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David Lynch's 'Big Dream'
A neo-noir film visionary is writing a second chapter making music

By Alanna Nash
Special to MSN Music

Most people know him for disturbing, hallucinatory images: the dancing dwarf of "Twin Peaks," the standing dead of "Blue Velvet" and the gauzy amnesiac of "Mulholland Drive." But director David Lynch is not only a titan of dark, neo-noir cinema, but also a prodigious painter, sound designer, songwriter and musician. His love for music is so entrenched, in fact, that he once spent an entire dinner discussing the merits of Willie Nelson's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."

On July 15, Lynch, 67, released his second solo album, "The Big Dream," a follow-up to 2011's haunting "Crazy Clown Time." On the phone, calling from his home in Los Angeles, he is much more "normal"-sounding than his cinematic legacy would suggest, and in fact, he peppers his Northwestern speech with such folksy sayings as "I gotcha," "I'll be ding-danged" and "bless your heart." But just as the fictional small town of Laura Palmer seemed so sunny for a place where murder informed an alternate reality, Lynch's bizarre music betrays his Eagle Scout earnestness.

MSN Music: "Big Dream" is your second album in two years. How did you get so heavily into music?

David Lynch: I got into the world of music through the world of Angelo Badalamenti [his frequent cinematic musical collaborator]. My friend, Dean Hurley, is the engineer in my studio. And somewhere along the line, I started working the electric guitar to make sound effects. I, myself, was not a player at all. But the sound of that electric guitar drew me in. I always say I'm not a musician, but I'm making music with Dean.

You play guitar upside down and backwards, like a lap guitar. Why is that?

That's the way I started, and, uh, it works good for me. [Laughs] So I just keep doing it.

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You've concentrated more on music than on film of late.

Right. You know, I love cinema. But the world of cinema has changed a lot in the last six or seven years, and is still changing. And so I was waiting to see how it was going to end up. The whole thrill of cinema is to build it for the big screen, with really great sound, and a really great picture. And that opportunity is quickly disappearing for alternative cinema.

Of course, your music is also very cinematic and surreal. A song like "Cold Wind Blowin'" could have been in "Twin Peaks." The same with "Wishin' Well" and "Last Call," with its lyrics about the red and blue socks: "That right sock was red/And the left sock was blue/I'm guessing, baby/Wednesday's for you."


You call this modern blues. So your process is that your songs start out as a blues jam and then the lyrics come later?

Yes, it starts off as some kind of a jam, and then somewhere we end up catching something that lights our fire, and away we go. Sometimes I have lyrics up front, and will try to figure a way to sing those. But more often than not, the lyrics get borne out of the sound, out of the tracks.

You wrote 11 of the 12 songs. Why did you cover Bob Dylan's "The Ballad of Hollis Brown"?

Dean wanted me to sing that, and I'm really glad we did it, but we really followed a Nina Simone cover of the song. So it's a cover of a cover.

Do you see "The Big Dream" as a continuum of "Crazy Clown Time"?

Yes. And a lot of these songs were started as "Crazy Clown Time" was just ending up. I love "Crazy Clown Time," but I think this is a more sophisticated album, tighter, a little bit more cohesive.

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Do you see it having a particular theme?

Well, it's called "The Big Dream." And the big dream to me is love. A lot of people say it's got a dream feeling.

Dream imagery is a hallmark of your work. What's your fascination with dreams?

Personally, I get hardly any ideas from dreams, except the way dreams go. And I call that "dream logic." That's what I love, and that's what I think music and cinema can do. Cinema can show and get the feel of things because cinema can be both concrete and abstract. And music, they say, is the big abstraction. So many, many fantastic moods, thoughts, and feelings can be conjured through music. It's a very magical medium.

The characters that populate some of your songs, like the sociopath of "Say It" and the blue misfit of "Sun Can't Be Seen No More," are consumed with either longing or despair. How did you conjure them?

Well, the music conjured them. Everybody knows that the vocals can be treated in a myriad of ways these days. And when the voice changes in the 'phones, and you hear yourself sounding different, characters can emerge. And the character wants to sing a certain way. This is so beautiful. It's not me singing anymore -- it's this character that's arrived. It's real great.

So are all these characters really a part of you?

Not really. You catch a character in a way that you catch an idea. You could say the "you" part loves one thing over another. But you don't create an idea. You just catch it. It's like they say the chef doesn't create the fish. The chef catches it and cooks it.

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You've said this about the boy in "Sun Can't Be Seen No More": "The kid singing the song has come up to L.A. from Memphis. He's kind of a newcomer. So this Southern boy does his thing in the studio, and he knocks it out of the park." That suggests Elvis Presley. You're an Elvis fan, right?


Was he an influence on you in some way?

He was an influence on 10 trillion people! [Laughs] Everybody knows there was a lot going on before Elvis. But at the same time, Elvis put it all together and owned it, and he was that music. It came alive in him. Nobody came close to Elvis. And then John Lennon said, "Rock and roll died when Elvis went into the Army." The birth of rock and roll held tremendous power and promise. I'm wondering if it got sidetracked. It was a great, great time.

Finally, early in your career, you drew an iconic cartoon, "The Angriest Dog in the World." Why was that poor dog so angry?

The angriest dog in the world was so angry because of what he heard and felt from the world around him.

I loved that cartoon. I wish you were still drawing it.

Oh, bless your heart. [Laughs]

Alanna Nash is a New York Times best-selling ghostwriter and author. She has also written scores of magazine articles for Vanity Fair, People, Rolling Stone, USA Weekend, and Entertainment Weekly. Her office is lit by two lamps that once adorned the living room of Graceland, and she saw the Beatles live in concert three times.

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