, but it was up to Bob to find something in him.

MS: Mulholland Drive, Hollywood's film noir, turns the stage of Los Angeles bungalows into one of the theaters of action. You and Angelo are credited as songwriters, why? Why are you there too?

DL: Again, I work with Angelo and sometimes I didn't want to cheat on Angelo or anything, but I say something like "play Shostakovich" to get Angelo to start playing. Then I'll say, "Play Wagner, Angel." And then Wagner starts playing and somewhere there are these notes flying around and I'm like, "Angela, what's that over there?" then Ángel plays and his eyes open and the game is played again and he finds this or that. And then we had two things that were really good, but I didn't feel finished, and I said, "Angela, why don't we play them together?" and wide-eyed, think and play at the same time and that's what Mulholland Drive is all about. And he wrote some beautiful things about this movie. We find them together because there is common sense in the world of music. You can't just give the music to someone else. It may be in another house, in another state, in another country. They see the video is incomplete and then you can't wait for them to write something you link to make it work. Maybe once in a while, but it has to go through one person, and that's the director. It's not about being selfish, it's about keeping everything together. You can't let the production designer plan it, the musician plan the music, and the editor plan the editing. It's fun, they are there to help you. The director makes the final decisions on all these things, talks to people and makes them focus on the ideas that you're trying to translate into the film.

MS: Angelo was a teacher before becoming a composer. He taught music and he taught English, what did he teach you?

DL: Angelo introduced me to the world of music, he opened up the whole world for me. I played trumpet in high school and I had to drop trumpet in high school because to play trumpet in school you had to be in band and go to school at six in the morning and practice marching all the way to school! football game!

MS: You didn't like the idea?

DL: It was horrible, so I quit! I said, "Are you kidding me, I don't get up at 5 in the morning," so Angelo introduced me to the world of music and opened up this world to me that was so amazing, and we talked to Angelo. He lived in New Jersey and I lived in Los Angeles, and ever since I met him, we talked on the phone regularly. We were like brothers, I just love Angel, I just love him. And when he passed, he hit me more than: so many people I worked with died, I miss every single one of them, and I just don't understand why people have to die. But Angela, it really hit me. I won't be able to call Angel on the phone, I won't be able to hear his voice anymore, I won't be able to work with him. All that music doesn't come out of there. It is awful.

MS: I've noticed that throughout this discussion, David, you refer to him in the present tense.

DL: You have to keep Angelo alive. I believe that life is a continuum and nobody really dies, they just leave their physical body and we will all meet again, as the song says. It's sad but not catastrophic if you think about it. Otherwise I don't see how anyone could watch someone die and disappear forever, and we're all forced to do that. I'm sorry but it just doesn't make sense, it's a sequel and everything will be alright at the end of this story.

MS: Is it present in the music you compose now? Tell me, if I listen to music that you composed yourself, like Inland Empire, can I hear its influence?

DL: You can. There are certain things that I like that Angelo liked and touched on, and if it ever came out someone would say Angelo wrote it, there are certain things, but really the most important thing Angelo can do is beauty and love. He can rip your heart out, he can make you cry like a baby, just tug at your heartstrings which Angelo can do, he just has a beautiful soul and he's so talented.

MS: I want to do something social, in our opinion, I want to go eat with Angelos.

DL: Angelo is Italian, so it's like pasta, spaghetti and meatballs, it's Angelo when he says sauce sauce. Angelo reminds me of very good Italian food.

MS: What was the best dinner you had with him? You and him together, do you remember a very good night together?

DL: After the screening of A Simple Story at the Cannes Film Festival, Angelo and I, Harry Dean and a bunch of people went to this little bar in the Carlton Hotel. We were having some wine and appetizers when Harry Dean suddenly said something about his dream. He dreamed of chocolate bunnies. So Angelo and I laughed, and then Harry Dean said another sentence that he added to what he said, which was funny to us, and now that sentence made us laugh again, even more than the first one. And then Harry Dean said the third thing, which made us laugh even more, and then Harry Dean said the fourth, and Angelo and I laughed even more. And Harry Dean said 17 things that night! So Angel and I almost died! We couldn't laugh anymore. It was painful, all the laughing tears were gone and we were dying! And that's what we're talking about. No standup comic has come close to that for us. How did Harry Dean Stanton do it? Also Angelo and I talked about Martin Luther King as a poet who had this way of speaking that was like music and built like music more and more and then this mundane feeling comes more and more until you want to cry because it's so beautiful and so profound. . . we would talk about those things.

MS: Do you still talk to him?

DL: I talk to Angelo all the time.

MS: May I ask what are you talking about? May I ask what you are asking?

DL: I just talk to him, talk to him about the weather or Angel, you play it really well when I listen to his old stuff. I still have a lot of things and he just lives for me.

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