A neo-noir film visionary is writing a second chapter
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
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
You play guitar upside down and backwards, like a lap guitar. Why is
That's the way I started, and, uh, it works good for me. [Laughs] So I just
keep doing it.
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.