Though famous forever as one of the greatest and most prolific directors of movies Hollywood and the world has ever known, David Lynch is also a long-time musician, guitarist and songwriter. He’s also a longtime Angeleno, who has lived and worked here, as well as mythologized this city in cinema, in ways few have ever done.
He’s a man of passion. For cinema, for music, for art, for love, and for this little town under the big sign from which so much mystery and magic has emerged. All merges in his work.
Not only did he collaborate intimately with the great composer Angelo Badalamenti on the scores to many of his classic films and “Twin Peaks” too, he’s one of the few directors in history – along with Charlie Chaplin – to compose music for his own films, including Wild at Heart and Mulholland Drive.
A guitarist who plays “upside down and backwards, like a lap guitar,” he has as much passion for what is heard as what is seen, and like all great artists, also recognizes the mystery and beauty in what is unheard and unseen, delighting in the bridges humans build to connect these realms.
So when he released the beautifully mysterious musical journey known as Crazy Clown Time, we asked for an interview with the man himself about music. And he said yes. Music, like movies, he explained, “all starts with the idea.” It’s a journey of discovery, about which he happily expounded in that reedy, distinctive, humble and humorous voice, the voice of a man in love with art.
AMERICAN SONGWRITER: Does your musical journey start in the same way that you approach creating a movie?
DAVID LYNCH: Yes. The discovery is in ideas, whether it’s ideas for a song, a film, a painting. Ideas are hiding in there, in the big within. Lots of ideas come, but once in awhile one comes and you fall in love. It can be a big idea or a small idea, but you focus on it, and it becomes magically attractive and it brings other ideas in to join with it.
Ideas are like women. You can go down the street and many, many women are going by. But one day you’re going down the street and you see one of them, and you can hardly stand. You need to sit down or you’ll fall down. And you’re in love. And when you’re in love, that’s a great, great, great feeling.
Everything comes from this unified field within. Ideas are floating like fish. Desire for an idea is like a bait on a hook. If you desire an idea, it pulls and it makes a kind of a bait. Ideas will come swimming up. And you don’t know them until they enter the conscious mind. And then bingo! There it is! You know it instantly. And then more come in. If you go fishing for ideas, a lot of ideas will just pop in. And one of them will make you fall in love.
Ideas are what take me to one thing or another. If you get ideas that you fall in love with about furniture, then you’ll wake up and go to the wood shop. They direct you where to go.
Are you always able to tap into this source of ideas? Or does even the Lynch well sometimes run dry?
Of course. That is the hardest part.
When you’re without an idea, when you’re in the wasteland and the desert, it’s torturous. You know that love is out there but you’re not finding it. And so you don’t know how long it’s gonna be before you find it, and you try different things, and nothing’s working. But sometimes the desert gets smaller and smaller and you find an oasis.
Music is abstract. When you listen to music, a multitude of things happen in your mind and in your heart. Songs are little stories. A feature film is more complex; it’s more like a symphony in many movements. It has different speeds. It has to hold people for a couple more hours.
You’ve made art in almost every media. Where did you start?
I started as a painter. Painting led to cinema, and that led to still photography and more painting and to sound. Starting to work with Angelo Badalamenti on Blue Velvet, I got more involved with music, and built my own studio to experiment with sound. That got more musical and led to music. The world of music is a magical thing.
For this album, Crazy Clown Time, where did you start? Did you write these songs first before the recording, or were they born in the studio?
To compose this music, I worked with Big Dean Hurley and we jammed, with me on guitar, and sometimes Dean on bass or another guitar or on drums. If you start off with a certain beat and a certain sound on the guitar, it’s gonna put you on a certain road. And when you go down that road, you can discover things. This is how it starts. There’s a lot of crap. But then there’s a few nuggets of gold.
The composed scores of your films, and on “Twin Peaks,” have been very beautiful and tuneful. Whereas many film composers and fans feel film scores should not be too melodic, so as not to detract or overwhelm, the scores composed by Badalementi for your work, and your own scores, are very melodic – beautifully so- and majestic.
Yes. I love melody. I was very lucky to meet Angelo [Badalamenti]. In movies, there is music that is not melodious, but it’s setting a mood and a very special feel. And then there’s music that has a melody that can tear your heart out, and Angelo can do both of those things. He writes music that can pull your heartstrings like crazy.
I know it’s a hard question to answer, because music is, as you said – abstract – but is there any way of explaining what makes a melody great?
A great melody flows in such a way that you are almost anticipating the next note with such yearning that you can hardly wait. If there’s a wrong thing in the way, it breaks it and it’s just a horror story. But if you feel it moving, and it keeps moving the way you want, you just love the way it’s moving. Then it will move and grow and then it can hit something where there’s a collision that almost destroys you with the beauty of it.
I love your song “Good Day Today,” which has a charming melody. How was that one born?
“Good Day Today” came from the line “I want to have a good day today.” It’s a yearning. First it was words, and then almost like a shadow of that was a tune. Then the verses came. It was that thing of being so tired of the negative.
Do you have any favorite songs? And, if so, can you name a few?
I love so many songs. “Heartbreak Hotel.” “Sound of Silence.” Paul Simon is an absolute genius. I love Buddy Holly, John Lee Hooker, Everly Brothers, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix.
For a song to be a great, there’s two things: It’s the song and the way it’s sung. It’s the story and the way the story it’s told. It’s always two things. Both of those things have got to be as close to 100%. Sometimes somebody hits them and they’re both 100 fucking percent ! And that’s the best of all.
Lynch at Ringo Starr’s Birthday Bash at Capitol Records, July, 2014, raising money for the David Lynch Foundation. Photo by Paul Zollo.
In 2005, Mr. Lynch, a longtime proponent of Transcendental Meditation, founded the David Lynch Foundation, which is doing wonderful work around the world, based on his idea that it would be good for mankind to teach TM to children and adults around the world. They are working every day to effect change in the world, from America to Africa, in our military, our prisons, for our native Americans, for the armies of homeless all through America, for children everywhere, and much more. The following is a message from Lynch about this mission:
“I started Transcendental Meditation in 1973 and have not missed a single meditation ever since. Twice a day, every day. It has given me effortless access to unlimited reserves of energy, creativity and happiness deep within. This level of life is sometimes called “pure consciousness”—it is a treasury. And this level of life is deep within us all.
But I had no idea how powerful and profound this technique could be until I saw firsthand how it was being practiced by young children in inner-city schools, veterans who suffer the living hell of post-traumatic stress disorder and women and girls who are victims of terrible violence.
TM is, in a word, life changing for the good.
In 2005, we started the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace to ensure that every child anywhere in the world who wanted to learn to meditate could do so. Now, the Foundation is actively teaching TM to adults and children in countries everywhere.
How are we able to do it? Because of the generosity of foundations and philanthropists and everyday people who want to ease the suffering of others—and who want to help create a better world.
If you don’t already meditate, take my advice: Start. It will be the best decision you ever make.”
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