Today’s deeply sad news was that singer Julee Cruise has committed suicide, following several years of suffering from lupus as well as depression. She first came to my attention like most others, in the soundtrack to David Lynch’s arresting “Blue Velvet.” The film’s composer Angelo Badalamenti had worked with Ms. Cruise in New York theater productions in the 80s and turned to her to be the voice on that film’s soundtrack. In a turn of events that couldn’t be expected, the original song that Lynch had wanted to figure as the love theme of his supremely dark film, “Song To The Siren” by This Mortal Coil, was priced out the the budget for synchronization rights. Lynch and Badalamenti needed to find a second way forward, leading them to write a song that had a similar vibe but was their own. But who to sing it? Badalamanti recalled Ms. Cruise and the rest was history.
When I saw the film, I was smitten by the delicacy of her song in the film. Her breathy vocal style seemed to me for all the world exactly the vocal footprint of Laurie Mayer; a favorite singer from the band Torch Song. At that time, I only had the one Torch Song album, and this seemed to be the next best thing. And it had the benefit of being on a CD, so I got the soundtrack and could hear this intriguing song. That seemed to be all for Julee Cruise.
Then in the fall of 1989, I was surprised to see that she had released a whole album, with all of the songs written by the team of Badalamenti and Lynch! I immediately bought “Floating Into the Night” as a special promo CD that was a picture disc at a time when 4 color silkscreening on the disc surface was a rare thing. I loved that album. I listened to it constantly, and it was probably my most played album of the 1990 year. It’s hard to believe now, but no one knew that five months later, by the spring of 1990, much of this music would be part of the ethereal soundtrack for the game changing “Twin Peaks” TV series that Lynch had been making. Below is a live version of the song “Up In Flames” with her poised Torch Song persona on VH-1’s New Visions from 1990.
Julee Cruise became something of a cause celebre at that time, appearing in the series as a singer at the series’ shady “Roadhouse.” “Twin Peaks” became a phenomenon. Striking American television with a white hot intensity that was absolutely the first water cooler television I can remember seeing. It was an immediate hit, but where can you go from there? As the series continued, and it became clear that Lynch was not interested in telling a linear story with conventional beats and payoffs, the audience trickled away. The weird tonal shifts that Lynch also liked with campy humor cheek-by-jowl with black terror, were also not a surefire way to win audience in America.
Within a year, the show was limping to a cancellation after its second season, and people moved on. As for me, it was the second to the last TV series I ever watched. By the mid-80s I severely limited my TV watching to one show a week. The last three shows I watched from the mid 80s to 1993 when I pulled the plug, were “The Days + Nights of Molly Dodd.” Then “Twin Peaks” then “Ren + Stimpy.” Then Any TV I watched after that was the [very] occasional DVD boxed set.
Speaking of home video, during the peak frenzy of the “Twin Peaks” craze, Lynch, Cruise, and Badalalamanti issued a wild home video of a musical/performance art hybrid called “Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream Of the Broken-Hearted.” It featured songs given an interpretation on stage [lip-synched] with Ms. Cruise reprising many of her songs from “Floating Into the Night” and the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack. It even had Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern, in their “Wild At Heart” personae performing int he introduction. Michael Anderson, who was The Man From Another Place in “Twin Peaks,” also appeared in the strange tableaux. Fortunately, this was available on laserdisc, so I bought one. Here’s how Lynch interpreted “I Float Alone” from that film.
1991 brought Julee Cruise singing a cover version of “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears” with the sturdy Badalamanti producing on the excellent soundtrack album to Wim Winders “Bis Ans Ende Der Welt” film, which I’ve never seen! But I sure have loved the soundtrack! It was packed with favorites [and R.E.M.] giving fantastic song performances that appeared only there. I could even stand the R.E.M. track, with Kate Pierson guesting.
Speaking of Kate Pierson, in 1992, Julee Cruise did something that no one expected. When Cindy Wilson took a leave of absence from The B-52’s to raise her family for a few years, the Athens legends got Julee Cruise to sub for Ms. Wilson on their tour for the “Good Stuff” album, which was made without Cindy participating. I could have gone to see Julee Cruise sing on that tour, which would have been my only chance to see her sing, but truth be told, I really dislike d all I had heard from “Good Stuff,” and besides; Cindy Wilson was my favorite member of The B-52’s!
That year also brought the last “Twin Peaks” experience I would have, the “Fire Walk With Me” prequel film. The night after the premiere, I woke up and immediately went to the nearest record store to buy the soundtrack. Whast I needed to hear, even before breakfast, was the most evil blues theme I’d ever heard in “The Pink Room,” but the album also hosted the last Julee Cruise song I would hear, “Questions In A World Of Blue.” This would be the last Julee Cruise song I would hear.
1993 brought the second Julee Cruise album for Warner Brothers. It was called “The Voice of Love” and I’ve not heard it. 1993 was a weird year for me, where I moved and bought a top of the line Macintosh at a price that curls my hair now, so I stayed away from record stores for a year or so. Missing a lot that happened in 1993. By that point I was no longer on the Julee Cruise bus, for reasons having nothing to do with the caliber of her art. It was a time when I stopped buying lots of artists I had favored.
Ms. Cruise spent the rest of the 90s occasionally subbing for Cindy Wilson when when was busy with her children. It was only after the advent of Discogs that I knew about her other two albums. 2002 brought “The Art Of Being A Girl,” and her final album was issued as a DL only called “My Secret Life” as a collaboration with DJ Dimitri [ex-Dee-Lite]. That’s an interesting pairing. A very different vibe to the Badalamenti material, and that video looks like “Severance” a decade early. I think I should try to source copies of those three albums I missed. Ms. Cruise was niche singer who all but owned her niche. I could play a Torch Song track with Laurie Mayer now to anyone under 50 and if they had a point of reference, it would be Julee Cruise. Our condolences to her family and friends.