Review Summary: In Heaven Everything is Sunshine
My early twenties were a limbo period of uncertainty and gnawing anxiety, living back at the family home holding down what I hoped would be just a short stop-gap job to tide me over until life kicked on in earnest. In many ways it was idyllic, with plenty of money and a huge amount of time on my hands the days flowed by pleasantly enough, but it was the nighttime when my subconscious would choose to land its blows; I'd have a recurring dream based around a local bar, a place I'm still yet to step inside to this day, and the only thing I really knew about the place was that it changed hands a lot. The strange part of this dream was that I always transported the bar to the same imagined small American rural town surrounded by farmland; I owned the place and my friends would come in to drink or play music, there was a pool in the back, a classic jukebox on the wall, and everything seemed honest and bright.
This dream was something I'd largely forgotten about until a few years later when I came to watch David Lynch's 1999 movie 'The Straight Story'; a whimsical tale of an old timer making one last journey to visit his dying brother via the only means of transportation available to him, his ride on mower. As much as I enjoyed the film on its own merits what struck me the most were the scenes of the rolling farmland and the music accompanying it. It took me back to my recurring dream instantly and encouraged me to do something I'd never done before; purchase a traditional soundtrack album.
I already knew of Angelo Badalamenti's work from 'The Lost Highway', 'Blue Velvet' and 'Twin Peaks' but until now I'd never been compelled to listen to his compositions outside of the context of watching Lynch's stories and visuals at the same time. The two have always worked in perfect tandem, as attested by the length of their collaboration which has ended up stretching across three separate decades. Badalamenti is best known for his uncanny knack of imbuing these scores with a sense of dreamlike nostalgia that's then coupled with mysterious dark undertones that skirt just shy of hamminess. 'The Straight Story' is typical in it's adoption of the nostalgic element, here given a unique pastoral sheen, but where it differs from his other work is in the replacement of its usual darkness with a more gentle underlying sadness.
The crystalline guitar pieces 'Rose's Theme', 'Sprinkler' and 'Country Theme' punctuate the soundtrack with moments of reflective beauty while the sombre strings of 'Final Miles' and 'Crystal' adhere to what you'd expect from a melancholic film score, ending up in more classical territory. Badalamenti is famous for his use of synths and it's no surprise they make a few appearances here; the opening 'Lauren, Iowa' is the most typical of his characteristic style and faintly reminiscent of his 'Twin Peaks' work; while 'Nostalgia' sounds exactly as you'd expect from the title, the music faded and one step removed from its neighbours.
As good as the aforementioned material is its the remainder of the album that sees Angelo breaking new ground and are the tracks that'll remind the listener most of the film. 'Laurens Walking' is simply sublime, the timeless combination of violin, guitar and fiddle making for something inescapably evocative. The same instrumentation returns on 'Alvin's Theme', the intro mimicking an old locomotive and conjuring images of an engine chugging along through sun drenched countryside. A third gem arrives in the form of the straightforward 'Country Waltz', a lilting happy-sad composition that in just three minutes embodies the mood of Lynch's entire film.
Whenever I look out at golden fields of crops on a sunny day I invariably think back to this soundtrack and my recurring dream, sometimes also reflecting on the fact that the late Charles Bukowski's favourite colour was yellow; his final novel 'Pulp' signed off with the image of 'a vast yellow vortex, more dynamic than the sun' enveloping the lead character as life drained out of him. As the years go past I'm inclined to agree with the Buk's choice, how much more reassuring to disappear into a flood of burning yellow rather than moving towards a distant and blinding brilliant white light. Needless to say in that particular scenario my imagined perfect soundtrack would be Badalamenti's 'Straight Story', as warming and comforting as fading sunshine.