Angelo Badalamenti: Composer with a penchant for disturbing soundtracks

Angelo Badalamenti, a composer whose penchant for what he called “dark beauty” courted collaborators like David Bowie, found its fullest expression in the scores for filmmaker David Lynch – particularly the synth-heavy music for blue velvet, twin peaks and Mulholland Drive – died at the age of 85.

Badalamenti has written nearly 50 films and has worked with directors such as Paul Schrader and Danny Boyle. As a songwriter and orchestrator, he worked with Bowie and Michael Jackson on records and music videos.

But it was his symbiosis with Lynch that left the most lasting mark. Badalamenti enchanted the director’s surreal work with dreamlike melancholy, fear and jazzy humor, embodied in twin peaks. Mixing elements of crime fiction and bizarre soap opera, the series, set in a fictional small town in Northwest America, aired for two seasons on ABC in the early 1990s before being revived on Showtime in 2017.

The composer’s theme song won a Grammy Award in 1990, and the soundtrack album was an international smash, charting in the top 25 of the Billboard 200.

“He’s got this musical soul, and he’s always got melodies buzzing around him,” Lynch said people Magazine in 1990. “I feel the mood of a scene in the music and one thing helps the other and they both just start climbing.”

Badalamenti was a modestly successful radio and musical theater songwriter when Lynch contacted him. He co-wrote a number of popular songs, including the tinny torch song “Face It Girl, It’s Over,” popularized by Nancy Wilson.

In 1985, Badalamenti received a call from Fred C. Caruso, who was producing blue velvet, Lynch’s innovative exploration of suburban mysteries and murder. Caruso knew of the composer’s experience working with singers, and star Isabella Rossellini needed a vocal coach for her songs.

“I worked with them for about three or four hours [Rossellini] on the keyboard and recorded her singing the song ‘Blue Velvet,'” the composer said New York Times in 2005. “We went over and played it to David Lynch, who was shooting the final scene. He put on his headphones and said, ‘That’s peachy hot’.”

“I said to Fred, ‘What does that mean?’ You know, I’m from Bensonhurst – we don’t use those words,” Badalamenti later said Rolling Stone. “Fred replied, ‘He loves it’.”

The director soon asked Badalamenti to compose the score. When Lynch couldn’t license Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren,” he also commissioned his own song and advised him, “Do it like the wind, Angelo. It should be a song that swims on the sea of ​​time.”

The resulting score and song “Mysteries of Love” became the template for “Lynchian” music. The director’s lyrics were sung by the late Julee Cruise – who had been a chorus girl in an off-Broadway musical by Badalamenti – and the composer encouraged her to deliver an angelic doo-wop-era sound via its delicate, sustained synth chords to channel. The three artists enjoyed the effort so much that they made an entire album: Cruise’s “Floating into the Night,” which spent time on the Billboard 200.

David Lynch, Julee Cruise and Badalamenti


Her music helped forge the “dream pop” subgenre and later influenced artists like Lana Del Rey. It also communicated the sound twin peakswho repurposed an instrumental version of Cruise’s song “Falling” as the show’s hit theme theme.

Starring Kyle MacLachlan as FBI special agent, the series revolved around the mystery of who killed local high school student Laura Palmer. Badalamenti wrote a slow, heartbreaking elegy that infused the show with tragic romance; New York Times Music critic John Rockwell once described it as “giving everything an electronic sheen, as if the music were radioactive.”

Badalamenti wrote the tune one afternoon while Lynch sat next to him at his Fender Rhodes keyboard and described the scene: “It’s the dead of night, we’re in a dark forest, it’s a full moon outside. There are plane trees gently swaying in the gentle breeze. Now behind that tree there is a beautiful, worried, lonely young girl.”

The composer composed Lynch’s subsequent films in the same way, by Abandoned highway 1997 – a time-looping noir starring Patricia Arquette and Bill Pullman – on the critically acclaimed film Mulholland Drive 2001 a showbiz thriller starring Naomi Watts, in which the composer also appeared in a small role as a mafioso with high demands on espresso.

An unexpected departure for the duo was The Straight Story, a 1999 Disney film starring Richard Farnsworth as a vintage car driving his lawn mower across country. The composer’s score was appropriately rustic and sweet, a gentle lullaby for guitar and strings.

Badalamenti on stage during The Music of David Lynch concert in LA in 2015


His scores for other filmmakers, including Joel Schumacher cousins (1989) and Jane Campions Good gracious (1999), left behind the lynchish irony but retained the romance and often the somber mood. He gave Schrader The consolation of strangersa 1990 drama about a young couple who meet a mysterious Christopher Walken in Venice, an exotic score that grows from arabesques to full-blown opera.

He also wrote the lush theme music for the long-running interview program In the acting studio, hosted by James Lipton on the Bravo cable network. And as a result twin peaks In the fever he was invited to write the opening theme “Torch” for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

“Standing on that stage made me feel like Moses dividing the sea,” he said Rolling Stone. “And I’m not even Jewish.”

Angelo Daniel Badalamenti, whose father owned a fish market, was born on March 22, 1937 in Brooklyn. He began taking piano lessons at the age of eight and soon began writing his own pieces. “I don’t think you’re playing a lesson there,” his older brother Stephen recalled telling him once. “And he would say, ‘No, I’m just making noodles.’ I would hear those adorable, intelligent, wonderful little sounds.”

Badalamenti received a bachelor’s degree in French horn from the Manhattan School of Music in 1958 and a master’s degree in music education in 1959. He worked as a middle school music teacher to make ends meet while pursuing a songwriting career.

In 1966, he brazenly showed up at the New York office of pianist/singer Nina Simone, which he found in the Yellow Pages, and sang two numbers for her without the aid of a piano. “On the way out,” he recalled to the magazine spirit & flesh In 2015, “the husband said, ‘Come to A&R Studios next Wednesday and you will hear Nina and the piano with 40 violins and orchestra and these two songs. I know my wife – she will take you in. I thought, my god, what an easy deal!”

The songs – “I Hold No Grudge” and “He Ain’t Comin’ Home No More” with lyrics by John Clifford – appeared on Simone’s acclaimed 1967 album High Priestess of the Soul.

In 1968 he married the painter Lonny Irgens. He had a daughter, Danielle Badalamenti, and a son, André Badalamenti, who played clarinet on several of the composer’s recordings before his death in 2012.

Badalamenti’s name conjured up the image of an old-world maestro, but he was really a witty, golfing grandfather with a rough Brooklyn ridge. On paper, he was an odd opponent for Lynch, the souped-up Midwestern oddball Mel Brooks once dubbed “Jimmy Stewart from Mars.” But somehow they formed a unique artistic spirit – and a brotherly bond.

“We just love each other,” Badalamenti told a reporter in 2017. “It’s the best marriage of all – never a harsh word between us. Sometimes when we work together we don’t even need to talk about what’s going on. There is only a look between us, without words, and we know what to think and where to go. It’s a beautiful thing, man.”

Angelo Badalamenti, composer a Musicianborn March 22, 1937, died December 11, 2022

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