She’s not that big a name to get everybody worked up around her death, but considering how I’ve been in the middle of a currently-hiatused Lynch retrospective when Catherine Coulson was announced dead a little over two days ago, I personally found it ridiculous that I haven’t bothered to write up a bit of a personal recollection of encountering her work, even if I also still need to get on my Christopher Lee, Terry Pratchett, and Roddy Piper tributes before the year is over (Goddamn, I have a lot of shit I procrastinated).
Coulson is most popular to the audience who does recognize that name as the quirky Log Lady from Twin Peaks, particularly immortalized by her re-shot intros to each episode when the show was syndicated on the Bravo Network (the intros are still an option on the Gold Edition DVD Set which I own and the Complete Mystery Blu-Ray set which I cry myself every night to sleep for not owning). That would figure given that Twin Peaks is arguably Lynch’s most well-known work to date (maybe Eraserhead or Blue Velvet give it a run for the title).
But what probably makes this even more sobering news to me comes from how quickly I could start looking into Lynch’s history and find Coulson was essentially around from the very beginning. She’d been involved in various levels of stage and screen work as far back as age 15, but she and her then-husband Jack Nance – who played the notorious lead Henry in Eraserhead and also ended up sticking around in Lynch’s inner circle for as long as he could – were among those helping hands for Lynch who would perform various duties in both production and financing of the AFI-work, essentially making the entirety of Eraserhead‘s small crew a family of sorts (Coulson got the credit of Assistant Director for the film). Saying Eraserhead probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for her is sort of a bold statement, since I think it’s safe to say pretty much every single person involved was just as necessary as Lynch to Eraserhead being the one of a kind film that it was. But hey, just as I’d say it for Sissy Spacek or Frederick Elmes or Nance or Frank Daniel and still absolutely mean it, I say Eraserhead would not be the movie it is without Catherine Coulson, look you straight in the eye… well, through the computer screen… and mean it.
And yet I think it would still be wrong for me to limit her legacy to Eraserhead, even if it is the first work of hers I think of when I hear her name (even when she doesn’t appear on screen in that one). It’s certainly not all she’s done with Lynch, as she starred in an experimental test short of The Amputee (which I reviewed early on in the year). She constantly involved herself in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, close to where she resided in Ashland, and had always continued to keep working in the arts in which she loved. Her relationship with Lynch was close enough that the Log Lady was a character Lynch conceived of way back in 1977 and kept in mind solely for Coulson when the character was finally brought to life as the cryptic and bizarre clairvoyent in Twin Peaks eventually (She apparently completed a few scenes for the upcoming Showtime revival in the character). As well, her taking up Lynch’s practice of transcendental meditation after hanging with him long enough.
In the meantime, it is still shocking to see one of the original Lynch group go. Not only because it shows how old Lynch himself is getting, but something deeper in their relationship sort of defined Lynch’s attitude about his work. The fact that he had his dear friends who believed in the same sort of dreamlike work as him along for the ride… When I got Eraserhead on Blu-Ray, I had watched a featurette of Lynch, Nance, Coulson, and Charlotte Stewart re-exploring the very AFI building they used for all of their production and filming of Eraserhead and they all seemed pretty fond and close… And they all seem an item together back in the 90s when the featurette was made. Especially the trio of Lynch, Nance, and Coulson (by then Nance and Coulson divorced; a year before Eraserhead was released in fact). Like old friends reminiscing about a time they’d never see again)
Nance died under very perplexing circumstances involving a drunken fight in 1996 (it wouldn’t be the only mysterious death tied to Eraserhead – Peter Ivers, who wrote “In Heaven”, was supposedly murdered with no culprit identified and Herbert Caldwell, one of the cinematographers, also died under circumstances that nobody can truly pinpoint). And now Coulson died on the 28 of September 2015, survived by her second husband Marc Sirinsky and daughter Zoey.
I don’t want to say it feels like Lynch is alone now – Art Director Jack Fisk still lives and works with him and hell, they knew each other longer than Nance and Coulson knew Lynch.
But considering how it feels like the central energy of Eraserhead came from Lynch, Nance, and Coulson… well, now it’s just David…