Interview: Michael Horse on The Return, the “Living Map,” Ledger Art, and More!

Michael Horse offered me some of his time to discuss his art and his time with Twin Peaks: The Return. His career, which has covered stunt work with horses, musicianship as a fiddler and bassist, painting, voice work, and acting is all covered here. We hope you enjoy this interview and continue to join us for our #ReturnRewatch every Sunday night this summer.

RK: Hello, Michael, this is Rob King.

MH: Oh yeah! You bet. God Bless, Lubbock, man. (laughter)

RK: You know it, then?

MH: Yeah, yeah, I do, pal. When I was a young guy, I used to try and work in the oil fields in Midland, you know? ’Til I found out how hard it was. Guys next to me are missing fingers and stuff. I was going “I think I’ll play music instead.”

RK: Well, that’s no joke. That stuff is still going on out there. Well, am I catching you at a bad time at all?

MH: Oh no, man. I’m kinda retired now. I don’t really have a bad time. (laughter)

RK: Well, don’t stay retired too long. We’d love to see you again.

MH: Oh, yeah.

RK: Are you familiar with the 25 Years Later site? Does that sound familiar?

MH: No, you know, I’m such a frickin’ Luddite, pal. I just learned there’s a redial button on my phone. I told my wife—she’s really connected, you know—I said “Look, my phone is broken. No one has called me.” She says “No, everyone in your phone is dead.” (laughter) But, you know, I’m a fan of Twin Peaks just like everybody else, you know, and it took me … I knew when we were doing the first one. I knew we were doing something special, but it took me twenty five years to really realize the impact that Twin Peaks made on television.

RK: Sure, so at 25 Years Later what we’re doing, we’re a website, kind of a blog site, and we just started a Rewatch where we do all of these Twitter posts, trying to get people excited again, so it’s a re-watch of The Return.

MH: I have to do it myself. I have to get on the internet and find out what’s going on, say “Oh yeah, it is about the bunnies, you know?”

RK: Oh, absolutely. (laughter) We’re all about trying to wrap our minds around it, and what I wanted to talk to you about is you as an artist because you’ve done lots of interviews where you’ve talked about Twin Peaks, so I kind of want to blend the two, because I’m fascinated with your art. So, on the show I know you did the part where Hawk does the “living map.”

MH: Mm hmm, yeah, that’s my map. I made that.

RK: Right. And I had read an interview from Southwest Art that from 2010 that you had done, and it says you take a paint box with you on set, that it keeps you “sane and grounded.” So, how you were approached to create that living map, or who was it that approached you about that?  

MH: Well, it was … David had asked Sabrina Sutherland, whose kinda, you know, kinda the producer and his right hand man, and we’re also really good friends. She said “David wants to know would you do the map?” And I go “Oh yeah, sure.” It’s really funny. David asks “How much do you want for this?”  And I go “Oh no, man, it’s an honor. It’s a gift.” And Sabrina goes “You know, this is probably worth about ten grand.” It was really funny, I asked David, I said “Look, I don’t have any of your art work. I’d just like a little drawing.” And about two, three months later came one of his prints from his show in Paris, man. You know, both David and I are painters. We have a lot in common, even though we have cultural differences, both are … have you ever seen the film about David and his art, The Art Life?

RK: Yeah, I have. I’ve watched that, and then I got an advanced copy of his book that will come out next month.

MH: Oh, gee.

RK: It covers some of that, and it gets really into depth with that.

MH: You know, both of us grew up with that, in that, you know, that Ozzie and Harriet fucking world, and we both had these real strong post-World War dads, and then come the 60s which was like turning on the light to all of us, you know. (laughter) But yeah, it was an honor to do the art. You know, the art I do, the Ledger Art. I don’t know if you know about Ledger Art, but … I was one of the guys—there were guys that did it before me—but there were a few of us artists that actually brought this art form back. I used to work for some of the museums, and I would identify, especially some of the jewelry, we didn’t sign the jewelry until the 60s, but I would know people’s tool marks, and you know, I was in the … Museum of the American Indian, and don’t leave me in your museum because I’m going to go through everything you’ve got. And I went into their paper archives, and I saw this—even though I’m not a Plains Native; I’m from the South and from Mexico—I went “What is this?!” I was fascinated by it, and I used to just sit and kind of do these paintings while I was showing my jewelry at these shows, and I really got to be kind of an expert on it. But it fascinates me because it’s Native history from our point of view. Like I’ve seen the battle hides of the Battle of Little Big Horn. For years they said, well the certain way this happened and, you know, and, uh, the Sioux and Cheyenne go “No, this is the way it happened. We were there. We wrote it down, so …”

RK: Well, that was one of my questions. I wanted to talk to you about that ledger art because I saw your piece, the Last Breath of the Black Snake print.

MH: Yeah, yeah.

RK: That’s phenomenal. And working at an archive, you know, ledgers are kind of our lifeblood.

MH: Yeah.

RK: But I love that kind of transgression.

MH: And it’s really interesting, it’s basically kind of Internment Art. You know the two biggest collections of Ledger Art are the War Department and the Department of Corrections.

RK: Really?

MH: Yeah, wherever you physically and culturally repress people, this exists.  It’s in … where they put the Japanese, it’s in concentration camps, it’s in slave quarters, you know, prison art, it’s … people get a hold of anything they can to express themselves.

RK: Do you feel like you and some of the artists that are doing that now are kind of changing that narrative? You all have really kind of brought it back, what is the current philosophy behind it?

MH: Well, it’s interesting because when I started, that painting didn’t go with the text. We couldn’t read it, it was just scrap paper.  Now, it’s interesting. We’re trying, like I’ll get a hold of a train, a Union Pacific paper, and I will paint trains on it. Or I have a lot of things from Carlisle Indian School, and I will do paintings of how repressive that was and how … A lot of it is turn of the century art, just … I’m really fascinated by … doing the movies, you know, I see Last of the Mohicans and I see Thunderheart, and I go “What  happened in this turn of the century …” I just did, I was working, I was doing some backup voicings for the, uh, the series, The Son, you know, about the Comanche and I was fascinated by that turn of the century, that Comanches and Texas history, it was just, you know, it’s fascinating to me.

RK: Right. And you played Quanah Parker a few times in your career, is that right?

MH: Yeah, which is one of my favorite characters because being a culturally mixed person like Quanah was, I mean, it’s interesting to me to play that character.

RK: Was there a particular project you played on, playing Quanah that stands out?

MH: Oh, it was the one with Andy (Wilkinson). Yeah, I really …

RK: Now, did you all perform that in Abilene (TX)?

MH: Yeah! We did in Abilene and did it in the canyon down there, the big canyon, (Palo Duro Canyon) which I had heard about my whole life, and I went “Well, how can they not find somebody …” until I saw it! [Note: somebody to book it, I’m injecting.] And it was interesting. I’m the most—I live in the Berkeley area, and I’m the most un-New Age guy in the whole of frickin’ Berkeley—but I’m hearing voices. I’m hearing, you know, spirits in that canyon. It was quite amazing to me.

RK: It’s a beautiful place.

MH: Yeah.      

RK: One of the other art pieces you did was for Rock Love Jewelry, the Log Necklace …

MH: Oh yeah, you know, she was friend of mine (Catherine Coulson) … Jack and I, you know it was really funny, my first agent … I was renting my studio from an agent. I was just kind of a semi-stunt guy. I was working with horses and stuff, but I didn’t really want to be in the movies, and she handled me and Jack. One of my favorite things is, I get Jack one day and I go “Hey, look Jack, man, I’m a pretty far out there guy, you know … what the fuck did Eraserhead mean?” And I have a picture of him from Eraserhead that says “Figure it out yet? – Love Jack.” (laughter) But everything … you know me and Everett, you know Big Ed, we’d go “You get this?” “No, I don’t get it, let’s go ask Jack.” And everything made sense through Jack’s eyes. It was really funny career-wise. One day in the 80’s my agent comes down and she says “Wanna be Tonto in The Lone Ranger, and I went “No.” I’m an American Indian Movement member. I was out at Alcatraz and … a lot of things I won’t mention. (laughter)  But, uh, I said “no,” and I knew Jay Silverheels. I grew up with his daughter down out in California. He was an amazing, amazing guy, and even in that stereotypical role, we loved him dearly. He’s the real guy, and I said “I don’t want to be Tonto in The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” and she kept asking me, and I went “No,” and finally she said “You know, they’ll give you fifty grand,” and I went “Oh, kemosabe.” So, I went down to talk to Mr. Fraker, which we became really good friends, and I went “Hey …” I didn’t think they’d ever hire me, and I said “Does she know that if they put Tonto down one more time there’s going to be more Native people on your lawn than Custer’s …” He went “Really?” … A bad movie, but it didn’t take me long to figure out it’s only going to be as good as it’s written. I look for the page. If it’s not on the page, it’s not going to happen.

RK: Right, and I can kind of bridge that because, you know, I mean, Mark Frost is also important to the writing of Twin Peaks

MH: Oh, Mark and I are really good friends. I did the book. I did the audiobook, you know?

RK: Yeah, you did some voice acting on that.

MH: And I’m driving down to LA, and I’m listening to the book and all this stuff pops up about Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard. I pulled over and I called Mark, and I go “Is this true?” He goes “Yeah, it’s all in Nixon’s archives.” And I go “Whoa!”

RK: Yeah, did you enjoy playing that part, I guess it was “The Ballad of Big Ed and Norma and Nadine?”

MH: Oh yeah! It’s really funny because I’m talking about Big Ed. Like I said, my favorite character in all of Twin Peaks is Everett. We were really close.

RK: Did you get to rekindle that friendship a little bit on set?

MH: Oh yeah, it was very interesting. When people would ask me “Are you going to be in the remake?” I would go “Nobody called me,” and David called me—it’s like talking to someone out of a 50’s sitcom—he goes “Hey, buddy, we’re getting the band back together,” and I thought “You know, just give me a cameo.” It’s not about money. They were very, very kind in what they gave me. I didn’t realize, and people have been trying to get me to go to these Twin Peaks fests for years—I don’t really do that, but I finally went to the one in London, and I realized the love for that character.

RK: Oh, he’s huge.

MH: And Hawk is the only one who gets … You know, Mr. Forester, who was supposed to be the original sheriff. It was great working with this icon. I took him out to dinner and said “Tell me stories.” He goes “I don’t get this, Michael,” and I go “I was in it, and I don’t get it, pal!” (laughter) Then, he said “Oh! You and I are the straight guys. Everything is going to come past me, and I’m going to ask you what that means, and you’re going to tell me.” I went “Yeah, pretty much.”

But David is, when I left, I thought, “Well, this won’t be a big deal.” There has been so many out there things on television, and two days working with David, I looked at him and go “Oh, I’m sorry, pal, I forgot. There’s nobody like you.” You know, it’s an honor just to be on his artistic palette.

RK: I cannot even imagine.

MH: He’s the kindest, sweetest man. There’s just nothing like, I’ve worked with so many … you know, I’ve worked with everybody. I worked on Walker, Texas Ranger. I’ve worked on all these, but there’s just nobody like David. And everything that’s out there that’s good, that I like, Legion, American Gods and The Return … all has Twin Peaks DNA all over it. Even Legion, they don’t even try to hide it. They just, they give homage. And my wife, who I’m teaching about film, she goes “Oh, I get it—the pacing, the writing, the dialogue.” Even David Chase, who did The Sopranos, said he was influenced by David’s work. When we were filming down in L.A., we were on the streets, you know. People found out that David was there, and these cinematographers, and writers, and directors they’re coming by and go “Look, we don’t want to disturb you, we just want to shake his hands and tell him thank you.”

RK: And he changed it again. I think what he did with this last series, the pacing of this one … he just transformed it again.

MH: Oh, yeah. I’m still trying to process exactly what we did. Even when I don’t understand sometime what’s going on, it doesn’t mean that there’s not something, and people say “Oh, he’s just trying to be strange.” No, there’s nothing in David’s world that doesn’t … and it’s, it really changed … There have been changes in television before, in format, like Roots or in dialogue, but nothing in the actual way that you process television. And what’s so interesting to me is there’s so many young people that really like it now. And I thought “jeez …” I find that strange, because they multitask, because you can’t—you know, I figured out—you can’t multitask. You can’t be on your phone and watch Twin Peaks. You have to get into that world, and once they do that, they are fascinated by it.

RK: I agree with that. And then you … well, I’m sure you’ve talked about it a hundred times at this point, but you got to be almost, not just the ear for the Log Lady’s last lines, that character of the Log Lady, you got to be almost a spiritual guide in her last moments, that character’s last moments, so what does that memory mean to you?

MH: Oh, yeah. People ask me, “Well, did you cry or were you sad?” I said “No, I wanted to portray how brave she was to do that.”

RK: Yeah, and that came across.

MH: Yeah, I wanted to give her that … that salute, for being the artist and the warrior she was, to do that.

RK: Sure. Well, I won’t keep you much longer, but I know that you are an activist, that you do lots of good works, and if you buy that Log pendant, that goes to the Rights Movement?

MH: Yes, my wife, it’s … what they’re doing is they just came back from New Zealand because The Māori and the Crown have given the, uh, I think it’s the Whanganui River (I might be pronouncing it wrong), is giving it the rights of a living entity, just like you and me. So you can’t defile it, you can’t commodify it, and that’s what they’re trying to do. If you can give a corporation the rights of a human being, why can’t you do that for nature?

RK: Right, which should be inherent.

MH: Yeah.

RK: What can we do as Twin Peaks fans, or the community, to help you all, to help with good causes?

MH: Oh, just, you know, get on my … you can follow my wife’s website, which is, I think it’s Gathering Tribes.

RK: I think that’s right.

MH: And there’s all kinds of things that areTruly funny, she says “You want a Facebook?” I said “no.” She goes “Why don’t you get on Instagram?” So I get on Instagram. I go, “Look, here’s me and Angela Davis. I got 150 likes.” She goes “Your cat, Carlos, has 3,000.” And I went “Oh, that’s pretty humbling.” (laughing)

RK: And I had that as my last written note right here “Make sure to tell Carlos hello for us.”

MH: People love Carlos, man. (laughter) You know, I just got back. I did a little film. You know, I’m doing a lot of films for these film students and these new film makers. They’ll get on the internet, they’re looking for … because my agent won’t return their calls, and my wife will go “This kid’s looking for you.” So I go old school and my phone number, and this kid will go “Yeah, I’ll give you this. I’ll give you a thousand bucks!” I go “Kid, I can stay home and make jewelry and make that kind of money.” I said “You good?” “Yeah, I’m good.” So I’ve been doing these little films. So, I did this film, me and Peter Tork of The Monkees, you know. And they wanted me to come to the premiere in Memphis. And I went “ Ahhh?” And they went “We’ll take you for a tour of Stax Records Museum.” And I said “That’s the deal.” And I tell you, I stood there in Stax Records, and it was a holy moment to me, man. I said I’m sitting in the place where Elvis made “That’s Alright, Mamma’.” It was something, you know?

RK: You had a career in music, too.

MH: Yeah, I played with a lot of people.

RK: What years were those?

MH: Oh, the 70’s, yeah. And I was on the road for so long. You know, I never wanted to be a musician. I don’t like to rehearse, and I don’t like playing the same stuff over and over. But I’m a roots musician. I grew up with roots music. I used to listen to border radio when my grandma would take me back to Arizona. I had a little crystal radio set, and I understood the importance of culture, and it made me understand … Points of my culture made me understand American culture, especially the music, rhythm and blues, you know, and bluegrass. Everybody’s listening to The Beatles and Stones, which I love now, and The Beach Boys, but I was listening to Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed, Hank Williams, and Sarah Vaughn… you know.

RK: Well, Michael, I’m going to have to let you go, but I really appreciate your time.

MH: Oh, call back, you know, Twin Peaks fans are so … they’re so sweet, and they come up to me, and it’s never about fame. It’s about “let’s share an artistic moment.” My wife said “Your fans are the smartest, sweetest people.” They’ll come, my wife has a gallery, they’ll come in there. Their eyes are open, and immediately she goes “You’re here to see Michael, aren’t you?” “Yeah, is he here?” “No, he’ll be here tomorrow.” (laughter) I tell people there are two types of people in the world—people that get Twin Peaks and people who don’t. If you want to see something real funny, I have a movie coming up, Google “Dead Ant Festival Trailer.” It’s a cross between the 50’s sci-fi film Them, Spinal Tap, and Road Warrior. (laughter) It’ll crack you up.

RK: Okay, great. You have a good day, Michael.

MH: Okay, thank you, man.

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5 Replies to “Interview: Michael Horse on The Return, the “Living Map,” Ledger Art, and More!”

  1. Great interview. It’s lovely to read the part about New Zealand given we live there. In Maori, WH is pronounced Eff, so in the above Whanganui, it’s pronounced Fanganui.

    However, despite this for years it was spelled Wanganui, mostly driven by Pakeha (a white New Zealander, as opposed to a Maori.). Only recently was the H introduced deferring it to the F (WH) anganui pronunciation. Despite this there’s still tension held around which it is and which one it should be.

    Thanks to both of you for sharing this interview.

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