This week in 1990, TV viewers first met a murdered homecoming queen, a cherry-pie munching FBI agent and a sweater-wearing kook who carried a clairvoyant fire log.
Nothing compared to “Twin Peaks” at the time. No show offered the quirks of its multilayered plot or the depth of its freakish characters. For a college-age audience that hadn’t experienced Netflix, an HBO series or even characters who said naughty words in prime time, “Twin Peaks” represented a seismic victory for eccentrics everywhere.
For this reason, a collection of musical oddballs will gather in Durham Wednesday to salute this peculiar anniversary, observing the series’ 25th birthday by performing the soundtrack in all its ethereal glory. They invite you to attend, perhaps dressed as Audrey Horne in a plaid pencil skirt, Agent Dale Cooper with a micro-cassette recorder or Log Lady with her trademark prop.
Apologies if you’re not a fan. It’s about to get geeky in here.
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“I’m aiming for Big Ed Hurley,” said percussionist Steve Carter, discussing his costume plans. “Last year, I did Cooper in pajamas with a cowlick sticking up. I had someone do my hair for me.”
The cadre of band members runs to roughly 12, depending on the night, and it includes a horn section, a pair of keyboards and three vocalists. Devotion to the series runs so high that they’ve named themselves Garmonbozia, which, if you’ve watched any “Twin Peaks,” you’ll recognize as a reference to both negative energy and creamed corn.
At rehearsal last week, Carter explained that he and several band mates migrated to Durham from Appalachian State University and discovered David Lynch’s series while unemployed in the ’90s, watching it on unofficial videocassettes with Korean subtitles. Obsession soon followed.
“It was groundbreaking, certainly,” said Carter, who in real life works as a produce manager at the Weaver Street Market in Southern Village. “There was a campiness to it. There was a beauty pageant and there were strobe lights and explosions and none of it made any sense.”
Learning the dark and spooky soundtrack required a stark departure from what he’d been playing with the near-forgotten Durham band Psychoacoustics Research & Development – aggressive, dance-floor rock he’s previously described as a cross between Black Sabbath and Janet Jackson.
The songs that Angelo Badalamenti composed for “Twin Peaks” – considered among the greatest TV musical scores ever – alternate between haunting keyboards, spooky baritone guitar and Julee Cruise’s whispered vocals, all played at half-speed.
But the first time Garmonbozia played them in front of a live audience – Carter thinks it was 1998 – the band saw the dormant enthusiasm awaken for the cult series.
“People came carrying logs,” Carter said.
I watched a mini-rehearsal Thursday night, just keyboards and vocals with percussion, and the musicians in Carter’s basement boasted membership in at least seven other bands: D-Town Brass, Three Torches, Midnight Gladness, The Wusses, The Wigg Report, The Fontanelles, Dom Casual ...
And like other members of my generation, gray-haired kids who saw Public Enemy and Nirvana play live, they find their cultural touchstones have grown dated. Nobody under 40 gets the references anymore.
“I teach high school,” said Amelia Shull, a Garmonbozia vocalist, “and I’ve asked kids, ‘Who’s heard of ‘Twin Peaks’? One kid said, ‘Oh, yeah. Who killed Laura Palmer?’ It’s tough to explain. He and I didn’t know where to start. There’s just so many moments where it’s not a linear story anymore, and it doesn’t care.”
Carter relayed this harrowing question he got from a chiropractor: “You watch ‘Twin Peaks’? Oh, my Dad used to watch that.”
I applaud the nostalgia. It’s hard to look at “Twin Peaks” episodes now and not see elements of “The X-Files” or “The Killing” – even “Breaking Bad.” I don’t know the show’s back story, and I’m sure someone will write in to tell me, but it seems that a quarter-century ago, someone in charge let the crazies run wild and unedited. Moments like those deserve a birthday party.
Want to go?
The “Twin Peaks” tribute show starts at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Motorco in Durham. Doors open at 7 p.m. and all ages are admitted. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. For more information, see www.motorcomusic.com/events.