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Norma ("blue flowers echo, from a cherry cloud")

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Actress Peggy Lipton in a scene as diner owner Norma Jennings in "Twin Peaks: The Return" (2017).
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On May 11, 2019, the same day Twin Peaks and The Mod Squad actress Peggy Lipton died,  I had been deep into Toto guitarist Steve Lukather’s amazing 2018 autobiography, The Gospel According to Luke, and reading about the role he and other members of Toto had on the making of Michael Jackson’s 1982 Thriller album.

Names like producer Rod Temperton and Quincy Jones and the horror film icon Vincent Price were rolling through my mind, the latter person being of interest to me because of a small “link” my St. Louis-based family had to Price, a native St. Louisan who died in the early 1990’s.

It was a musical link, something I noted two years ago in my Dust Devil Dreams post “Starlight sun.” I wrote about Price’s contribution to the end of the song “Thriller” that ends with maniacal laughter. So classic. I added: “I was doing a little research on Vincent Price and his contribution to “Thriller,” which always interested me (partially because of a family connection to Price, due to him taking piano from a relative when Price was a child in St. Louis. In fact, my parents later inherited that very piano – a music link to the cinematic horror master who appeared in countless films, stretching decades, from Service de Luxe (1938) to Edward Scissorhands (1990).” That bit about the piano? I saw that piano just two weeks ago. And Price has been on my mind a lot of late.

Later, I note the “Thriller” outro thusly: “But what of the outro? It needed someone from the horror genre. And producer Quincy Jones, married to former Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton (and future Twin Peaks actress), apparently knew Vincent Price and put the two in touch.

As noted, Price arrived to the recording studio and “was startled by the headphones when arrived at the studio, never having used them before. When he reluctantly put them on, he jumped out of his chair in surprise upon hearing the funky music track he was to speak over. He ultimately needed a little help with this cues to speak over the music, but ended up nailing it,” much to Quincy Jones’s excitement.

Again, I had literally been reading about Toto’s role in the making of Thriller and thinking about all these connections just a few hours before learning of Lipton’s death. I am still reading Lukather bio and hope to have a review soon.

Anyway, what was equally weird, was in the next chapter, Lukather writes about being a huge fan of filmmaker David Lynch, whose links to Toto were far beyond what I had previously recognized, from Toto’s role in helping score Lynch’s sci-fi turkey Dune (which is being resurrected and remade) to Lynch going to great lengths to create a very “out there” album cover for what would become Toto’s 1984 album Isolation. Lynch’s wild album art vision was ultimately rejected, to Lukather’s disappointment (and Lukather’s film industry father, who saw Lynch’s work as wildly wasteful of his son’s money).

And this brings me back to Peggy Lipton. A quiet, beautiful woman who dominates every scene she is in, particularly in her role as diner owner Norma Jennings in Twin Peaks and the 2017 reboot Twin Peaks: The Return. Apparently, Lipton, 72, had been fighting colon cancer since 2004 and her daughters – Rashida and Kadida Jones – announced her death.

Reading more about Lipton, she had been a singer in the late 60's and early 70's, amidst modeling and acting. She was even briefly dating Paul McCartney of the Beatles during this period. It was weird to learn in light of Steve Lukather's many mentions of his period working with McCartney in the early 1980's. 

Eerily, one month ago, in a Dust Devil Dreams post "You're the man," I noted Lipton in reference to a busted guitar that had belong to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, a deeply talented man whose band would knock Michael Jackson's Dangerous album out of the number one spot in 1992.

On the back of the body of the guitar, Cobain had made a crude Monkees guitar logo and had pasted a picture of Lipton -along with her Mod Squad co-stars - on the back. Cobain was fascinated with David Lynch and compared his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington to the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington.

And one final Lukather-Lipton sync. In the very Twin Peaks-y Dust Devil Dreams post "CHIMES (And there's always music in the air)," I discuss the windchimes on my porch and how they make music that brings to mind the psychedelic soul-funk song "Strawberry Letter 23," the version by The Brothers Johnson. I write about the synchromystic qualities of "Strawberry Letter 23" and later mention Lipton ... bizarrely, I was also reading Lukather's comments - just yesterday - about playing with Brothers Johnson bassist Louis Johnson on a number of studio tracks, during his years as a studio musician - including sessions with Lipton's one-time boyfriend Paul McCartney! It was at those sessions where Lukather notes Louis Johnson's awkward behavior in public settings and his note knowing any Beatles songs. Also, Johnson would address people in really bad Japanese, not the man's native language. 

The "Strawberry Letter 23" lyrics (written by Shuggie Otis), are beautiful. I love this line: "Pretty music, I hear / So happy and loud / Blue flowers echo / From a cherry cloud" Of course in Twin Peaks, Norma's cherry pie sends Agent Dale Cooper to gastronomic heaven every time he takes a bite. And in the Black Lodge, the Man from Another Place talks in the backwards language about a place where there is "music in the air" and the "birds sing a pretty song." What made my mouth drop open while reading Lukather's bio was that he mentions that he thinks Lynch may have been inspired to make that backwards-talking bit in Twin Peaks after Lukather mentioned to Lynch that when he was younger, he and his pals made comedy tapes recording their voices backwards and playing them forwards. As Lukather writes, "Coincidence?"

Anyway, as I wrote in the sync post on June 7, 2017: "And I should note that it was internationally-renowned producer Quincy Jones who produced the Brothers Johnson version. Jones was married to actress Peggy Lipton at that time. Lipton was in The Mod Squad, of course, and would go on to be the character of Double R Diner manager Norma Jennings in Twin Peaks in 1990 – the year Jones and Lipton were divorced.

Jones and Lipton had two daughters together – Kidada and Rashida Jones. Interestingly, as an aside, rapper Tupac Shakur criticized Jones for having relationships with white women. This led to Rashida writing “a scathing letter” in response to Shakur’s criticisms in 1994 in The Source . And, as fate, coincidence, what-have-you would allow, Rashida’s sister Kidada Jones would have a relationship with Tupac Shakur and was engaged to him at the time of his death in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada in September 1996.

Ah, Vegas. What happens there ... well, you know ..."

As those of you Twin Peaks fans know, The Return takes part in Las Vegas.  And two days ago an odd report noted that Pope Francis received a custom-made hockey jersey for the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, based in Las Vegas, from a fan during a meeting at the Vatican. 

It's all getting a bit surreal. Stay tuned.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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