Until I got to do my salute to Sgt. Pepper (also included in this Fresh Air favorites sampler), I considered this 1990 review my absolute personal favorite. Part of it is because it captures my unbridled passion for television at its best and most imaginative. I'd raved about Twin Peaks earlier that month on Fresh Air already, keyed to the premiere of the two-hour telemovie pilot on ABC. But after the episode in which Kyle MacLachlan's FBI agent Dale Cooper had a bizarre dream involving a velvet-covered red room and a dancing midget, I couldn't contain myself, and had to do a follow-up review.
But there's another reason I'm so proud of this review, and it's a long, behind-the-scenes story - two stories, actually. One fascinating element of the David Lynch-directed dream sequence was the odd way the "Man from Another Place," as the dancing midget was billed in the credits, spoke in Cooper's dream. The midget, like the Laura Palmer look-alike played by Sheryl Lee, seemed to be speaking a type of broken English, as jerky and unnatural as their movements. I guessed - correctly, as it turned out - that Lynch was running film backwards, and having the actors do things in reverse to make their actions look almost right, but positively dreamlike. I also guessed Lynch had pulled the same trick with the audio, for reasons that lead to behind-the-scenes story number two.
I first got fascinated with TV's technical aspects in high school in Florida, attending Fort Lauderdale's then-experimental Nova High School. Nova had a closed-circuit TV system, and students enrolled in either the technical side (running cameras, working the audio board, riding gain) or the journalistic side (writing and performing shows closed-circuited to the entire school). I was the first student to take both, which explains a lot about my passion for television. But the germane part of this story (yes, there is one) is that, on the days when I ran audio, among my jobs was the responsibility to cue up the reel-to-reel tape to the proper spot to begin the recording that announced the pledge to the flag.
"Will everyone please stand," the tape began. In cue mode, so it wouldn't be broadcast, I listened for the "Will everyone" part of the phrase, pressed stop on the reel-to-reel Ampex recorder, and rewound the tape manually with a slight turn of my wrist. The tape, still in cue mode, would rub against the playback heads in reverse - and for some reason, "Will everyone," played backward, sounds like "Milli ribbit." I have no idea why, but it's the same reason the phrase "Number nine," played backward on The Beatles' "Revolution #9," sounds uncannily like "Turn me on, dead man."
Anyway... So I run into the Fresh Air studios like a madman, and explain to the engineer, Thad Kirk, that I think I know how David Lynch made his characters talk so strangely on Twin Peaks, and that I wanted to try to do it with my voice. All we had to do, I guessed, was record me saying something, flip the tape and play it backwards, then write down those sounds phonetically and record me reading that. Then flip the tape again, and presto! "Milli ribbit" becomes "Will everyone" again, only dreamlike.
Instead of beating me senseless with a mike stand, Thad played along, and had the expertise, as well as the patience, to make it work. So when you hear the last line of this review, you'll understand it was a true labor of joy. I still thank Thad for this every time I see him - and I wonder, now that WHYY-FM in Philadelphia has gone digital, if we could do it again today without the low-tech tape reels.
Oh, and that's another long-time WHYY buddy, Marti Moss-Coane - now the host of WHYY's Radio Times
- introducing the piece as Fresh Air
guest host, a position Dave Davies and I share now. I still love Fresh Air
, I still love Twin Peaks
... and, after all these years, I still love this report. Thanks to Patty Leswing, also of Fresh Air
, for rescuing it from the archives.