Monday, March 27, 2017

David Lynch, The Chanteuse, and Gaye Su Akyol

It was probably around 1991 when I purchased the full Twin Peaks series box set on VHS. At that point, I had never seen the show, but was my intention to watch it in Denton while a couple of close friends from High School simultaneously watched it in Austin. In theory, we agreed to watch an episode a week and have discussions when we visited every few weeks. In practice, none of us had any idea how addictive the show would be. We quickly became prototypical “binge-watchers,” secretly going ahead with “just one more episode.” Our plan to watch the show over the course of months barely lasted a week, but our respect and interest in the work of David Lynch stretched out into the decades to follow.

After Twin Peaks, I followed Lynch’s work unwaveringly, and I started to notice that some images and events recur in his work. I started to give them pet names: The Transformation, the Jagged Carpet, The Scream, etc. These Lynchian tropes seemed symbolic in a way similar to Salvador Dali’s use of melting clocks and ants as surrealistic images. In an attempt to give this armchair analysis of his work some credence, I often referred to these as Lynch’s “iconography.”

One role I named “The Chanteuse.” It takes the form of a lip-synched musical performance, almost (but not always) performed by a female actor in a private late-night setting. In Twin Peaks, this character was represented by Juliee Cruise, but it shows up in nearly all of David Lynch’s films in one form or another. In 2001’s Mulholland Drive, for example, he goes so far as to acknowledge the symbolic nature of this character, providing some uncharacteristic insight as to its meaning.

Lynch is gearing up to be back in the spotlight again with the imminent release of the new Twin Peaks season this coming May. Suffice it to say that I am extremely excited. If the hints that we have gotten through the show’s casting are any indication, the role of The Chanteuse might very well be played by Austin musician Chrysta Bell. Which is great - Bell is an incredible artist that fits the aesthetic perfectly. If the Twin Peaks revival is the beginning of a new creative arc, however, I would make a case to Mr. Lynch to consider the Turkish art-rocker Gaye Su Akyol for a future incarnation of The Chanteuse. 

Gaye Su Akyol’s most recent release Hologram Imperatorlugu is an engaging blend of gypsy-flavored tradition and twangy guitar rock that seems ready-made to plug into one of David Lynch’s late-night soirees. Her image fits seamlessly within the already established characteristics of the role.  Not only does her music blend “otherness” with familiarity, Gaye Su Akgol also captures the aloof distance that The Chanteuse almost always exudes. Bubituzak, her backing band, extends the sense of mystery by performing in cyptic black masks.  It is not a stretch to envision her performing to an enthralled audience teetering on the brink of an otherworldly encounter.

I feel pretty certain, however, that Chrysta Bell has a lock on the role for the new Twin Peaks episodes. I am grateful in any case, because I never realistically thought that I would see a continuation of the Twin Peaks series. Her presence in the cast is particularly exciting because it suggests that Lynch might be as interested in injecting new blood into the show as he is in revisiting the things that made it so engaging in the first place. This makes me think that Gaye Su Akyol could not only play the part of The Chanteuse in the future, but also could contribute to its continued evolution by diversifying its cultural background even further.

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