Twin Peaks, The Beatles, and Creative Partnership

When I think of the greatest creative partnerships throughout history, the top spot on my list has always gone to Lennon/McCartney. It has ever since I was old enough to know what it was that they contributed to not only The Beatles but to music in general. It’s hard to boil this down to mere words on a page–in fact, writing about music makes about as much sense to me as cooking about art–but when pressed, Beatle-people have been able to distill the magic of Lennon/McCartney down to the combination of John Lennon’s acerbic wordplay and biting wit and Paul McCartney’s softer touch and melodic sensibilities. This, to many, is what made their musical collaboration so successful; it’s what makes their songs classic.

But I’m going to have to add another berth next to the moptops atop my list, because Twin Peaks: The Return has revealed David Lynch and Mark Frost to be to television (and cinema, more generally) what Lennon & McCartney were to music. After Part 14, there’s no doubt in my mind that their creative partnership is the stuff of legend.

I am far from the first person to make this connection; this probably isn’t even the first place today where you’ve read it. But after Part 14—which contained an explicit Beatles reference that is as appropriate as ever to both the theme of Sunday’s installment and my thesis here—it feels necessary to lay it out, if only for my own sanity.

Two-thirds of the way through Part 14, James “Jimmy” Hurley and his co-worker Freddie take a break from their job as security guards at the Great Northern. Freddie wears a green glove on his right hand, something we’d seen back in Part 2 when James made his first appearance at the Roadhouse, taking newcomer Freddie to the bar for the first time. After Freddie explains the strange origins of the green glove (in an East London vortex with The Fireman. Try explaining that to your non-Peaks fan friends, eh?) he says:

“I got up, got out of bed…dragged a comb across me head. And I went downstairs and a had a cup…No, just kidding about that part.”

James laughs and Freddie laughs, both of them in on the joke that Freddie is paraphrasing the landmark finale from the landmark album that came out 50 years ago this summer: “A Day in the Life” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Leaving aside the (frankly idiotic) argument that a modern day 23 year-old wouldn’t know or care who The Beatles are, this is a significant moment in an already significant season of Twin Peaks for a couple of reasons. The show famously eschewed cultural references in its original run, and while some small things have made their way into The Return (the modern bands and music at The Roadhouse comes to mind, as does Diane’s striking mid-century modern-style Orla Kiely phone case) and mark it off as distinctly modern in a way the original series wasn’t, it still isn’t winkingly culturally-referential. To have a character nearly quoting verbatim a song by arguably the most important band of the 20th century on the 50th anniversary of that song’s release is noteworthy.

But what of the song? First, some background: “A Day in the Life” is the final song on Sgt Pepper and is comprised of the scraps of two separate songs, one by John Lennon and one by Paul McCartney, that they couldn’t fully work out individually. John brought the “I read the news today” section, while Paul supplied the “Woke up/Got out of bed” section; an avant-garde orchestral glissando joins the two pieces and leads to a crashing outro overseen by McCartney that, in hindsight, feels very much related to Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima”. On the original record, it led into a never-ending inner groove looped with backwards talk that, when played forward, sounds suspiciously like “Will Paul be back as Superman?” If that isn’t the most Peaks-y thing you’ve ever heard outside of Twin Peaks!

The marriage of these two songs, these two sensibilities—John lamenting the public’s ignorance of important events and rubber-necking around the salacious ones, Paul waking from a dream, skipping downstairs for a cup or smoking on the top deck of a suburban Liverpool bus before falling back into a dream; forlorn and depressed vs. happy-go-lucky and upbeat—is one of the reasons “A Day in the Life” is frequently credited as one of The Beatles’s most fascinating and challenging songs; if pressed, I’d have to say that it’s my favourite out of everything they ever wrote or released.

And while it’s far from the only one that worked out this way—both men remarked upon the collaborative nature of their output during their 14 years working relationship, and few of their solo ventures did as well as what they achieved together—”A Day in the Life” stands up there as one of the great collaborations of the 20th century.

What’s so fitting about the use of this song in one of the most exciting and startlingly original Parts of The Return is that, I believe, it mirrors wonderfully the working relationship that David Lynch and Mark Frost seem to have. I don’t think I can go as far as others have in ascribing direct links between the pairs—Lynch = Lennon, Frost = McCartney, or vice versa—but from what we know of their creative process, there’s enough there to be able to draw parallels. Lynch has to be credited for providing the visual elements that make The Return so striking, and broadly speaking it seems that his fingerprints have lingered a bit longer on certain thematic elements as well (with The Return featuring so many callbacks either visually, thematically, or through direct dialogue with nearly his entire back catalogue); he is also largely responsible for the sound design, whether it comes from ambient noises in a scene or the composition of the music. Frost, on the other hand, has always been known for his superb storytelling sensibilities, his excellent dialogue, and is widely credited as the source for the more overt political sentiments that show up more often than not in this season of Twin Peaks.

You can probably see where I’m going with this.


At the Winter 2017 TCA, David Lynch talked about Skype sessions with Frost to write The Return (what I wouldn’t give to see a recording of those conversations!), which calls to mind the beautifully intimate photo Linda McCartney took of John and Paul in The Beatles’ last days, heads bowed as they worked out a song together. One can easily imagine a similar scene, except with webcams and computer screens replacing pen and paper.

Like I said, I’m not trying to draw a direct parallel here, but it’s uncanny that it exists all the same.

Now I don’t think Frost and Lynch are being self-referential here when they use a song like “A Day in the Life” in a pivotal scene like the one we saw on Sunday in Part 14. There are many reasons, some of which I’ve listed above, why they probably chose to put lyrics from “A Day in the Life” in Freddie’s mouth, not least of which is that it really is a damn fine song, one they probably grew up enjoying (because, come on, we know they like The Beatles; who doesn’t?). It also contains references to a dream, with the narrator in the middle-eight explaining that he “woke up”, went about his morning business, and then when “somebody spoke” he “went into a dream”. Like many examples of dreaming in Twin Peaks, it’s unclear what the dream is—the opening verse? the closing verse? both? neither?—or who the dreamer is (an important note given the context of Part 14 and Gordon’s dream within it.) Is the original narrator, voiced by John, the dreamer? Does he dream Paul’s narration? Or is it the other way around? Or are they not connected at all? Does this even matter?

It’s interesting all the same for the simple reason that it’s cited as one of the best examples of John and Paul’s creative and collaborative strength, and what is The Return if not the same thing for David Lynch and Mark Frost?

We’ve had strong visuals (the Trinity bomb in Part 8; the Purple/Mauve World in Part 3) that seem to strongly suggest Lynch’s touch, and we’ve had strong themes (corrupt politicians; pharmaceutical shenanigans; gun control) that speak to a kind of overtly Frostian influence. We have Lynchian dream/dream-like sequences (Audrey in Part 12/13; Gordon Cole in Part 14) sitting right next to grand Frostian dialogue (Jacoby’s Dr. Amp vamp; the Takedown of Deputy Chad). It’s a perfect marriage of the two sensibilities (all that’s missing the swelling crescendo of an Abbey Road orchestra to sew them together, but we suppose that’s what cross-fades are for.)

So what does it all mean? Not terribly much, at least not on the level you’re probably expecting from an article about Twin Peaks. Anybody could make grand thematic links between The Beatles’ oeuvre and Lynch/Frost’s; the fine people on Reddit have done an admirable job of pointing out many things that could be Beatles references within The Return. And it’s tempting to want to go down that path and connect those dots. Is there a significant link between Elk’s Point Bar #9 and “Revolution 9”? Aleister Crowley was on the cover of Sgt Pepper and The Secret History of Twin Peaks deals in occultism more often than not, so what is going on there? Is Mr. Strawberry related to Strawberry Fields? What about Paul’s own doppelgänger, the Fake Paul who took his place in the band according to the Paul is Dead urban legend? Can we link The Fireman of Twin Peaks to The Fireman, the experimental electronic musical duo fronted by McCartney? Does it mean something that Mark Frost retweeted a four year old tweet from Paul McCartney that simply said “Potato” and we just heard that the last time Dr. Jacoby saw Nadine this was the precise root vegetable she was searching for on the grocery store floor?

(Is this what our Twin Peaks theory rabbit holes look like to non-Peaks fans?)

But the point I’m trying to make here is not that there is some grand unified theory linking The Beatles and Twin Peaks by comparing their two most prominent creative forces. This is all merely a way of pointing out, through compare and contrast—though I’m sure you already realized it—just what a phenomenal accomplishment The Return truly is.

To find someone alongside whom you work seamlessly is a gift. John Lennon and Paul McCartney had it as far back as 1957; David Lynch and Mark Frost have it to this day, sixty years later. And when two people with creativity in their veins find it within themselves to share their talents with the world, we the fans all benefit.

The last time people talked this way about a pop culture phenomenon, they were talking about The Beatles and it was the Summer of Love; yet here we are, week in and week out, hearing such effusive (and well-deserved) praise for Twin Peaks five decades after Sgt Pepper and more than twenty-five trips around the sun since the original finale aired. I firmly believe that The Return will go down as one of the most staggeringly ambitious and singularly amazing achievements in television history; I would argue that, if it ended abruptly tomorrow with nothing more to say, it will have already achieved that. And we still have four more hours left to go.

Buckle up, Peakies. The new Summer of Love isn’t over yet.

Written by Lindsay Stamhuis

Lindsay Stamhuis is a writer and English teacher. In addition to editing and writing about TV and Film, she is the co-host of The Bicks Pod, a podcast currently deep-diving into the collected works of William Shakespeare. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner Aidan, their three cats, and a potted pothos that refuses to grow more than one vine.

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