When the hypnagogic lullabies of Julee Cruise started leaking out of David Lynch’s metaphysical soap opera “Twin Peaks” in 1990, the border between make-believe and the real world felt more porous than usual. In the show, Cruise — who died on Thursday at 65 — played an enigmatic roadhouse singer with a voice both small and big, stylish and spacey, intimate and distant, as if she’d been ousted from a Brill Building girl-group and tasked with imitating a children’s choir on the moon.
As for the songs, they were as immersive and imprecise as dreams, difficult to remember and impossible to forget — “Falling,” “Into the Night,” “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart,” “The Nightingale,” “The World Spins” — each written and produced by Lynch and his soundtrack composer Angelo Badalamenti, and released on Cruise’s exquisite debut album, “Floating Into the Night,” roughly seven months before “Twin Peaks” changed how everyone watched television.
I suppose that release schedule complicates the fictionality of Cruise’s music. In their public infancy, these songs got to do a little living outside of Lynch’s vision, and as difficult as it might be, we should try to hear them on their own terms today. Cruise obviously didn’t want to live in “Twin Peaks” forever. Shortly after the show first went off the air in 1991, she signed on as a touring member of the B-52’s where she filled in for Cindy Wilson and was deputized with, among other things, delivering the “tin roof … rusted” line during “Love Shack.” (When Lynch rebooted “Twin Peaks” for a third season in 2017, Cruise appeared in the penultimate episode, singing “The World Spins” alongside the Chromatics, one of countless bands influenced by her dreamy chic.)
Is it even possible to hear “Floating Into the Night” on its own terms? Or on ours? Seven years ago, I decided I was tired of seeing red curtains in my mind’s eye whenever a Julee Cruise song reached my mind’s ear. So I cued up her music on a breathtaking road trip through West Texas, hoping to rewire the associations in my brain. It worked and it didn’t. Now when I hear Cruise’s voice, I see prickly-pear cactuses growing out of checkered floors.
It’s not unlike one of those double-exposure dissolves that Lynch is so fond of, or maybe something even better. Instead of moving back and forth between fiction and reality, Cruise’s music can live fully in both.