Music, like dreams, can linger in your head in bits and pieces. A snatch of a driving riff from here, a half-remembered lyric from there, a fast, crazy guitar solo from who knows what. Then, in a spark of revelation, it becomes apparent all the elements come from the same song (when this happened to me recently, it was Precious And Grace, by Queens Of The Stone Age).
It’s sweet and neat when things fall into place like that. Music has such a nostalgic, restorative power. David Lynch would play music on his film sets to transport everyone into the mood – all singing from the same hymn sheet, as it were.
His Blue Velvet, a game changer in 1986 and still one of American independent cinema’s most vital keystones, seems to have fallen into place in that same, surprisingly magical way – like previously muddled memories, or snatches of music in your head that suddenly, in a spark of revelation, become one song.
In Lynch’s dark and delirious movie, the driving riff is the roaring current of evil coursing below the manicured lawns and white picket fences of small-town Lumberton. The ‘lyrics’ (“Pabst Blue Ribbon! That’s what you’ll drink tonight!”) help keep you on your guard. The fast, crazy solo is Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth.
The Suave Ben scene sees Dean Stockwell’s candy coloured clown, lit up like a carnival ghost, miming to the Big O – Roy Orbison. This heady underworld episode exerts its grip via a potent mix of threat, mystery and squeamish perversity, like much of the rest of the movie.
‘Innocent’ Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), along for the ride in the worst possible sense, is the man to tell you – when you’re at Ben’s Place, you’re in a place you don’t want to go. But Ben’s song takes you to a dream world you don’t ever want to leave.
It’s a moment in time that can even silence Frank, and that’s saying something. (But then, later that same day, I found out Precious And Grace is a cover! It was ZZ Top, originally – not Queens Of The Stone Age!) Nothing is quite what it seems any more.