N.B. This post doesn't contain major spoilers for Twin Peaks or Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. However, it may not make much sense if you haven’t seen them. Content warning: sexual abuse/rape/abortion
You stop in at the Roadhouse for a beer with the truckers and the bikers, and you’re serenaded by the vapourous vocals of Julee Cruise. No swaggering rockabilly or country music here; only reverb-drenched ballads that drift at the speed of clouds. Such is Cruise’s apparent stature as a local artist in Twin Peaks that we hear her records playing even in isolated log cabins far out in the neighbouring forest.
Badalamenti and Lynch’s iconic soundtrack penetrates deep into the lives of the residents of Twin Peaks. Cruise’s is the Voice from Another Place that lulls the town into its deep, deep sleep.
The singing of words can constitute the performance of utterance itself: sudden, spontaneous speech acts, like the explosive ‘Good God!’ with which Jamie Stewart bursts onto the first track on his band’s first album, Knife Play. But the singing of words can also constitute a re-singing: the singing of a song already sung, reading from a script, following instructions or a series of ritual actions. We hear the original song, we hear its re-performance, and we hear the gap between the two.
When Xiu Xiu play live, Jamie Stewart performs the effort in singing someone else’s song. This is the case even when he is performing his own songs: the impossibility of reproducing those original solitary outbursts (nocturnal rants in bathroom mirrors, gnashing voicemails sent to dead numbers) in front of a crowd of spectators, demanding that same contouring of suffering, the same poised play of sweetness and excrement.
Most of all though, we hear the effort in singing borrowed lines, stolen identities. Stewart’s intense vocal style is often most pronounced on his recorded covers (the Tu Mi Piaci EP, ‘Fast Car’ on A Promise, and especially the recent Nina and Unclouded Sky). Onstage, that strain in his voice appears also in his face and body as he forces each phrase from his throat, gargling vowels and squeezing out loose globs of faltering pitch, eyes white and flickering, neck craned, drenched in sweat. The labour required for each utterance is immense; even then, his vocals hang awkwardly in the air, sounding unnatural, wrong.
To presume to sing someone else’s song, to embody someone else’s vocal self. Drunken karaoke without a backing track, whispered under one’s breath in the street, on the bus. To be insufficient and unworthy of these notes, these words, this beauty. And for these notes to be, in themselves, similarly insufficient and empty.
Usually I abort these nascent anecdotes as quickly as possible: artlessly evacuate the space that’s opened up, ask someone else a question, disappear into the listening mass. Every now and again, even when I'm alone with my boyfriend, I feel like I don’t have enough breath to tell anecdotes. My lungs and throat feel exhausted before I can even begin.
But perhaps it’s not actually about ‘myself’—I’m actually a very secure and self-confident individual—maybe it’s about my words/voice as some kind of product or action. Something that is no longer merely part of me, but an excess that intrudes upon other people—their ears and brains—and becomes part of them. In German, my anxieties are different. It’s more about my incursion into a discursive system that is not my own. It feels like every German word I utter is a mockery. I hate small talking in any language. To me, it feels like lying, patronising, cruelty, even though I find other people’s small talk wondrous, kind, caring. Small talking in German feels doubly duplicitous.
In small-town Germany, I can still pass unnoticed. (When the police patrol the trains, as they so often do now, waking every brown commuter and demanding to see their IDs, I am not disturbed.) But in the German language, I cannot pass. My attempts at conversation are disruptive. I slow things down. I am inefficient and inconvenient and I’d rather stay silent.
The result was a fascinating instance of two texts interacting in ways that cast new light on each. To see Xiu Xiu perform a set of non-original material further isolates their live practice from their recorded material. Yet these are no mere songs to be appropriated and reworked (like the folk songs on Unclouded Sky or the jazz songs on Nina); a mainly instrumental soundtrack like this is so tied to its original arrangements and timbres that it is effectively uncoverable. Any attempt to reproduce it, without all the original forces and production technologies, would necessarily fail. The band say as much in their programme note: ‘There is no way that we can recreate Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch’s music as it was originally played. It is too perfect and we could never do its replication justice.’
At the same time, the Twin Peaks soundtrack is not just televisually functional (as an accompaniment to recorded images on TV), but it is fictionally functional. Its diegeticness, existing as part of the fictional world of Twin Peaks, is both clearly demonstrated and heavily implied throughout. The soundworld isn’t one that stands outside of events and mediates them for the audience; it mediates the events for the characters too. As such, its re-performance reflects not only on Badalamenti and Lynch as artists, and the TV series as a cultural object, but on the characters themselves, and the world they inhabit.
As a result, the process of bringing the Twin Peaks soundtrack into liveness has psycho-geographic dimensions (or, perhaps I should say, crypto-forensic dimensions). Agent Cooper may have solved Laura’s case early in the second season, but he still hasn’t solved Twin Peaks. His investigations always proceeded with a dreamlike smoothness, oiled by mystical revelations and psychic visions. In the end, he is folded back into the puzzle.
The original Twin Peaks soundtrack is the polar opposite of liveness: the recording of a recording of a song. Xiu Xiu’s meta-liveness questions the possibility of even existing within a song coherently or naturally. The resulting clash is one of those traumatic Lynchian moments—the irruption of the Lacanian ‘Real’—in which the dream within the dream exposes reality as a fantasy.
Twin Peaks fandom is a fantasy. Jamie Stewart is Laura Palmer.
‘Audrey’s Dance’ is just such a vacancy. She plays it on the jukebox at the Double R. She plays it at the Great Northern Hotel. She dances to it, moves within it. It comes to represent her, but she carries it with her only as a vacant space. Indeed, it represents her as a vacancy, a mystery. Laura’s double.
Grooves, drones, riffs, repeating and repeating, remaining vacant, waiting for a melody to fill them. And even when we find them occupied, it’s secrets that they’re filled with. ‘Dance of the Dream Man’ is the revelation of the secret as a secret, introducing that sinuous mystery melody into one of these erstwhile vacant grooves. It may be the music of Another Place, but doesn’t it sound almost exactly like the music from Twin Peaks?
When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was released in 1992, a year after the cancellation of the TV series, the film’s reception was abominable. The director was booed at Cannes; the subsequent reviews were savage. The Evening Standard said ‘the whole production exudes a contempt for viewers’. According to the New York Times, ‘It’s not the worst movie ever made, it just seems to be'. Fans felt that it betrayed the spirit of the TV series, lacking any of its charm and wit, presenting instead over two hours of unrelenting horror. As a prequel, dramatising the events of Laura Palmer’s murder which had only previously emerged as a series of fascinating hints in the original series, the film was charged with disenchantment: extinguishing the magic of the series as it rolls towards its inevitable and thus anticlimactic conclusion. For many who fell in love with Twin Peaks in 1990, Fire Walk With Me was a regrettable blot on a once great franchise.
Laura Palmer is too perfect. As the TV series proceeds, the insights that Dale Cooper and the viewers gather about this absent character are so extraordinary and contradictory as to seem impossible. She appears to have been known by everybody in town—the missing central node holding the entire community together. She is impossibly kind and virtuous, dedicating her free time to voluntary work, helping the elderly, tutoring the needy, comforting the lonely. She is impossibly wicked and depraved, addicted to drugs and extreme sexual encounters, callous and cruel to those who love her. She is pictured as an archetypal American beauty—feminine, sweet, vulnerable—but one with significant involvement in a series of illicit and criminal operations. Most of all, she seems to have had an impossible amount of time on her hands, maintaining at least three romantic relationships, living three or four separate secret lives, holding at least five jobs, remaining the absolute pillar of her community.
Laura is both wholly good and wholly evil: an image, fetish, scapegoat, shaman, monster, martyr. This extreme duality is reflected in her musical theme (and echoed in the ‘Love Theme’). The murky minor-key synth motif repeats and repeats interminably, mired in its own darkness, before suddenly resolving onto the quasi-Wagnerian piano melody that twists and yearns upwards, in an effort to reach the sunlight. After the drawn-out ascent, light finally breaks through, with a single radiant phrase, its blossoming short-lived as it slides back down into the mire. And suddenly the blackness is back, and it is as if nothing had ever disturbed that murky motif. From absolute light to absolute dark. White Lodge/Black Lodge.
It is partly this impossibility of the absent Laura that makes Agent Cooper’s investigations so enjoyable. It is her infinite dimensions that allow the quirky, weird aspects of the series to cohere. What’s more, her incoherence becomes the incoherence of Twin Peaks, the town, not to mention Twin Peaks, the series. Laura Palmer is Twin Peaks. As Cooper and the viewer falls in love with this mysterious, unpredictable place, at once charmingly quirky and horrifically dark, they are also falling in love with Laura the mystery. We must believe in this incoherence—the possibility of Laura’s impossibility—in order to enjoy Twin Peaks and not reject it as meaningless, arbitrary randomness (or ‘pretentiousness’). At the same time, Cooper must believe in this same incoherence in order to fall for the wholesome romance of the town, which he repeatedly extols, in spite of the fact that it is clearly built on a bedrock of exploitation and violent crime.
Stewart is excess itself: with the ubiquitous drum machine in tow, so much of this music could be performed by two people. Seo remains on the dark side throughout, cool and distant at the keyboards and synths. Dunkelman moves between vibes and drum kit, brighter, more energetic. And Stewart is the excess in the middle. The blot on the score. The whining, hissing noise ruining the recreation of this perfect soundtrack for the fans. In the London gig, some people walk out…
My interpretation of Stewart as performance artist is mediated by the musical and lyrical personas that he presents on his recordings: impotent, desperate, self-hating. ‘A sopping wet towel of stupidity’. He performs the painful awareness of his own abjectness, and in watching him, we are made to feel the effort of performance itself. This is the effort of being present in front of an audience, of appearing, being seen, being heard. We feel not just the effort of singing—of vocal action—but of all action: the pathetic insufficiency of one’s actions in an otherwise perfect world. The terror of one’s own free will in the face of the world’s apparent organicism, leading to desperate, meaningless acts that are always insufficient, always wrong, always a failure.
In the smashing of cymbals, we hear Stewart’s emotional investment in this music, but it is ugly and excessive. He is too invested, too earnest. It is embarrassing. It would be perfect without him. He should stay silent.
Dreamy Audrey and her dreamy music help lull us into an acceptance of the ‘dream logic’ of the show. Along with Agent Cooper, our seduction by Laura is projected onto Audrey: femininity as mystery. As Cooper himself tells Deputy Andy, when he ‘just can’t figure Lucy out’: ‘There’s no logic at work here, Andy. Let that one go. In the grand design, women were drawn from a different set of blueprints’.
Tellingly, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which restores Laura to the heart of her own story, Audrey is entirely absent.
In contrast to many male bandleaders—who patrol the stage like managers, always in control—Stewart’s onstage actions are often performed according to one of two extremes. Either they are executed with the most delicate of touches—a tiny, dainty adjustment, eyes closed, in the manner of the most sensitive of perfectionists—or else they are executed with sudden violent abandon. He’ll croon every sound as if individually calibrating it with the maximum amount of emotional intensity, often rendering it rhetorically meaningless, and then blindly assault a tree of cymbals for a full thirty seconds.
The impression is of a pathetically earnest investment in a music of failure—the delicate fine-tuning of ugly, childish sounds and song structures that keep falling apart, shameful confessions and inelegant attempts to reproduce the ‘respectable’ musical personas of others—with Stewart every now and then abandoning himself to pure noise, failing even to contain the inarticulable horrors that he is trying to communicate through these borrowed musical templates.
To be ridden with self-disgust and still to remain onstage. To be ridiculous and pathetic and an abject failure and still to remain absolutely earnest. This is the beauty of Stewart’s live practice: in spite of the pain and the effort, he performs nonetheless. He is at once wholly butch and wholly camp, yet there is no wink to his campness, no ironic mockery or queerly defiant swagger. We can only pity him.
The exceptional vulnerability that he presents differs from most pop performances of ‘vulnerability’, which involve an uncomplicated presentation of ‘honesty’ or ‘soulfulness’, and are really just the controlled presentation of a constructed ‘intimacy’. Stewart performs vulnerability without control. His only protection comes, perhaps, from his masculinity and his attractiveness; as such, it is unnerving to see him lay everything else aside. The experience can be like discovering some alpha jock, eyes closed, in an activity of blissfully submissive sexual humiliation. As in the ever-shifting sexuality of his lyrical personas, Stewart’s gender performance is not so much wilfully subversive as shockingly unaffected.
Xiu Xiu perform ‘Blue Frank/The Pink Room’: Angelo Seo on synth, Shayna Dunkelman on drums. Stewart’s occupation of this particular sonic space is as a kind of guitar hero. He shreds through the groove, leaving a trail of thick distortion, crouching, leaping, swooning and gurning with the best of them, spraying sweat.
Like all guitar heroics, it is a calculated interplay of the earnest and ridiculous. As a function of Stewart’s musical persona, however, the usual dynamic is reversed. Guitar heroics, like so much of macho pop performance, involves a knowingly hyperbolic, ridiculous performance of machismo, which nevertheless wants to retain that disavowed machismo. Indeed, the machismo comes more from the knowing overblownness of the performance than the actual acts of physical virtuosity and aggression involved in it. It is a ridiculous performance on a foundation of assumed earnestness (the musician’s masculine ego). In contrast, like so much of Stewart’s stage actions, his guitar shredding is part of an overly earnest performance on a foundation of assumed ridicule (his queerness and self-disgust).
By performing vulnerability without control, total earnestness in the face of imperfection, failure and ridicule, Stewart gestures towards those aspects of the personal and social unconscious that are impossible to fully know or combat. By refusing to fight these pressures by which we are compelled to judge every subject presuming to take up our space or time—or to make themselves seen or heard—Stewart helps to make these pressures tangible. There is something incredibly generous about this act: the acknowledgement that we must all live at the centre of worlds that crush us with their judgements, that make us feel like stains, too noisy, too conspicuous, taking up too much space. This is particularly true for those people who stand out just by being themselves: who cannot withdraw from conspicuousness and disappear into normality, who must act and be in the world, in spite of the world’s ridicule. Stewart performs an inability to be musically normal, to blend into some acceptable song or genre, or else get off the stage. He perseveres in failure.
Musically, Jamie Stewart performs a kind of baseline of ridicule, a pure imperfection, embodying all the essential weakness and pitifulness of the universally human in the face of unmanageable, untenable and historically arbitrary social frameworks. In the end, by continuing to perform, what he’s staging is those very pressures: generalising the ‘self-’ in self-disgust, alienating it, distancing it, allowing us to feel it and judge it together. Solidarity—‘Say Hi!’
I have a memory: aged 18 or so, standing on the platform at Wimbledon Station one evening, listening to Xiu Xiu’s A Promise. I’m approached by a group of older guys, lairy and posturing, who want to know what I’m listening to. I don’t know how to answer, but I feign naïve complicity. I’m worried they will snatch my iPod if I get it out, but I give one of the guys an earphone anyway. He listens for a second and then burst into laughter, passing it around. They all laugh.
I’m sure they would have laughed at whatever I’d been listening to, and yet at that moment I felt their attitude towards me change. They are less threatening, more quizzical. From self-important geek who needs to be taken down a peg or two, I have become a mere curiosity, apparently unaware of how stupid I seem, openly flaunting my taste for this impotent, swaggerless, simpering music (in my mind, the track in question was ‘Ian Curtis Wishlist’).
They stand around me for the next few minutes and ask me questions, which I answer simply, trying to remain as earnest as possible. Just as my train is arriving, I realise that one of them is looking at me funny. Suddenly, he interjects: ‘He’s taking the piss! He’s taking the piss!’ They seem confused, but it’s too late. I’m getting on my train and they remain on the platform. ‘He’s taking the piss’: I can hear my duplicity being explained. They flip me off through the window, but I am otherwise unscathed.
Leland Palmer, Laura’s grieving father, creates his own sonic environment to drown out the reality of events by playing 1940s big band records at full volume. In this way, Twin Peaks thematises the use of music as a fabric of fantasy. For Leland, the records aren’t so much a denial or escape from the fact of Laura’s death as they are a medium of pure grief, untainted by the horrific specifics of her last few days.
For the viewers, as much as for the residents of Twin Peaks, this is the function of the entire soundtrack. Similarly, it is the function of dreamy Audrey—the Balthazar Getty to Laura’s Bill Pullman, the Betty to Laura’s Diane—on whom we project our image of Laura’s impossible femininity to help us avoid/repress the true horrors of her experiences, and allow us to enjoy the goofiness of Twin Peaks and its cherry pie.
At the same time, all of Twin Peaks is a fantasy. The town and its residents, as Agent Cooper and the viewer experience it, is nothing but a dream. The unbearable reality upon which the waking fantasy of Twin Peaks is built, as Slavoj Žižek keeps pointing out, can only approached through it own unconscious: Cooper’s dreams, Mrs Palmer’s visions.
Twin Peaks is a television series about serial rape and child abuse. As with Lynch’s later movies, there are moments when this unbearable ‘Real’ forces its way into the screenplay in other ways. Hence, the suffering of Shelly Johnson, and most obviously, the storyline involving Maddy Ferguson, Laura’s identical cousin. Certainly, everyone acknowledges the blackness that gives the series its edge—the ‘dark underside of small-town America’ etc.—but this Lynchian dynamic of darkness, repression and dreams extends beyond the text itself, and into its broader cultural appreciation.
There’s something deeply disingenuous about Twin Peaks fandom: the reenactment of symptoms and reification of symbols, the obsessive exegesis, the para-scientific explanations that naturalise the ‘supernatural’ element, as if to excuse the series’s apparent irrationality with an alternative, esoteric rationality (what Žižek might call ‘New Age obscurantism’).
Twin Peaks must retain its fundamental irrationality if the gravity of the crimes it addresses is to be taken seriously. The supernatural elements of the series are just as much a fantasy as its wholesome quirkiness. They are attempts to make sense of the subnatural truth of human ‘nature’: the unbearable irrationality of the unconscious and the violent chaos of nature itself.
From the moment she appears onscreen to the final moments of the film, Lee’s performance is madcap, hysterical, excessive. She hoots and howls, bawls and rasps, coos and giggles and moans her way towards the inevitable death scene. It is a performance like nothing in the TV series, boggling out of the screen. Lee’s performance is testament to the impossibility of putting the impossible girl back into her own story, after the accumulation of all those luscious, Baroque details over the course of the series, which have furnished the viewer’s mental image of Laura’s final days.
In Fire Walk With Me, we see Laura stretched to breaking point. Not only is she, as a character, forced to live through the unbearable darkness of her final days; as an actor, Lee is forced to embody an entirely contradictory character, realising all the viewers’ fantasies on her body. In the TV series, Laura is a corpse, a photograph, a video clip, a voice on a tape recorder, a blonde wig. Into these fetishistic vessels are poured all the most extreme archetypes of wild womanhood: virgin and whore, angel and witch. What we see in Fire Walk With Me is a composite of these objects, reanimated in the form of a human person—Sheryl Lee—who’s forced to bear the burden of every one of these archetypes as she staggers into death.
Lee performs her failure to play Laura, just as she performs Laura’s failure to play the girl that everyone wants her to be. As such, Laura is clearly depicted as the victim of a perverse patriarchal society, held up by foundations of exploitation and misogyny that remain buried—indeed, that cannot be revealed except as a web of shadow, and are immediately disavowed in favour of supernatural explanations.
Much of the horror of Fire Walk With Me comes from its sense of speeding towards a foregone conclusion: a unique structural aspect of the film that has been criticised, but for me remains its most compelling quality. We get a sense of Laura tumbling backwards through the events of the TV series, through the pages of her diary, destined for the cold brown water that flows behind the opening credits of the pilot. Moreover, we get a sense of both Laura and Lee being aware of this, too aware, desperately trying to stop the onrush of the film with clawing fingers.
This is the significance of the traffic light. The empty junction. Red to green. The final pause, when James Hurley’s motorbike is held at that traffic light, before she runs away into the night.
Laura’s only oasis of repose is with Harold, the orchid-growing recluse, keeper of her secret diary. Hence, it is all the more creepy that Xiu Xiu’s delicate rendition of ‘Harold’s Theme’ so strongly resembles their ‘Black Keyboard’ from Women As Lovers: a song about secret abuse. ‘Rest now. Be free. Be free be free be free be free be free.’
One of the beautiful things about Twin Peaks is its juxtaposition of different genres that play out simultaneously, extending to differences in the actors’ performances and their characters’ subsequent grounding within the ‘reality’ of the town. From the melodrama of Benjamin Horne and Catherine Martell, parodied in the soap opera Invitation to Love, to James and Donna’s doe-eyed romance, self-absorbed and ineffectual, to the homely comedy of the police station.
I think my favourite character in Twin Peaks is Bobby Briggs. Bobby is also Laura’s double. He looms out of the pilot episode—eyes blazing, barking like a dog—and slices through each self-contained pocket of genre normalcy. He is too knowing, taking liberties, undermining the coherence of the town’s happy mélange of TV genres. His bizarre eruption at the funeral: ‘What are you looking at? What are you waiting for? You damn hypocrites. You make me sick! Everybody knew she was in trouble but we didn’t do anything… You want to know who killed Laura Palmer? You did! We all did.’
In this way, Dana Ashbrook plays Sheryl Lee’s evangelist from the future, proclaiming the truth that she must live out in Fire Walk With Me. The TV series’s patchwork of genres cohered around Laura as absent centre. As the main character in the film, she is in excess of all of these, ruining everything with the real suffering of her real body. And yet she cannot get offstage. She cannot help but to be real and be human…
Both Jamie Stewart and Sheryl Lee perform their compulsion to perform, as well as the impossibility of performing perfectly, their unequalness to the fantasy of perfection, their inevitable and essential failure. In their own ways, these performances interrupt, critique and redeem texts that might otherwise seduce with their superficially Gothic detailing.One fascinating review of Xiu Xiu’s Dear God, I Hate Myself repeatedly asked the question: ‘Is Jamie Stewart serious?’ The reviewer dissects the same dynamic of sincerity and ridiculousness (‘The instinctive approach upon hearing Stewart sing is to burst out laughing’), before quoting Stewart’s stated belief that humour has a place in music as long as it comes ‘from the heart and crotch rather than a way to avoid showing yourself’. Tellingly, the reviewer concludes that the album’s ‘absurdity’ comes ‘at the expense of the emotional heart of the songs’, before suggesting Stewart ‘find the humour in suffering in a way that doesn’t sound like he’s taking the piss’.
But Xiu Xiu’s music only works if you first of all accept that, in spite of everything, he is serious. Stewart challenges us to take him and his music seriously. By affirming that they are a serious band, and that their music is meant entirely in earnest, the listener is invited to engage seriously with the most artless and apparently irrational expressions of pain. Not only is irrational suffering still real suffering, but only by taking such irrationality seriously can we begin to take suffering seriously.
Here I might suggest that a possible definition of ‘art’ is this very process of ‘taking of something seriously’. This could be anything: the most ‘trashy’, ‘throwaway’ examples of popular culture have life-or-death resonances for some people. The kitschest of poems and paintings (and here I remember Laura’s own fantasy in Fire Walk With Me, the desperate delusion separating her from the reality of her fate, in the form of the angel in the painting, and the horrible moment when it disappears, leaving her entirely alone).
Comparable to teenage poetry as an object of social derision are the tastes of the teenage girl as consumer. According to common knowledge, the passions of teenage girls are notoriously tragic in their stupidity: fawning over manufactured idols, tricked into embracing every new fad through their own fickleness and docility, at once grotesquely superficial and hopelessly romantic, idiot sheep with no sense of history and no self-respect. In the face of this hypocritical misogyny, we must learn to treat the sincerity of teenage girls’ passions with the seriousness that we would accord the most eloquent and learned aestheticians: that same seriousness with which they themselves accord the cultural material that gives meaning to their lives.
Another article, published after the release of subsequent album Always, declares that ‘Xiu Xiu has an awful, self-congratulatory pro-choice single’, in the form of ‘I Luv Abortion’, a song based on the experiences of a friend of Stewart’s. The article’s author, Alyssa Rosenberg, charges Stewart with ‘appropriating a woman’s words and experiences’, and turning this woman’s emotional distress ‘into some sort of proof of how cool and dark you are’.
Clearly this is a very problematic example and, on their own terms, the criticisms stand. However, this latter accusation seems way too easy, compromising the ability of any popular musician to address serious or complex issues. Its booby-trap logic actually reminds me of an accusation I've heard trad classical fans throw at pop artists: ‘They're just trying to sell records’. Outside of satire, I’m not sure how even the woman in question would go about writing an unproblematic (i.e., non-‘self-congratulatory’) pro-abortion song; does this mean it is ‘too serious’ or ‘too problematic’ a position for musical expression? At the same time, this designation of certain positions and experiences and not others as appropriate for earnest musical treatment in turn undermines the seriousness of all musical expression per se.
As I see it, on ‘I Luv Abortion’ and similar songs, Xiu Xiu are asking us to imagine that this is not the case: that musical expression is as serious as any other form of discourse (indeed, more serious, in that it exceeds the ‘objective’ register of ‘realist’ representational media, which can only support expression within the transparent/self-evident language of the everyday). In so doing, Xiu Xiu present the very problematic of a pro-abortion song (or the possibility of a song expressing what that song expresses), along with the irresolvable problematic of abortion itself (as the aggregate of millions of women’s unique experiences), as something worthy of our sincere engagement.
We can still critique the song’s position itself, of course, and take issue with its politics. But it is too easy to hear Xiu Xiu’s music in terms of an effort ‘to prove how cool and dark’ the band is, just as it is too easy to understand Twin Peaks in terms of Lynch’s ‘surreal’, ‘weird’ or ‘quirky’ aesthetic, rather than in terms of the collective fantasies of a society founded on patriarchal violence. (David Lynch called Fire Walk With Me ‘my cherry pie present to fans of the show—however, one that’s wrapped in barbed wire’.)
Naturally, a song like ‘I Luv Abortion’ is doomed to fail, whatever the criteria of success applied. Hence, the importance of Stewart’s own performance of failure: his absolutely earnest ridiculousness. The intensity in his voice, the sweat on his face, the delicate precision of his little dance: these are gestures towards the fundamentally irreconcilable nature of our society, and the value of non-‘objective’ or ‘representative’ media (like poetry, music, or Lynch’s dream cinema) in tracing these contradictions, along with the inarticulable suffering they can cause.
Twin Peaks is set to return in early 2017.