Under the sycamore trees: A tribute to my favorite musical moment from Twin Peaks

With each passing day, we find ourselves closer and closer to the May 21 premiere of Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival. For longtime fans of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s original television series, which ran on ABC from 1990-1991 before being unceremoniously cancelled after the second season, the very existence of this revival is surreal. Most of the original cast is back, Lynch wrote and directed all 18 (!) new episodes, and Showtime apparently let Lynch run wild with his vision, knowing that he was either going to be in complete charge or not be involved at all. There’s even new Twin Peaks merchandise out now! Considering the show wasn’t even available on DVD until a botched release of the first season in 2001, it boggles my mind that fans can now purchase Laura Palmer, Log Lady and BOB toys online. (“Alexa, buy the Leland Palmer Funko” is a sentence I never thought people would be saying to tiny machines in their living rooms, but here we are.)

One of Lynch’s greatest strengths has always been the sound and music used in his work, whether it’s the woman in the radiator in Eraserhead or Dean Stockwell doing his best Roy Orbison impression in Blue Velvet. The music used throughout the original two seasons of Twin Peaks might just be the greatest example of this, thanks largely to the score by longtime Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti’s music was majestic, yet mysterious. Serious, yet playful. Songs such as “Twin Peaks Theme,” “Laura Palmer’s Theme” and “Dance of the Dream Man” became just as iconic as the show’s characters, and watching an episode without sitting through the entire opening sequence was simply unthinkable.

Twin Peaks also featured some great musical moments that featured more than just the work of Badalamenti. Singer Julee Cruise often appeared on stage at the town’s bar, the Roadhouse; James, Donna, and Maddy shared one of the creepiest musical performances in TV history; Leland played Glenn Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000” while spinning in circles and holding a picture frame … the list goes on and on.

My all-time favorite musical moment from the show came during the season finale, when singer Jimmy Scott appeared out of nowhere and performed “Sycamore Trees,” a song written by Lynch with music by Badalamenti. I won’t get too specific about the scene, but it does come at a pivotal moment when anyone watching Twin Peaks for the first time is either on the edge of their seat, shielding their eyes with their own hands, or curled up in the fetal position. It’s intense as all hell, in other words, and Scott’s voice amplifies both the scene’s tension and the sense that the audience has no earthly idea what is about to happen as the show reaches its conclusion.

“I got idea, man,” Scott sings in the extended version, his weathered voice stretching out each syllable. “You take me for a walk/ Under the sycamore trees/ The dark trees that blow, baby/ In the dark trees that blow.” Lynch’s lyrics here are bare and straightforward, almost primal. As far as opening lines go, “I got idea, man” is about as eerie as it gets.

After a haunting saxophone solo, Scott returns for the song’s conclusion. “And I’ll see you,” he sings, his words sounding both mournful and slightly threatening at this point. “And you’ll see me. And I’ll see you in the branches that blow/ In the breeze.” The song winds down at this point, with Scott repeating lyrics as everything slowly comes to a halt. The scene has been set. The atmosphere has been built. The audience has been left in awe. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

“Sycamore Trees” was such a successful moment for Lynch and Badalamenti that it was eventually included on the soundtrack to the show’s prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which came out in 1992. This allowed fans of the show to revisit Scott’s performance whenever and wherever they wanted, and I can say from experience that listening to the song on headphones while you’re out in the world can make even the most ho-hum task seem a little bit frightening.

This will always be my absolutely favorite musical moment from Lynch’s work. Unless, of course, he outdoes himself with the show’s upcoming revival. We have less than 10 days to go, folks! 

The full scene is below, but you obviously want to avoid watching it if you have yet to watch the show … consider this your last warning …

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