Lynch Night: Room to Dream: A Limited Event Book Club Series: Part 1

David Lynch fans have always had the opportunity to piece together the life of the artist and director. Some of that life and those of his colleagues or acquaintances could be piecemealed out of the special features that began appearing on the DVDs of his films in the late 90’s and into the 2000’s. One of the earliest in memory was the MGM Special Collector’s Edition of Blue Velvet. From the mid-90’s to present there have also been myriad attempts at biography and criticism, some lacking official participation but still valuable to researchers. Then, there was Wrapped in Plastic magazine, Chris Rodley’s Lynch on Lynch—a compilation of interviews with the artist—and Lynch’s own Catching the Big Fish—a meditative inspirational with behind-the-camera hints. Given those unique but rare insights, this past year we have been stunned by our at-one-time rare view into his biography in the documentary David Lynch: The Art Life and in the stunningly thorough behind-the-scenes perspective in Jason S. and Richard Beymer’s special features on the Showtime’s Twin Peaks: A Limited Series Event Blu-ray. All of these access points have culminated in the clearest of views yet, the officially endorsed and participated-in biography/memoir Room to Dream by Kristie McKenna and David Lynch. This biographic tome clocks in at over 500 pages with an accompanying audiobook that plays to 15 hours and 46 minutes. The table of contents is written in Lynch’s unique penmanship, the nomenclature of which are excerpted phrases from the contents of each chapter which are clues to their time span in Lynch’s life.

In this eight-part Lynch Night series, which will run Thursday nights through August 9th, authors Paul Billington, Stewart Gardiner, J.C. Hotchkiss, and Rob E. King will be examining each chapter for insights and impressions on David Lynch and his art. After this introductory piece, each author will cover two chapters at a time, and each article will attempt to keep spoiler-free information toward the top followed by spoiler material toward the bottom half for new readers. This first part is an introductory discussion, where the chapters discussed will continue to be examined in the following parts of the series. With that preamble, let’s rock!


This edition is a collaboration between Paul Billington and Rob E. King and will cover chapters:

  • “American Pastoral”
  • “The Art Life”
  • “Smiling Bags of Death”

The authors will continue to quote from these chapters as they apply to future coverage.


Spoiler-free Q&A:

Rob: So, Paul, how does the exchange of Kristine’s gathered content and Lynch’s memories following it read for you? Was this a good approach?

Paul: As Mr Lynch himself would say Rob, it works like ‘gangbusters!’

But seriously, I think it’s as different approach to a book like this as we could get. It allows for the reader to get a good background on the chapter’s position in his life, and to hear from a great many people in quite a relaxed but structured way. Some of these guests we have heard from before, and some haven’t featured elsewhere — such as childhood friends or family. Perhaps its main ‘designed’ achievement is that it affords Lynch breathing space to reminisce. After all, he’s not a man to be rushed! He’s always been seen to consider his answers at length, and oftentimes travels along some lost highway in his mind, and I think we ultimately benefit from some unusually tender recollections that I anticipate will be moving for many people. I maintain that there are facets of The Straight Story that are pure David Lynch, not often visible in his art, but that are as much a part of him as the competing worlds in Blue Velvet — and all are exhibited here.

Rob: We’re covering the first 90 pages, which retread a lot of what we learned in Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm’s documentary David Lynch: The Art Life. Do you feel like we’re learning new information in this book?

Paul: That’s an interesting question. I guess I need to go back and rewatch the documentary to be certain. From what I can recall, there are stories that did feature in that film, but they are decidedly just from the man himself. Here the stories come from other sources with added memories and contrasting viewpoints — which petitions Lynch to either reflect on or pass them by. To be fair he does answer quite honestly when it comes to his ‘turn’. There’s definitely a plethora of new information to be found in these initial chapters and in the book as a whole — I think that fans will get something all the way through — even if its just enjoying Lynch being able to talk at length without the kind of editing that a film of a certain length, or an article with a target word count, has to adhere to. He’s been industrious all of his life and there’s plenty of stories to tell.

Rob: Mark Frost called The Secret History of Twin Peaks “a gift” to the fans of his and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Considering Lynch’s candidness in this biography/memoir, do you feel like this is his gift to fans, or is there something else you sense he’s wanting to impart?

Paul: I do feel like its a gift to fans in a way. I do recall that, when the book was first announced, Lynch said “There’s a lot of bullshit out there about me, in books and all over the Internet,” and that this book was about “getting the right information in one place.” So if that is to be believed, then yes — he is wanting to impart his truth so to speak — and that comes across at key points. In turn, whilst providing that opportunity for fans to read of events through his experience, it also comes with the useful — almost vital — addition of the experiences and opinions of those closest to him. And that may be an eye opener for some. It’s fair to say that he has a great many solid relationships and friendships that afford some — at times — very direct honesty. And that’s as much as I can say in this spoiler-free zone!

Paul: When you imagined this book, did you feel that Lynch was going to be as open as the initial publicity maintained?

Rob: I mean, I guess like anyone who has followed Lynch, I was poised to be amused at his responses to what Kristine managed to gather. At the same time, while I wasn’t surprised he requested this unique approach to biography/memoir, I wondered if those asked would censor their commentary on him. Did they know he would be responding to their commentary? He seems sensitive, maybe not quite poet-sensitive but out of good-hearted, artistic sensitivity, if that makes any sense? He seems very genuine, and he takes in words spoken to or written about him to heart, it seems. I guess I did think if he was going to go through the process of this being written, then, yes, I felt he’d open up. But there was always that back thought like “maybe …?”

Paul:  How do you feel about the style of the book — the background pieces with various narratives woven in, followed by David’s view on what has been said (or not!)?

Rob: I think it works very well. The door swings both ways in that while I think he can be open as well as careful with what he portrays, those who Kristine gives a platform give an interesting balance. I think we’ll see that much more clearly in later chapters, especially relating to his relationships. That will be important and overall is important to how this biography works.

Paul:  There’s many an interview and, of course, other books such as Lynch on Lynch to glean information and clarity (almost an oxymoron with Lynch!) on and from DKL. Between then and now, do you sense a shift in the man himself and his view on secrecy, abstract or vague answers?

Rob: Yeah, I guess I do. It’s easy as someone who has read everything under the sun or watched every Youtube clip out there to become presumptuous and think “Oh, I already know all of that,” but the intentions behind this book are important. By Lynch’s own assertions, this is the definitive book on his life. And I think he tried his best to bring that to this book, as much as his personality would allow him. As the book goes on, I think we can admit his commentary recedes somewhat. I don’t know if that is him getting bored with hashing out the tales or his wanting to leave some mystery or what, but he’s pretty open in this book, from his memories of learning about masturbation to discovering things himself, some through luck, some through struggle. I mean, there is some bare-boned honesty in this for sure, and he didn’t necessary owe it to us to voluntarily offer those details up. And while I hate to say with no special revelation regarding it, I think the past couple of years, seeing so many loved ones pass, I think that sense of mortality is in this work.


Spoiler Coverage:

Paul:

“I gotta have a donut!”

Room to Dream was on my pre-ordered list the moment it was announced. The opportunity to discover more about David Lynch — the man, his works, his thoughts and insights (not to mention his oftentimes incredible stories and recollections) was a no-brainer for me and it was ordered well before Twin Peaks: The Return aired. The resultant delay in the release of the book (it was due at several different points in 2017) frustrated me but also, I realised, that delay held the possibility of more revelations post-2017 Peaks: not a bad thing according to my inner-geek. And my inner-geek was right.

Taking a tour of its first 90 or so pages, leading up to the Eraserhead years, I (and upon discussing with him, Rob too) was fascinated to recognise that so much of Lynch’s work — his movies, music, art etc. — is more heavily affected and influenced by those early years than any book or interview has revealed to date. So too are the man’s preoccupations and passions. There are resonant moments such as the recollection of his grandfathers smoking (and his numerous pipes) which, whilst interesting and even predictable to a degree (given that Lynch is the prolific smoker that he is) — pays off in unexpected ways.. The effect of this memory and Lynch’s adoption of the habit is felt more deeply than anyone could guess, much later in the book. It will cause all who have consumed written interviews, conjectural books and YouTube videos, to apprehend the human being behind the art as not just charming and engaging — but also faceted and fallible.

There’s a wealth of trivial details — the mention of the surnames ‘Briggs’ and ‘Packard’ — which will result in a fan’s internal nod of the Twin Peaks variety, or the claim “I gotta have a donut! [1] after a brush with marijuana, that will bring a smile to your face. There are so many vignettes that will resonate into his future life’s work, and it’s incredible and fortunate that he recalls so much detail with an exposing tenderness devoid of embellishment or rehearsal. This is his real life, not media-orientated sound bites for headlines and deadlines.

But there are also further, intriguing revelations that linger and perturb. “I had a new girlfriend every two weeks,”[2] is a seemingly off-hand comment but one that resounds into his adulthood (and through the book). It speaks to the themes of adultery and secrecy featuring in many of his artistic endeavours, and also of the excitement and awakening that new love can inflame. Like much of his work, there are worlds within worlds; shadows and illumination. Indeed, a movie such as Blue Velvet follows him on a very personal level through to 1992 and the investigation into the suicide of a friend, with Lynch himself the seeker of truth rather than an on-screen alter-ego. One can imagine the warning proffered to the police “This is a suicide; don’t go anywhere near it,” [3] would intrigue and horrify in equal measure. That the mild-mannered and folksy image of Lynch is not the complete picture is worth the price of the book alone.

Consumed by his art life, we could be forgiven for succumbing to the assumption that, if not on a film set or on the road with his David Lynch Foundation work, DKL is deep in his compound, creating, creating, creating. But this is only part of the story — he’s been up to much more than that — as he will reveal. This a man that remembers so much, and he likes to remember things his own way (strange how that notion found its way into one of his films). This means that these accounts have the Lynchian storytelling stamp (amusing anecdotes such as fun with pipe bombs(!) to slightly off-topic detours along retrospective lost highways – like his ability to produce a damn good fake license plate). There’s also a moving wistfulness alongside these stories that has not really been detailed anywhere previously (his unexpected final moments with his grandfather linger in the mind).

With a reader’s eye on his subsequent fascinations and endeavours there’s the mention of the ‘projects’ he was encouraged to engage in by his wonderfully forward-thinking parents, or the juxtaposition of the city and the country that began with his parents backgrounds. Such impactful events and memories echo through into his adult life – having an extensive and sincere effect on his attitude and his future art. There’s much to glean from these early years. Often Lynch has claimed that his childhood was almost too clean and too perfect, and that he “.. longed for some sort of — not a catastrophe but something out of the ordinary to happen.”[4]. What is newly evident in this worthy tome is that there was definitely a lot more fun, adventure, darkness and drama than he has disclosed till now.

[1] David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, Room to Dream (New York: Random House, 2018), 56.

[2] Lynch, 23.

[3] Lynch, 31.

[4]http://davidbreskin.com/magazines/1-interviews/david-lynch-2/


Rob:

The book opens with familiarity, as if we all have already learned what we could of David’s early years in David Lynch: The Art Life, but that can be deceiving as you are reading Kristine McKenna’s findings from her own research and interviews. In these, she is tasked with framing the narrative of David’s life and infusing it with the perspectives of those who were closest to him. So while it does open with a brief family history in 1884 with David’s grandfather, Austin Lynch, there are personal surprises along the way. There is the happy recollection of a free-roaming childhood, where play dates didn’t exist, in fact were not required; kids could simply take to the streets. The detail of Lynch’s mother not allowing coloring books because they stifled creativity, a detail recalled in The Art Life documentary, remains intact here. Of course, this is not tired retelling. As ravenous as Lynch fans can be in personal study and in community conversations, some will come to this as their first and definitive resource for the life of David Kelly Lynch (DKL), born in 1946, and rightfully so. Audiences learn that Lynch from an early age was well-liked by girls and was widely known as popular in school. Collectors and fans will find their gaze held or ears perked at learning that Lynch was known for making tee-shirts with markers for the neighborhood kids and indeed was even commissioned at that young age to create one for a father’s fortieth birthday. Where can we find these? They belong in a museum, surely! [Note: Since this was written, only a day later, David Lynch announced a surprise on Twitter. It is the release of his line of tee-shirts on Amazon.

Then, there are details of a searching, personal nature. That vague memory at the corner of your mind where in childhood you did something awkward or flat wrong that you cannot explain. It was simply a thing you did. David remembers a time with a friend in Spokane, entering an apartment where the door had been left open, snowballs packed and placed on the bed, in the drawers, towels drug out into the street to watch vehicles drive over or carry them away on their tires. He thinks on it with paused thought: “Why did we do it? Go figure …” [1] [Note: This last question is curiously not in the audiobook.] Memories of his father come with strong associations, mostly his affinity for trees and a series about animals his father killed, so dead animals. There is a moment in David Lynch: The Art Life where he gets emotional when discussing an August night, when leaving Boise, he says goodbye to Mr. Smith, and he cuts the story off, explaining that he can’t talk about it. He does here, explaining:

Suddenly Mr. Smith appears and I see him talking to my dad, then shaking his hand. I stared at this and started feeling the seriousness of the situation, the huge importance of this last night. In all the years living next to the Smiths I had never spoken one-on-one with Mr. Smith and now here he was walking toward me. He held out a hand and I took it. He might’ve said something like “We’re going to miss you, David,” but I didn’t really hear what he said—I just bust into tears. I realized how important the Smith family was to me, then how important all my Boise friends were, and I felt it on a deeper and deeper level. It was beyond sad. And then I saw the darkness of the unknown I’d be heading into the next day.[1]

This closes the chapter for “American Pastoral.”

In the chapter “The Art Life,” readers encounter his meeting of Bushnell Keeler and his life in Alexandria, Virginia. His friend, Jack Fisk, has a sister, Mary Fisk, who would become his second wife. David gets heartbroken by Nancy Briggs, and he retells his “Fuck Bob Dylan” story after having attended a concert high, but we learn a new motivation for his discomfort at the concert. A girlfriend who broke up with him and was to attend the concert with him ends up next to him at the concert anyhow. This sets him off. It all brings us to Philadelphia in the 1960’s, place he’s spoken about quite often in the past as being influential. On page 64, he tells a story about a stick he used to carry with him on the streets with nails in it. A cop stopped him and questioned him about it before approving of it and telling him it was a pretty good idea. That paints an important and much more defined picture of the truth in the violence of the city than we’ve had before. In this portion, readers get many more stories of break-ins to his and Reavey’s home with infant Jennifer and a notable blue velvet couch. Francis Bacon’s influence can be found here as well as Lynch’s introduction to Alan Splet. Still, this is only an introduction to the wide-ranging biography and to get too granular would be to re-write the content. Needless to say, this is a biography which will fill in gaps of pre-existing knowledge and color Lynch’s life with emotional rendering, leaving readers to evaluate their feelings on what they believed his life had been and what his struggles truly were. And while meme-like saying aged quickly, it remains pertinent here: the struggle is real.

[1] David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, Room to Dream (New York: Random House, 2018), 18.

[2] Lynch, 32.


Spoiler-content Q&A 

Paul:  So — when we have talked in the past, you have told me that women featured heavily in your discovery of Lynch’s oeuvre — so let’s talk about Lynch and girls! The book sure does…

Rob: Ha! Okay, that’s fair enough. What you are referring to is after my initial introduction to the works of Lynch in Dune and Lost Highway, I would be swept into the world of Twin Peaks by two different girlfriends in the late 90’s and early 2000—one pointing out Leo (Eric De Rae) in a viewing of Critters 4, which led to a conversation, a seed, and one in 2000, which led to a spoiler viewing of Fire Walk With Me, a surprisingly common story, I’m finding. But in this first chunk of Lynch’s life, you are right. We meet girlfriends: Judy Putnam from fifth grade, Jane Johnson, Sue Packard, Nancy Briggs, and first wife Peggy Reavey. The book is going to cover many of Lynch’s affairs and marriage dissolves throughout, but I’ll let our writers covering those chapters mitigate those. But here, we see Lynch as a lady’s man early on and that inevitable moment when he had the devastating encounter with the woman in trouble, the violence that she had endured and an early version of nudity that may or may not have incorporated into his sexuality with that. So yeah, as a researcher, you have to take note of these relationships innocent or not and reconcile for yourself what they might say about the man or the art. It’s an important component of the book, which is somewhat a way of saying his life.

Paul:  What new talking points have you discovered in the first section so far? Has it influenced how you view his works to date, or provided you any more insight or reflections?

Rob: Not as much maybe, but maybe? Uhm. Let me think of a few. Nancy Briggs, right? This was a girlfriend of Lynch’s early on, and I can’t help but associate her with the Briggs family name in Twin Peaks. Then, just the memories of violence in Philadelphia. I don’t know if that is really reflected in his works to the extent that he experienced it. Thugs in Lynch’s works, the greaser 50’s type, even the Frank Booths, they aren’t breaking into married couple’s houses at night with 40’s thinking the house is abandoned, you know? Couples aren’t huddled in their houses waiting for break-ins in poverty-stricken neighborhoods like Lynch and his wife experienced with Jennifer as a baby. Blue Velvet may have come closest, but that particular brand of very realistic violence isn’t portrayed the way maybe I would portray it as an author. In my own writing, when I’m writing fiction, I’ll almost borrow verbatim experiences, lend them to the characters, and see how it plays out. Lynch only brings his fascination of the atmosphere of those experiences, his fascination with it. I just think those are intense life experiences that I’m surprised never found themselves reenacted.

Paul:  With Lynch’s early years starting back in the 50’s of the last century, do you feel the book is missing vital voices that couldn’t be included/consulted as those people have since passed away?

Rob: You know, I think we all would have loved Bushnell Keeler’s point of view in this. And then David’s own father and mother, their voices would have been a revelation, but all voices combined that are here, I think this book tells quite a tale, and it’s the tale it’s supposed to tell, that of David Lynch. Given his willingness to share stories and not shy away from faults of his own, be they the raising of his children, his disconnect within his marriages, or his infidelities, we probably get more than we deserve here. It’s a personal examination, and I even appreciate those interviewed, that they were willing to share their memories. It’s really just part of preserving history that is difficult. We’re approaching a digital dark age, where born-digital materials were stored on antiquated technology that is hard to reopen, etcetera. So much in email alone will have been lost. Just to get these stories from the memories of those still alive is a treat. As a colleague of mine says about so much of our archival material, where I work, this is the primo stuff.

Rob: My questions may only illicit short answers, but let’s see. Tell me your thoughts on the violence of Philadelphia as conveyed in this work—David and the cops’ reaction to his make-shift mace, people breaking into his home at night, the story Reavey remembers of their night on the blue velvet couch and the shot gun? What does that tell to you about David’s memoir and his work? Did any of it surprise you?

Paul: I don’t think it surprised me as I had heard him tell of the fear he experienced in Philadelphia, with a few examples, in past interviews. I find that he gives a little more colour and detail to those brushes with violence here, and it’s a tribute to him that he can relive and utilise that via his art. I wonder if, without that unrest and ever-pervading sense of threat, his life’s work would reflect something different? For instance, would the bittersweet finale of Blue Velvet still be as hard-earned? Or the light and dark in most of his work be as prevalent as it is?

Rob: I’m running out of questions, and I think we’ve covered this fairly well. So, I’ll ask you the same questions. David Lynch’s early sway with girls or women and his earlier established popularity, what does that tell you?

Paul: It tells me he’s a charming guy — fascinating to others (like ourselves), a genuinely warm human being — oh, and a babe magnet! In all seriousness it tells us that what we have seen of him since the public eye caught him in earnest (especially since, lets say, Blue Velvet), is very much who he has been for the longest time — even before meditation helped him to approach an inner happiness he has claimed elsewhere (and often) that he didn’t yet have. He may be caught in ‘darkness and confusion’ but his affable nature and commitment to his art are like magnetic poles to a lot of industry influencers. And to the ladies — which, romantically speaking, is not always the best for all involved.

Rob: I know at one time it was fairly common for people to ask “is he on drugs?” And the abstract nature of his art, well, it’s easy to see how this comes up. On page 87, he talks about doing great drawings on amphetamines, which he got in the form of diet pills from girlfriends. Did that surprise you? As we get ready to read more, what do you think the relationship of Lynch and drugs is in this biography/memoir?

Paul: He likes to remain pure to do his art. He’s mentioned in his book Catching the Big Fish that anguish, mental distress, drugs etc aren’t needed to make art and he seems absolutely devoted to that ideal. So the stories of his occasional dabbling were amusing but ultimately — I think I know that it won’t be long-lasting.

Rob: Now that we have the audiobook, let’s each try to address how it compares to the book. We each had a sense early on in our readings that David’s portions of the memoir read like an oral history. Is the book transcribed verbatim from the audiobook recordings? Is there a benefit to one over the other?

If I were to answer first, I would say my sense is that Kristine McKenna’s portions are fairly verbatim. But once one gets into David’s portions, he really begins to let his thoughts ruminate on the stories that are in the book. Behind the scenes, you, Paul, said you think the audiobook came after the writing of the book. That feels right to me. These are the same stories Lynch is reflecting on, but there seems to be so much more context in his audio ruminations. That said, I think the book is going to be essential to anyone wanting to write about Lynch or just to remind yourself about a point. It’s going to be a lot easier to flip through a chapter or text search in an eBook to find a point you want to elaborate on or cite. It might be a lot harder to reference the audio file or your discs. And here is a weird one: In the telling of the story where he and his friend put snowballs in an apartment in Spokane, he lingers with a following thought I mentioned earlier: “Why did we do that? Go figure …” That last thought is completely missing in the audiobook, which makes the story come off strange, like why did he just tell that. What I’m getting at is that I’m afraid people will want both. It’s my opinion that the fuller experience is in the audiobook, but who wouldn’t want this lovely hardback on their shelf for reference? Still, in the audiobook, he goes on random tangents about his thoughts on the afterlife or on lectures about not following his example and playing with bombs that you can’t find in the book.  If I had to choose between my dollars, though, I would have chosen the audiobook 100 percent.

Paul: I agree with you Rob – Kristine and her interviews/commentary do seem to accurately match up, from the printed page to the audio representation. However, as we suspected would be the case – with Lynch being a storyteller both on screen and in real life – when he gets outside of the constrictions a book can enforce he just runs with it! His stories take on an added warmth with the sound of his voice, the intonation and the expression he can give to particular tales, which add a satisfying extra dimension. And wow – there are lots of extra stories so far!

I thought perhaps the audiobook might have come after the book was written – so not only does it appear that both versions have definite commonalities (with some embellishment on either side) but there are also stories that are ‘missing’ from one or the other! You mentioned the strange effect that the subtle differences can have, plus there are also portions, that you too allude to, that simply don’t exist – for instance his looking back at his father during World War 2 – and the ordeals there. There is little of this in the written book outside of Kristine’s commentary, but here on the audio, Lynch himself talks of the horror. So there are benefits to owning both it seems. A book gives a solid and easy reference for people, plus some anecdotes missing from the audio – but it doesn’t oblige too much deliberation in the text and has little latitude for too many tangents that don’t add to the flow per se. The audiobook, to me, gives Lynch much more ‘room to dream’ – and that’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s a money-spinning intention, but I think that most fans will likely purchase both!


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