Composer Angelo Badalamenti, best known for his surreal scores in films and TV shows like “Blue Velvet,” “Twin Peaks,” and “Mulholland Drive,” has passed away. He was 85.
Badalamenti began piano lessons at age 8, grew up listening to Italian opera with his family, and went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music after being born in Brooklyn in March 1937 to a fish market owner father with a musical background (a percussionist in Sicily). He spent his summers performing as a pianist for Borscht Belt acts at Catskills resorts.
After finishing his degree, he went into middle school teaching. His career in music began when a Christmas carol he wrote for his students was broadcast on PBS; he went on to pen hits for artists like Nina Simone (“Another Spring”) and Nancy Wilson (“Face It, Girl, It’s Over”).
His big break came in 1986 when, through a series of industry connections beginning with unit manager Peter Runfolo, he was asked to help Isabella Rossellini sing “Blue Velvet” for Lynch’s iconic film. He had previously written songs for films such as “Gordon’s War” and “Law and Disorder.”
They flew me to North Carolina to confer with Isabella and assess the situation there. After I arrived, Isabella, myself, and a piano went into a small room.
In an interview with Culture.org, he explained, “I worked with her for two or three hours straight until we got a good take on a small recorder.” David was filming the final scene. We gave the cassette to him. He plugged in his headphones and exclaimed, “That’s it!” What a splendid idea! A line producer’s explanation of “peachy keen” was necessary for me to understand.
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Badalamenti began piano lessons at age eight, grew up listening to Italian opera with his family, and went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. He was born in Brooklyn in March 1937 to a fish market owner mother and father who had a musical background (a percussionist in Sicily). For the Borscht Belt acts, he was the go-to summertime piano player at Catskills resorts.
In the years following his university graduation, he worked as a middle school teacher. His career in music began when a Christmas carol he wrote for his students was broadcast on PBS. He went on to pen hits for artists like Nina Simone (“Another Spring”) and Nancy Wilson (“Face It, Girl, It’s Over”).
His big break came in 1986 when, through a series of industry connections beginning with unit manager Peter Runfolo, he was asked to help Isabella Rossellini sing “Blue Velvet” for David Lynch’s iconic film. He had previously written songs for films such as “Gordon’s War” and “Law and Disorder.”
They flew me to North Carolina to consult with Isabella and assess the situation after a shooting incident. Upon my arrival, Isabella and I were taken into a private room where only we and a piano were present. Until we got a good take on a small recorder, I spent two or three solid hours with her,” he told Culture.org.
David was in the midst of filming the final take. The tape cassette was delivered to him. As soon as he plugged in his headphones, he exclaimed, “That’s the ticket!” All in all, this is just great! When I heard the phrase “peachy keen,” I had to consult the line producer to find out what it meant.
He also ended up writing “Mysteries of Love” and finding Julee Cruise (who passed away earlier this year) to sing it, beginning a long collaboration between the three of them that would extend all the way to Lynch’s seminal series “Twin Peaks.”
David was of the opinion that Twin Peaks’ score needed to be able to convey a wide variety of emotions, from sadness to ecstasy, from tenderness to violence. “He requested a moody, abstract score,” he explained. In his words, “He asked me for music that would tear people’s hearts out.”
Jane Campion (Holy Smoke! ), Danny Boyle (The Beach), Paul Schrader (The Comfort of Strangers), and Walter Salles (Dark Water) are just a few of the directors Badalamenti collaborated with. Both the “Inside the Actors Studio” theme and “The Flaming Arrow” Olympic Torch Theme was composed by him in 1992. His collaborations with Lynch, such as “The Straight Story,” “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” “Lost Highway,” and “Mulholland Drive,” stand out from the rest.
When It Came To How He Approached His Scores, He Said He Was Always At The Service Of The Director’s Vision
“There are times when you want the score to complement the action on screen. Sometimes I like the music to be counter to what’s going on; that’s often the cooler way to do things,” he told NME in 2011.
When I’m composing a score for a film, I always ask the director, “What do you want the audience to feel?” What’s the point if you aren’t going to scare the living daylights out of them? Reluctantly sit through? Think you look good? And their responses to that question give me pointers on what to improve. That’s right; I’m the one who sets their words to tune.
“David felt that the music of Twin Peaks would have to cover a lot of ground, a wide range of moods,” Badalamenti told Culture.org. “Sadness, passion, ecstasy, love, tenderness, and violence.” He specifically requested heartbreaking music from me.
A fish market owner and musician, Badalamenti’s parents brought him into the world in 1937 Brooklyn. He learned to play the piano at age eight, took up Italian opera as a child, and went on to receive both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music.
The PBS network picked up the Christmas carol he wrote for the middle school where he taught, and from there, his career as a composer took off. Badalamenti had previously written music for several low-budget films and artists like Nina Simone and Nancy Wilson before he found success with Blue Velvet.