Sunday Night Journal, July 9, 2017
Sunday Night Journal, July 16, 2017

52 Albums, Week 28: Floating Into the Night (Julee Cruise)

Jc_float

(By Source, Fair use)

A couple of weeks ago when I wrote about Disintegration I mentioned that it comes in second behind this album for the Saddest Pop Album Ever award. I had not heard it for maybe ten years when I wrote that, but now, having listened to it again in preparation for writing this, I'll stick with that opinion. More importantly, of course: it's really beautiful.

It's credited to Julee Cruise, who is primarily a singer, but it's really a collaboration among her, Angelo Badalamenti, and David Lynch. If you've seen Twin Peaks, you've heard parts of it, and will have a good idea of what to expect, not only in purely musical terms but in general atmosphere. You'll remember the haunting instrumental theme music, written by Badalamenti. The song "Falling" on this album is that music, with lyrics. Pretty simple lyrics, but very powerful with that melody, ending with the simple question "Are we falling in love?" on that last rising phrase of the melody. 

Some of David Lynch's work has a quality which I've described as "bent nostalgia" and which I suspect is most powerful for people of a certain age--people who can remember the America that existed between the end of the Second World War and the revolutions of the late '60s, and the pop culture of that time. It must be available to younger people, too, in some fashion, because some do seem to get it. It references certain visual and musical motifs of the time, but gives them an odd, dreamy, and sometimes sinister twist. The heavily reverb-ed guitar in the Twin Peaks theme is a good example: it sounds like Duane Eddy on opium. That aspect of this album is presumably mostly the work of Angelo Badalamenti, but I'd be surprised if Lynch didn't have a good deal of influence. The song credits assign the lyrics to him and the music to Badalamenti, but he has some musical ability himself and has released a couple of albums under his own name (which I haven't heard). So I figure that at the very least involved he was involved with the music itself to the extent of saying "Yes," "No," "More of that," etc. 

You could call it a concept album, even a narrative. The concept is an old, old one: lost love, a broken heart. The songs, all in first person, begin with the moment of falling in love, then move on to abandonment, desperate yearning and loneliness, and something close to despair, with just a hint of acceptance in the title of the last song, which also comprises its last words: "The Word Spins." It all seems superficially fairly straightforward and simple, but as in some of David Lynch's superficially conventional and even banal scenes, there is an atmosphere, and subtle twists. that give it a deep and powerful resonance--at least for those of us who are susceptible. And I would say now, listening to it with the printed lyrics in front of me, that there are profundities in that simplicity.

I first heard it in roughly 1992 or so, on the radio program "Schickele Mix," in which Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach, played a variety of music centered around a particular musical concept or technique. Most of it was classical, but he would throw in a bit of pop and folk here and there. I was transfixed when I heard "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart."

 

That last bit really touches me, that little reminiscence of the simplest and sweetest of moments. And it's clear that the singer is remembering something lost, not found. It occurs to me now that what makes it so powerful is not that it describes or expresses those moments so well as that it describes and expresses the experience of remembering them. This, possibly, is where one's age plays a part: the music touches on a specific cultural past, and is probably more powerful for anyone with a personal memory of it. 

By the time the song was over I was listening eagerly to find out who it was. I had never heard of Julee Cruise and never seen Twin Peaks, though I was somewhat aware of David Lynch's reputation as a very...challenging filmmaker. A few years went by before I actually acquired the album--this was during my years of buying very little music--and many more before I saw Twin Peaks, which only added to my appreciation of the album. I probably haven't heard it more than half a dozen times. For me it's not something to be played casually. Its mysterious sadness and its strange and fragile beauty might be spoiled by overexposure, and anyway it's only appropriate for certain times and moods.

As I've said about several of the albums I've reviewed in this series, if you like the tracks I've included in this post, you will surely like the whole thing, so I'll leave it for you to discover rather than including more samples here.

A few weeks ago I picked up from the local library's discard table The Rolling Stone Album Guide. I've disliked Rolling Stone since the '70s, when I realized it had become in essence an upscale fashion magazine, and would never have paid money for this book, but figured that the magazine does have some good critics and so there ought to be some worthwhile reviews in the book. Today I looked up this album in it. The reviewer gives the album two out of a possible five stars, indicating that the work in question is a "failure." Here is the entire review, which is, as far as I can recall, the single most wrong-headed and obtuse opinion of a piece of music that I've ever encountered:

With a voice that rarely rises above a whisper and a songbook (lyrics by David Lynch, music by Angelo Badalamenti) wreaking [sic] of camp and irony, Cruise comes across as a sort of post-modern Claudine Longet--an amusing concept, to be sure, but hardly worth an entire album.

The review at Allmusic is much better.

 --Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Comments

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Well, reviews are only as good as the critic reviewing them I suppose. Having read Rolling Stone off and on since childhood I still can't get over their 5-star declarations for whatever big rap star is the current fave, Jay-Z or whoever. All sounds like garbage to me.

But on to Julee Cruise et al. I love this kind of music that Lynch/Badalamenti use in their work. I own several soundtrack CDs, but the only one I listen to more than once in a blue moon is for Mulholland Dr, which I think is incredible. I need to check out this entire album.

One striking thing about this book is that it purports to be "the definitive guide to the best of" pretty much all non-classical Western music that was available in "album" form at the time. This is the 1992 edition so I think "album" included both LPs and CDs. But the hundreds of entries are all the work of FOUR people, each covering a period of years. So you get a lot of one person's idiosyncrasies. But I wonder why this guy even bothered with this album. If space is limited, and you're claiming to point out the best, why pick on this one that you don't even like? Especially as, for instance, neither Steeleye Span nor Ultravox is included at all.

There actually are a lot of one and two-star reviews. I guess they felt obliged to steer you away from the bad as well as point out the good. I expect the book will end up back at the library after I've perused it some.

I haven't heard the Mulholland sound track. I'd probably like it.

"For me it's not something to be played casually....it's only appropriate for certain times and moods."

I feel the same way. I listen to it only rarely but always love it when I do.

Fyi, the recent Beach House single "Chariot" is probably their most Lynch/Cruise-sounding song yet. Interesting video too.

I can't look at that picture. It's too creepy.

AMDG

You might find that a surprisingly squeamish comment coming from someone who has watched a movie wherein a woman plucked out her eyeballs, put them in a glass and peeled her face off, but it's true nonetheless.

AMDG

That is definitely odd.

Your comment caused me to look for the visual credits on the album:

Art Direction--David Lynch
Photos--David Lynch

Here's the Beach House song Rob mentioned:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NU-EIgUK3Y

Although the sound is similar, and I do like it, it doesn't carry the same sense of mystery for me that the Cruise/Badalamenti/Lynch combination does.

The Kennedy images in that video remind me not to miss the opportunity to drive another nail in the coffin of the JFK myth. From Catlin Flanagan in The Atlantic a few years ago:

*****
And so there I was, back in my happy dream [of the perfect Kennedy family], until, just a scant few months after encountering the Historic Conversations, I read a book that is in many ways its evil twin: Once Upon a Secret. It was written by Mimi Alford, who as a 19-year-old college student began both a summer internship at the White House and an affair with John Kennedy that would last 18 months. The details of this affair reveal that no matter what Jackie may have believed about the inviolability of her refuge—the “hermetically sealed” nature of the compartment John shared with her alone—not one inch of it was sacred to her husband. Not the bedrooms, not the bathrooms. Not even the rubber ducks.

The relationship began on Alford’s fourth day on the job, when she was asked to the Kennedy residence for a new-staffer cocktail party. Dave Powers escorted her up to the deserted apartment, and she kicked around with a couple of other office girls, drinking daiquiris, nibbling cheese puffs, and waiting for the president. Within seconds of his arrival—signaled by the partygoers’ jumping formally to their feet, for this was part of the thrill of being in the inner circle: the fun and debauchery of the endless party, and the awesome formality of the American presidency—Mimi was in his thrall. When JFK invited her on a private tour of the joint she eagerly agreed, and before she knew it they were standing alone together at the open door to Jackie’s bedroom.

"This is a very private room,” John Kennedy said to her, and as she tried to comprehend what he meant by that puzzling remark, he maneuvered her smoothly into it. And then he nailed her—a virgin, a Wheaton sophomore, a girl who wore a circle pin and a side part, and who had ordered two drip-dry shirtdresses from the Johnny Appleseed’s catalog before coming to Washington—right there on his wife’s bed. The one with the horsehair mattress and the stiff board to accommodate his bad back.

The pastel portrait of Caroline looked on silently; the new-staffer cocktail party in the other room quietly disbanded. Kennedy realized that this new girl was a virgin.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, and so he quickly passed the torch to a new generation and sent her home in a car. But she wasn’t discarded; she was worked into the rotation.
*****

There's worse if you want to read it:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/jackie-and-the-girls/309000/

My father always said it was women who elected JFK.

It's not exactly a nail in the coffin, but I do think that video interestingly communicates the ambiguity of the nation's feelings towards "Camelot." When it first started I rolled my eyes, assuming it was going to be some sort of puff piece, so was rather surprised when it turned out differently.

Kennedy had an approval rating of 70% and Bill Clinton left office with an approval rating of 68%. Barack Obama (not a philanderer) left office with a 60% approval rating.

No need to mention the current president, but as for modern Republicans I think only Ronald Reagan has been popular, like Clinton he left office with a 68% approval rating.

What is it about the Democrats that is so charming? And is all this over now with a divided country?

What modern presidents do you admire, Mac? I admire all three of the Ds listed above, regardless of the personal failings of K & C.

The current occupant of the White House even has me admiring in retrospect the entire Bush family, when at the time I mainly bemoaned W getting us into a bad war (that still seems to be going on). At least he is a man of principle.

Rob, I guess I wasn't paying close enough attention to that video. I didn't take it as either a puff piece or a not-puff-piece, I was just reacting to the prevalence of Kennedy images. I'll have to watch it again.

Stu, the secret of that charm could be no particular secret at all--those three were all relatively young good-looking men. Also they all had a fawning press that worked on making them look good. Bush II could probably have been made to seem as charming, though the war(s) would have been a problem. And he wasn't a good speaker (to say the least).

My father's cynical remark has more than a little truth in it. All three of those Ds had an obvious sexual-romantic effect on a certain type of woman, as Caitlin Flanagan notes about Kennedy. It was enhanced for Clinton and Obama because a lot of women saw them as their protectors (from the evil dwarves of the right).

So you are not going to claim to admire any modern presidents, Mac?

Of course even the ones from antiquity often have their problems since they were often slaveholders or indian killers!

John Adams is a good one to admire. He was a northerner against slave ownership. :)

I didn't mean to be saying I don't admire any of them. Though I most definitely do not admire Bill Clinton. But since you ask, well, no I guess I don't very much admire any of them, though some have more admirable qualities or accomplishments than others. I was never a Reagan enthusiast but there are some things I admired about him. There was a book of his letters published a while back which I'd sort of like to read--excerpts in reviews indicated he was a much more thoughtful man than he often seemed in his role as politician.

Somehow the Lynch attribution doesn't surprise me.

I'm pretty sure that if HC had won the election, "charming" wouldn't have entered the equation. Johnson didn't make it on those grounds either.

I only watched the first minute or so of that video, but it brought back all the sadness I feel when I think about the tragedy of the Kennedy family: the tragedy of one horrible death after another, and the worse tragedy of all that moral corruption in a family that was so naturally gifted in every way, plus having been given the great gift of the Catholic faith.

Maclin, somewhere I read that Reagan had a devotion to the Blessed Mother, too. There's a book that discusses JPII, Reagan, and Fatima. I can't remember what it was, but I'd like to look at it if somebody else would buy it. Maybe one of my friends around here knows something about it.

I really like John Adams, and John Quincy even better.

AMDG

I rarely read non-fiction, and it is even rarer that I read biographies. But I read that David McCullough John Adams book several years ago and it is one of the best things I have ever read. When I was done Adams was a hero of mine!

I'm embarrassed to say how little I know about American history.

Hillary and charm, lack thereof: I can feel a little sorry for her on that score. It shouldn't matter that much. But her other objectionable qualities limit my sympathy.

That was my exact experience with the McCullough book, Stu.

AMDG

I never read the McCullough book but I thought the miniseries based on it was very good. I also liked his book on the Johnstown Flood.

Janet, I agree about that picture. Too creepy to look at. I almost didn't read this post because of it.

Can y'all say a bit more about what bothers you about it? To me it's a strange and slightly disquieting image, but not really disturbing.

Not sure the image of the weird-looking doll in all that blackness would have disturbed me as much without the title. But the combination of the two just left me feeling cold and forlorn.

Just a gut reaction. A feeling of loss, and sort of like Major Tom floating around in space--a song I can't bear to think about.

AMDG

Makes perfect sense (both your reactions). To me it only seems sad and a little eerie.

I've got this image of the guys here, standing off to the side in a corner together, saying "girls", with a slight eye-roll. ;-)

Re almost not reading the post, I read it but I was thinking I might not come back until there was a new post. Obviously, I changed my mind.

AMDG

Concerning this: There's a book that discusses JPII, Reagan, and Fatima, Friday I went to a friend's house to swim, and when I went back to her bedroom to change, I opened the wrong door off the hall and walked into the bedroom of her wonderful, saintly mother-in-law. She had the book I was talking about sitting on a chair just inside the door. It's called A Pope and a President. I don't think I'm going to just thumb through it to see what I think about it because it's 653 pages long.

AMDG

Do you mean you're going to read it?

"I've got this image of the guys here..."

Um...well... :-)

It is interesting, though. It made me think of something that happened 40+ years ago. The Exorcist was in theaters and scaring the daylights out of people. I personally could not have been paid to see it, as I never had much tolerance for scary movies. But a certain girl of my acquaintance did, and she was terrified, and was spooked for days. And she said that one of the things that was most frightening to her was the utter aloneness of the possessed girl. I thought that was odd. I'm not sure what scared me but it wasn't that.

I might read it, but there are so many things I want to read, and I must read Fr. James Schall's book about the Regensburg Lecture for a discussion group.

AMDG

That sounds more interesting.

The Schall book is interesting, although rather dry, and all the time I'm thinking, "Oh, that's a good point," or "This is really interesting," I'm also thinking, "When will I have read enough to stop?"

AMDG

I wanted to say something about why I want to read the pope/president book but it was too long for a combox, so I wrote it  here.

I probably will only leave it up for a while.

AMDG

Darn it, that goes to the page where I wrote the post and you won't be able to get there. Try this.

AMDG

I'll be very interested in hearing what you think. And that's interesting about von B not believing Fatima is genuine.

Just bought this on vinyl. Transparent red, no less.

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