A circle of sycamore trees had appeared overnight in Camden Square on Saturday morning. Across the road, outside the Irish Centre, a queue had formed by 10 a.m. Some of the men wore FBI badges. Some of the women wore magenta wigs, and many wore skirts or tops in a black-and-white zigzag pattern, accessorised with something red. My next-door neighbour, who’s retired but still helps out at the Irish Centre, shook her head when I met her on the street. ‘They’re saying they’ll be having real owls going around the place,’ she said. ‘It’s about some show I haven’t even heard of.’ I showed her my ticket for the Ninth Official Twin Peaks UK Festival.
Like Lindsey Bowden, the former actor and events manager who organises the festival, I was 14 when Twin Peaks came to BBC2 in October 1990. I liked the way it made fun of the tropes it played with, and of the mainstream audience’s expectations. But I was unironically affected by the eeriness and the music and the beautiful teenage characters, and in my head the excitement and scariness of the transition to adulthood got mixed up with northern forests and suspended chords. A girl I fancied, whose father had a degenerative illness, ran wild with older boys, Laura Palmer-style, and got thrown out of our school after showing up there while tripping, which made me identify with the hapless James Hurley. Three years later, my sixth-form girlfriend had a florid psychotic episode. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her letters from hospital, filled with images of trees and birds and fire and her father as a threatening presence, made me think, among other things, that David Lynch had got his dreamworld right.
Elsewhere in the country, my future wife had watched Twin Peaks with similar absorption. She identified with Laura and the snarky/sultry Audrey Horne. Much later, we rewatched it, or most of it, when it finally came out on DVD, and along with dialogue from The Silence of the Lambs it’s something we occasionally riff on in order to make it clear that we’re middle-aged Gen X-ers. After writing about The Return in the LRB last year, I even had a go at hacking out the tune I’d hallucinated over the closing credits. So I’m reasonably obsessed with Twin Peaks, or so I’d have said until, on the Irish Centre’s steps, I met a German couple in their early thirties. In matching, bloodstained white boilersuits, a tribute to Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Roth’s characters in The Return, they told me they were here on honeymoon after a Twin Peaks-themed wedding in Kassel. They'd been coming over for the festival since 2012.
People were speaking Spanish, Italian and Polish as well as English in the Irish Centre’s doughnut-filled lobby. Some of the English speakers had American accents. One of them was describing a hiking trip to the waterfall outside Snoqualmie, Washington, where the pilot was filmed, as I made my way through the crowd to have a look at the exhibits. There was a re-creation of the red-curtained, zigzag-floored setting of the series’ most famous dream sequence, where you could get a manicure for a pound. I stood in a replica of the glass box in which a terrifying supernatural entity appears in the opening episode of The Return. Out in the square, in a mock-up of the abandoned train carriage in which Laura met her fate, you could put on a virtual-reality headset and writhe crazily in your seat during an impressive but spatially unsettling tour of various shooting locations in Snoqualmie, complete with an appearance by Bob.
There were two things I wanted to ask the megafans. What was it about Twin Peaks that had caught their imaginations, especially those who were too young to have seen it in 1990? And what had they made of The Return’s resistance to nostalgia? A man dressed as Gordon Cole said of the original series: ‘You’d have had to go to the ICA to see something like that.’ He turned out to be a Lynch fan from Eraserhead days, which wasn’t what I was looking for. The show ‘had content’, fans told me. It ‘didn’t give you all the answers’, and it incorporated a range of tones – funny, moving, scary. Frequently mentioned, also, were ‘the music, the style’. Hoping to have a conversation about that, I went down to the café, which was filling in for the Roadhouse. A man with a Danelectro guitar was giving vent to a love of feedback on the tiny stage, and I had to content myself with being shown a freshly-done ‘Let’s Rock’ tattoo.
As the day wore on, I came to think that it was unfair to put attendees on the spot about their relationship with Twin Peaks. They were here to have fun, not to analyse their feelings, and the rituals of fandom were more important, in some ways, than whatever it was we happened to be fans of. If The Return traded in fan-frustration, these people weren’t playing along – least of all the woman dressed as an electrical plug, an allusion to Dale Cooper’s surreal exit from the Black Lodge. Listening to a guy complain that his VIP pass – which cost £300 – bought him only one autograph per actor, I began to feel as if I were trapped in a small-scale version of Comic-Con. He wouldn't have been happy to learn that my wife had spotted Dana Ashbrook and Kimmy Robertson - aka Bobby and Lucy - on the street, and got a selfie with them for free. The feeling continued during the costume award show. (The German couple were robbed.) But then Rebekah Del Rio appeared on stage and performed her unaccompanied song from Mulholland Drive. She blew the roof off, and for a moment we weren’t at Comic-Con, or even in Camden, any more.