Roger Ebert Home

That Space Between Awake and Asleep: Rebekah Del Rio on the Twentieth Anniversary of Mulholland Dr.

Courtesy of No Hay Banda.

From behind the slightly parted red curtains, a woman steps out of the darkness and onto the stage of Club Silencio. A single, delicately placed tear lies frozen on her face as she begins to sing a cappella, “Llorando,” an utterly spellbinding Spanish translation of Roy Orbison and Joe Melson’s 1961 rock ballad, “Crying.” Though the eerily motionless audience has been cautioned that everything they are witnessing onstage is an illusion, the pain within the singer’s words feels wrenchingly real, causing two blonde women in the crowd to burst into tears. This indelible sequence forms the broken heart of David Lynch’s 2001 masterpiece, “Mulholland Dr.”, the film that ranks alongside Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” as my favorite of all time. All three pictures center on characters who are stuck, in one way or another, thus causing them to drift into a parallel world of heightened visions that are not unlike those which caress the silver screen. In its purest form, cinema serves as an extension of dreams in how it reconstructs fragments of our reality with an artifice that enables us to confront them in ways we couldn’t while fully awake. 

Perhaps no film demonstrates this principle with more breathtaking ingenuity than “Mulholland Dr.”, which will screen twice this month at Chicago’s gloriously Lynchian movie palace, the Music Box Theatre, as part of MUBI’s wonderfully curated Hollywood on Hollywood series. Best of all, both screenings will be graced by the presence of Rebekah Del Rio, the captivating singer/songwriter who not only performed “Llorando” in the film but the equally hypnotic song “No Stars” alongside guitarist Moby on Part 10 of Lynch’s 2017 epic, “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Del Rio is currently on her No Hay Banda national tour to commemorate both the twentieth anniversary of “Mulholland Dr.” and the sixtieth anniversary of “Crying,” which will be celebrated on her upcoming vinyl album due for release in December. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking at length with Del Rio, who clears up some key misinformation published in Chris Rodley’s revered book, Lynch on Lynch, while shining a light on the unsung hero behind the language of “Llorando.”

We have a huge David Lynch fan base in Chicago, so having you accompany this screening of “Mulholland Dr.” in the year of its twentieth anniversary is going to be such a treat for audiences.

I’m certainly looking forward to it. That’s a great theater! I love all those art house theaters, and we have quite a few on Broadway in LA. “Mulholland Dr.” was actually filmed in one of those beautiful theaters, which is now an Apple store. It’s still called the Tower Theatre, and Apple was at least good enough to honor the structure. They renovated it in a way that is very beautiful, while preserving the gorgeous original architecture so it still really does look like the Tower. It just has a big space in the middle for people to get the new and improved versions of their Apple products. [laughs] The balcony where the Blue-Haired Lady was seated in the film is still there. 

In the book Lynch on Lynch, the director is quoted saying, “Rebekah knows Barbara Orbison, Roy’s second wife, and she’s the one who translated ‘Crying’ into Spanish.” How did your connection with Barbara come about?

That is a really interesting question, and I am so glad you asked me that. No one has ever asked me about that, and I honestly had no idea it was written in that book. The song “Llorando” was written by Thania Sanz, which was at my request in 1995, long before we ever met Barbara Orbison or David. Barbara was a nice German lady, and the idea of her somehow being involved with writing a Spanish version of her husband and Joe Melson’s gorgeous song, “Crying,” or of me being able to translate it on my own, probably sounded great as a story. Joe Melson, who is still alive, wrote “Blue Bayou” and “Only the Lonely” as well, and I also believe Joe originally wrote the song before he met Roy. So it is very important that we give credit where credit is actually due, especially since that translation is absolutely stunning. It was a labor of true love. 

Here is what really happened. I had met this lovely lady named Randy Sanders who knew a lot of people in the business, including Irving Azoff, who gave me my first record deal. We were so sad when we found out that Selena, the fabulous iconic Tejano singer, was murdered. We loved her music, and Randy said, “We should honor her by having you sing one of your songs in Spanish.” I had been performing “Crying” in English for years a cappella because many of the bands that I performed with in the ’90s wouldn’t know how to play it if they didn’t have the music sheet in front of them. They didn’t know the chord changes, which are very intricate. I was a young girl still trying to get a record deal, so I would do talent shows in country bars and I’d always end them by performing “Crying.” It just became my thing, and as a matter of fact, Randy met me at one of those talent shows, which I won by singing, “Crying.” She was the one who came up with the idea of writing that song in Spanish.

I was hanging out with my best friend and a few other people at a bar, and some gal came by to order a drink. She was really nice and we started talking. I found out she was a singer/songwriter from Venezuela who wrote in Spanish, so I asked her, “Would you like to help me write ‘Crying’ in Spanish?” She said she’d love to, so I gave her the song and she took it home and translated almost every word. It cost me all of $100 for Thania Sanz to do this. She gave it back to me and then I tweaked it because of the meter of the song. For instance, instead of, [sings] “Llo—oh—rah—an—do,” Thania originally wrote it as, [sings] “Llor—ah—ah—ah—an—do.” I knew that the notes needed to be longer so that it would sound similar to, [sings] “Cry—y—y—y—ing.” She had a few too many words in certain lines, so I shortened them to make it more poetic, but she should absolutely get one hundred percent of the writing credit. Randy came up with the idea, and the $100 didn’t even come from me—it came from Randy’s friend, Jerry Brandt, who passed away just this past January. He was a manager and had discovered Carly Simon.

When we finally put “Llorando” on my country record, I asked for Thania to be given more money, but they wouldn’t grant her any publishing rights because, of course, it wasn’t her song. So out of my money, we gave her another $400, which was very little for that gorgeous translation. When I started singing “Crying” in Spanish, it became a huge thing for me because I got a management deal, my first record deal, a publicity deal and my agent at CAA, Brian Loucks, who introduced me to David. Then I met David and sang “Llorando” for him, which he had never heard before. Prior to the song being recorded on my country album from Giant Records—which was sadly never released to the public—I sang it to Barbara Orbison, and she wrote me a note that said, “That was the most beautiful translation I’ve ever heard. It was as if the song had been originally written in Spanish and then translated into English. Thank you so much for doing that. You have my blessings, and you can put it on your album.” That’s how Barbara and I met in 1997 and became friends. She couldn’t have done the translation if she tried because she didn’t speak Spanish, that I am aware of, and I could not have personally done it myself. Thania did the most amazing job. I love her so much, and she should win an award for that translation.

I am so happy to do my part in giving Thania Sanz the credit she deserves. How did Brian Loucks go about connecting you with David Lynch?

I had gotten my record deal probably just by singing “Llorando” as well as a few country songs—and, well, my voice helped a lot. [laughs] Irving Azoff loved “Llorando” and the producer at Giant, James Stroud, really wanted a Spanish country singer, so I was a perfect fit. Anyway, I had finished the record and was coming from Nashville back to LA to do a photo shoot when Brian called me and said, “Hey listen, when you’re done with your photo shoot, I would love to introduce you to a director, David Lynch, who is my client.” I said, “Are you talking about the David Lynch who made ‘Blue Velvet,’ ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Wild at Heart’?”, and he said, “Yes, the same David Lynch.” I was amazed and said I’d love to meet him, so Brian said, “Okay, here’s the deal—you meet me at his house. He has a studio there. Show up on time, look cute and sing ‘Llorando’ when I tell you to.” 

I showed up early looking super-cute and wearing a little, light-blue outfit—everything matched down to the shoes [laughs]—and I got to see David’s really interesting home, with its studio and theater. John Neff, who was David’s engineer and collaborated with him on the album, “BlueBOB,” was at the consul, and that’s when I met him and David for the first time. Brian came in and said, “This is my new client, Rebekah Del Rio. She’s doing a record in Nashville, and I just wanted to introduce you to her. She has a little song for you—Rebekah?” So I stood up in front of David, and I was literally two feet away from where he was sitting in his little theater seat. Since the song is big and loud, I tried to stand back a little bit before I began singing. Now, I have never had an issue with this song. I had been singing it in Spanish and in the same way for at least four or five years at this point, yet right in the middle of it, David said, “Oh okay, can you stop for a minute?” I thought, ‘Oh my gosh—he doesn’t like it! This is the first person on the planet who hasn’t. I can’t believe it!’ 

I was devastated. Then David said, “Listen, John and I just fired up one of the most amazing Telefunken tube mics in our vocal booth right there. There’s only four of them in the world, and we would love for you to try it out. Do you think you could sing that song again and try out that mic for us? That was really beautiful.” Of course, I quickly recovered because my heart was in my feet until I realized that he just wanted me to sing it again. So I went into that booth and I was so impressed by the beautiful mic from Telefunken, which I was very grateful to have gotten a sponsorship from last year. I put the cans—the headphones—on and they said, “Okay, just start from the top!”, so I did. I sang the entire song, and at the very end, David’s voice came into my cans and said, “Ding dang, Rebekah Del Rio, that was aces!”, and I said to myself, “Oh my gosh, this guy is so strange!” [laughs] 

I was relieved that it was over and that it went great. I think we had some coffee and cigarettes and that was that. I had no idea that he had recorded me. He didn’t ask if he could, he just did it, and now that I have been a seasoned recording artist/singer for all these years, I always tell people, “If anyone ever says, ‘Sing into that mic, little lady,’ they are recording you, so please make sure to say that you own that master. Make sure that you ask them to sign a contract with you that says that you own this because it is your voice.” I obviously did not do that because I had no idea he recorded me, so I don’t own the master of that recording. It belongs to David, but he didn’t get my permission. And that exact recording is what you hear in the movie.

Lynch also says in the Lynch on Lynch book that your lip syncing to that track in “Mulholland Dr.” is the best he’s ever seen.

That’s another falsity in that I was not lip syncing, I was singing along. Yes, the track was being played, of course, but I specifically told David, “I cannot lip sync. I don’t know how to do that, and also, it wouldn’t be authentic because you wouldn’t see the vibrato in my throat.” At that point, I had seen a lot of different movies where you could tell people were lip syncing, and as a singer, it was annoying and disenchanting. So I sang along with my full voice in every single shot. What you hear is the track, but what you see is me singing in exactly the same way as I was singing on the track to make it more authentic. That’s why it’s the best lip syncing he’s ever seen because I wasn’t lip syncing! [laughs] For some reason, it wasn’t hard for me to sing “Llorando” in the same way as I did on that track. I recorded it once, and I knew where I had breaks and stops, but I sang over it a few times because he made me faint quite a few times.

I don’t know if it took a couple times for that sync to look exactly right because he used several different camera angles, and he found the best ones that matched up perfectly. The same was true of “No Stars,” where I also sang along to a track. I think it’s just a matter of knowing where my voice is going to go next. I know “Llorando” like the back of my hand. I do sing it differently now just because of different circumstances, such as being older, but back then, I sang it the same way every single time. I have to breathe a little differently now because I’ve had surgery for a pituitary tumor that was through my nasal cavity, so it’s more challenging now than it had been then, when I could just do it in my sleep. I didn’t have to warm up or anything. I don’t know how many takes David did—I want to say quite a few because I had the bruises on my legs from falling to prove it.

What was it like to be directed by Lynch in “Mulholland Dr.”? How did you understand the scene, which is—like all of the director’s work—left open to interpretation?

Well, originally, we had another scene that served as the set-up for my character. It took place in the basement of the Tower Theatre, a historic space that is apparently haunted by the ghost of an actress who was rumored to have been killed in a fire at the Garrick Theatre, which once stood at that location during the 1800s. I was in a dressing room facing a mirror, and there were bottles of liquor around me. I was set up as a drunk, and I had a manager who was very abusive. He yells at me and says it’s time for me to go onstage, and I kind of don’t respond because I’m half-drunk. Then he grabs me and drags me out there, and that is why I kind of stumble into the scene, because he pushes me out onto the stage. And that’s why I faint, because I’m drunk, but David took it out. I’d love to see that deleted scene again. I do remember I did a couple takes because I was dragging my feet a little bit, and my high heels were making this noise on the floor. 

It was Scott Coffey who played my manager, and when he dragged me out, my shoes were making too much noise, and I remember David saying, “My god, your shoes…” [laughs] I don’t know why he couldn’t have foley operators remove the noise, but regardless, that scene was deleted, and I am very grateful that it was because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as that same kind of stereotypical Latina character who’s either a hooker or a maid or a drunk or a drug addict. In the film, my character is a tragic singer, but she has a power in her voice that is mesmerizing, as well as mystery to her that makes her impossible to label. Plus, my skin is really light and I’m a third Italian, so you don’t know whether I’m a Latina or not—it’s only the fact that I’m singing it in Spanish that makes the viewer assume I must be Latina. The film suggests that I’m sort of a damsel in distress, but not so much because of alcoholism or prostitution or drugs, so I am really glad that David took it out.

Would you say that you still have a good working relationship with Lynch, considering how you joined him and John Neff in writing the song, “No Stars”?

I think that David and I have one of those love stories in the city of dreams that began as a happy accident. I love David’s work, I love being a part of his work and I love knowing now that my part was very, very special to him in getting his movie made, so I think it was one of those things that had to happen. When I heard that David was making “Twin Peaks: The Return,” I was very excited for him, so I wrote him an email that said, “David, don’t you think that ‘No Stars’ would be amazing for ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’?”, and he said, “Yes I do!” So we did it, and even though we all wrote it and we all owned it, David ended up owning that master too, so John and I just kind of threw our hands up and we surrendered, thinking, ‘You know what? We’re good people who make good music and we’re just happy that the fans get to hear and see our music.’ 

The song was actually something we had written years before together. Brian said, “Rebekah, David and John wrote this song, and they want you to come over and maybe you could sing it. Would that be okay?” So I came over, and David showed me this little chicken scratch poem that he wrote. Then they played this gorgeous track that he and John had written in which John played on ninety percent of it, though David played the Guitarkestra and some other things. David said, “Would you write this poem in Spanish, and would you write the melody?” I said, “Sure, I can do that. I’ll take it home and bring it back. I’ll give you some examples, and you can pick what you want.” And he said, “No, I don’t want you to take it home—I really want you to do it right here, right now.” So I checked with Brian and he said, “Well, you haven’t disappointed me before—okay.” [laughs]

I went into the kitchen, sat down and had some coffee. I had been listening to Morrissey that week, and I started thinking about what he wrote and how I could apply it to this song. Having been in Nashville for years, I had learned how to write songs Nashville-style, which is verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chrous-out. So I used that structure while drawing upon Morrissey’s technique of repeating himself. I felt like I had gotten it, so I came back and they played the track. I still wasn’t used to the track since I had only heard it twice, and because of that, I wasn’t sure what was coming next. That’s why some of those notes are really long because I was waiting for the next chord to come. So when I sing, [sings] “My dreeeeeeam,” it’s long until the chord changes and I continue with, [sings] “is to goooo…” [laughs] It turned out sounding a lot like Little Jimmy Scott, because he did that on purpose. He would sing beyond the chord until the next chord came, and that was his style.

That song just ended up being so gorgeous, and it sat there for a while throughout the years before “Twin Peaks: The Return.” David had given the song to John and I, and we all wrote it, so we owned it, but when we did “The Return,” David decided that he wanted it back and kept the master. So he has it again, and it is what it is, but John and I are so grateful that we were able to write a beautiful song together, and our collaboration was really great. I don’t even know how I came up with that melody. I also don’t know what I would’ve done without Thania Sanz. Would I have gotten a record deal? Well, maybe [laughs], but without that song—without that translation—would David’s movie have been the same? I honestly don’t know.

Rebekah Del Rio in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” and “Twin Peaks: The Return.”

“Mulholland Dr.” is my favorite film because of how Lynch took what could’ve just been a failed TV pilot and intuitively pulled together all these disparate elements—including your performance of “Llorando”—to create a masterpiece. “Twin Peaks: The Return” is his magnum opus in how it takes that same approach from the micro to the macro-level. Why is Lynch’s work meaningful to you, particularly the collaborations you’ve had with him? 

Well, I love what you just said. It’s amazing. David’s genius is in knowing intuitively, as you said, what will work together, and I feel that the TV shows we watch today are very much influenced by what David did with “Twin Peaks.” David was making cinematic television, and he started that trend. I’m also not just grateful but proud and really honored to have been the Latina in the pivotal moment of such an iconic film. Having me singing with one of the film’s stars, Laura Harring, who is also a Latina, in the audience was this marriage of the demographic that everybody wants to tap into right now. David maybe wasn’t even aware of it, but he was intuitively doing it back in the ’90s. It was ’97 when I went to go sing for him, and it was Brian Loucks who said, “You’ve got to listen to this girl—this is the girl.” And as a matter of fact, I found out later that David tried to cancel my appointment four or five times. 

Up until the day, he told Brian, “I don’t want to meet anybody new right now. I’m too busy with this pilot, I can’t do it,” and Brian was insistent, so thank god for him. He knew David very well and the kind of influences he had, so he was certain that if he got these two clients of his together, my song would inspire David. As you may have heard, David can just look at a headshot and say, “This is the girl.” He doesn’t even have to see a reel or hold any kind of casting audition. He just selects the person based on her face and the feeling it elicits in him. He also loves Roy Orbison. “Blue Velvet” is my all-time favorite David Lynch film, and he had originally intended on using the English version of “Crying” in that film, but went with “In Dreams” instead. Many weeks after I first performed “Llorando” for him, Brian called me and said, “David Lynch is obsessed with your song, he cannot stop listening to it.” I said, “What song are you talking about?”, and he replied, “‘Llorando,’ the one you sang.” I said, “What? He recorded it?”, and he said, “Yes, he recorded it and he’s creating a whole scene for you—you’ve got to come back.” 

So by simply listening to that track over and over, David was inspired to create Club Silencio just for me to sing “Llorando.” It was only last year that I found out David had used that scene to get funding to make his defunct pilot into a movie. From what I understand, David showed Canal+ my scene and that is how he received the additional funding to make his movie. Club Silencio in Paris exists because of that scene, and it all goes back to Thania Sanz. If it had not been for her translation, what would have become of all this? With that in mind, David is obviously an intuitive genius. God bless him for having the idea to put this Latina with the beautiful Laura Harring, and have her sing a number that tears everybody’s heart out before the film reveals what’s really going on with “Mulholland Dr.” Laura opens the pandora’s box, and all of a sudden, you wake up to what is the nightmare of the heroine’s reality. Before I enter the film, it’s all a dream. I’m like that space between awake and asleep, and it’s so incredible how he did that. I love him so much for it.

In lieu of paying me for my talent and the many records sold, David says, “Traction, Rebekee! You get traction from being in my film and TV show!” I get traction every time someone watches that film, and most of the time, it’s in the form of beautiful people such as yourself, the Music Box’s General Manager Ryan Oestreich and all the fans. People will tell me, “The song moved me and made me think of my loved ones,” or, “I listened to that song with the woman who became my wife,” or, “It made me so sad because it got me thinking about this loss and it ended up healing me.” David saw how incredible this song was, and he gave it a platform that enabled it to have this sort of impact. He did it again with “Twin Peaks,” but in that case, I was the one who suggested to him that “No Stars” could be included in it, and he agreed. By the way, I bought both of the dresses that you see me wearing in Lynch’s work. Amy Stofsky, who has been a very dear friend of mine since we met in 1999, was the costume designer for “Mulholland Dr.”, and when I initially went to see her, it was my very first movie and I was really shy, even though I was young and thin.

I dressed behind the curtain and she brought a bunch of different outfits I didn’t care for, so I said, “Well, I’ve got this one little dress.” I brought it out and she said, “It’s perfect, I love it.” I still have that dress. For “Twin Peaks,” David said, “You come camera ready.” David didn’t want to pay for hair and makeup or costume fittings, so I went to Macy’s to look for a dress. The store was closing, and I was literally getting eased out by the manager, who was telling me, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but you really have to leave. The registers are closed. Will you please come back tomorrow?” But suddenly, as I’m walking toward the exit, in my peripheral vision, I see chevron, and I say, “Hold on!” I race to this rack that had the sort of mishmosh you would see at Ross for Less, and I see this tiny sliver of chevron just peeking out. I pull it out, and it’s the dress I ended up wearing in the scene. I didn’t even try it on. I just said, “I’ll take it, I’ll give you cash.” [laughs] It was all of twenty bucks—it was on sale—and it cost me more to take it to the cleaners and have it altered. I eventually auctioned that dress off to a wonderful woman in the U.K., and I gave that money to The David Lynch Foundation.

That dress looks like something that was crafted in the Red Room. 

I know, right? [laughs]

I’m curious about how you would contrast The Bang Bang Bar, where you performed “No Stars,” with Club Silencio.

It’s very interesting that you say that because when I did that scene in “Twin Peaks,” I thought to myself, ‘Rebekah, just remember what it was like when you were at the Tower. The lights were just as bright, there was playback and you were singing along. Remember that otherworldly feeling where you thought you were somewhere else, and just go there.’ So I got lost, and it was very much like Club Silencio for me, almost a hundred percent. I think you see it in the actual footage that I’m in this dreamy state. [laughs]. I’m grateful to David for that, too. He put almost the entire song in there, and it gave another nod to my demographics. Spanish-speaking people can watch that scene and say, “Hey, there’s something in this series for me, too.” I think the most important thing is that people feel included.

“Mulholland Dr.” screens at 7pm on Wednesday, September 29th, and Thursday, September 30th, with Rebekah Del Rio in attendance as part of MUBI’s Hollywood on Hollywood series at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., in Chicago. For tickets, click here, and for more information on Rebekah Del Rio, visit her official site.

Matt Fagerholm

Matt Fagerholm is the former Literary Editor at and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. 

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

The Convert
Sing Sing
Family Portrait
National Anthem


comments powered by Disqus