I have been a fan of David Lynch ever since I saw Lost Highway when it came out back in 1997. Maybe that makes me late to the game, but, hey, I was all of 17 years-old at the time, and I came around to discover everything else. We all have our own stories. And, I presume, we all love Lynch’s work in film, and Twin Peaks. We probably appreciate his paintings to varying degrees. The fact is that an artist being exceptional in one medium says nothing as to whether they will be good in another; I can think of a couple of actors with bands, for example, that are not very good. So, when I heard that David Lynch was releasing music, I was tentative and prepared for the possibility that it would be bad. After all, as much as I appreciate the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, he also composed music, and it was mediocre at best (though the fact that he apparently forced Richard Wagner to listen to it is hilariously wonderful).
Lynch’s first album, Crazy Clown Time, came out in 2011, and I grabbed it right away. I was happy to discover that I truly liked it. So when The Big Dream was released a couple of years later, I snagged that up, too. I made playlists that mixed tracks from them with David Bowie, XTC, Nine Inch Nails, Tuxedomoon, CocoRosie… a whole bunch of stuff, basically, and it fit right in.
Suffice to say, I love David Lynch’s music. Maybe you don’t. Taste in music is a very personal thing. But even if it doesn’t do it for you, I hope you’ll join me in this dive into the music of David Lynch.
I will be focusing on Crazy Clown Time in this piece, though the following notes about style would apply to both albums. I intend to work through The Big Dream in similar fashion in a further article.
It is a little hard to pin the style of Lynch’s albums to a genre, though the word ‘electronic’ certainly comes to mind. Lynch himself has described it as “modern blues.” On both album he worked with Dean Hurley, who would later go on to work with Lynch on sound for Twin Peaks: The Return. One might wonder to what extent it was Hurley who was responsible for a lot of what we find on these records, but it does seem by all accounts to have been a collaborative effort. Lynch sings on most tracks, with auto-tune employed to a glorious effect, but there are also any number of indications of Lynch’s hand in the soundscape itself. Let’s not forget this is a man who has been concerned with the sound of his films from the very beginning. And, of course, Lynch wrote the lyrics.
Forgive me if I focus on those lyrics more than on what accompanies them. I think that these represent little ideas from Lynch. Some of them may have worked their way into Twin Peaks: The Return; others didn’t. But in a way I think the musical form gives an almost better forum for putting forth the idea in its pure state: some images, a thought, a problem, something to work through. Lynch’s songs tend to be vignettes; they paint little scenes more than they make a statement about anything. I find myself having more to say about some than others. Further, it should be no surprise if these songs are open to multiple interpretations, as both Lynch’s work and (I would contend) music in general usually are.
Crazy Clown Time
Lynch’s first effort was called Crazy Clown Time. Let’s think about that title for a moment. The clown is an interesting symbol, cutting across various traditions, in a way where even placing the adjective ‘crazy’ before it just emphasizes the thing in question. And, it has been a trope throughout Lynch’s film work, from this scene in Blue Velvet, to this one in Inland Empire. The clown is a trickster, but also an emblem of fun; perhaps a carnival in Mikhail Bakhtin’s sense.
It perhaps says something that on the very first track on his very first album, David Lynch handed the singing duties over to someone else: Karen O. And it maybe says something that it was a woman. What it might say I won’t speculate on, though.
Regardless, there are a couple of elements to the lyrics I think are worth noting. Although we have no idea who Pinky is, or why that name was chosen — it could refer to the 1949 film, or an adult film actress, but neither reference feels quite right to me — or what is going on with the color stuff, it remains that Pinky is asked to “watch the room” and then “watch the road.”
Ignoring the very references I just mentioned, it seems to me that this is a song about a man (Pinky) in a difficult, or somewhat ambiguous, situation with other men. A woman — his friend, I imagine — is asking him to watch out for her, as the guys do their shitty guy things. But what does he see? Is he laughing, or is he crying? Where will all of this lead?
Alternately, perhaps Pinky is just under the influence of some kind of intoxicant, stumbling around a party, and then getting into his car to try and drive home. But this seems like a less interesting possibility to me.
Please, Pinky, watch the road.
Good Day Today
I feel like this is just all of the positive light of David Lynch coming through. I don’t usually go in for songs that are this positive, but, goddamn if I don’t agree, here: I want to have good day today. The references to fire (“So tired of fire; so tired of smoke”) and that to an angel (“send me an angel”) both find resonances in various places in Lynch’s work, but perhaps none comes to mind more strongly than Fire Walk with Me, which embeds the symbol of fire in its very title, and meaningfully incorporates that of the angel into the story of the last days of Laura Palmer.
A further verse has Lynch singing that he is tired of fear and dark, which are also prevalent concepts/images in his oeuvre. We are told in season 2 of Twin Peaks that fear and love open the door [to the Lodge], and The Return is even more full of dark imagery than perhaps any other work Lynch has done: dark woods, a dark road, and so on and so forth.
“Good Day Today” was also the subject of a fan video contest (as was “I Know”), so if you would like to watch multiple visual presentations of the song for awhile, I would encourage you to do so.
If you do a search for the lyrics to David Lynch’s songs, you will find some pretty clear mistakes. For example, how in the world does one end up thinking the lyric in this song is “fall in chaingong”? Was that composed by some voice-to-text app?
The line is clearly: “Ball and chain gone” — the whole song is about being free from a relationship. It might strike a particular chord if you are thinking about a bad relationship, but it moves beyond that. With any relationship, there can be this feeling, which Lynch taps into, of a freedom in the absence of the other. As great as romantic relationships can be, that significant other has a way of being all up in your business. Maybe that’s worth it; maybe it’s not. But even if you have lost something good, perhaps there is some solace in being free in your house/truck/on the street.
I know a song to sing on this dark night; it’s the song of love. Major Briggs told Windom Earle that his biggest fear was that love was not enough. Me too, Garland; me too. Twin Peaks gets caught up so often in the darkness that we can forget the times when it sings a song of love, as with Ed and Norma. Of course, there are any number of instances in Lynch’s work where love does not work out. Nonetheless, “Noah’s Ark” distills a message I think we can see running through Twin Peaks in particular: don’t fight the darkness, but spread the light. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love can do that. It’s not for nothing that Albert invokes Martin Luther King Jr. to Harry in the original run, or that the Blu-ray extras to The Return include a bit wherein Lynch praises the same.
Of course, ‘love’ here should not be constrained to its romantic sense, but be taken expansively: not just eros, but agape and philia are to be included. Perhaps there is a flood of darkness in the world, in various forms, but the ark — if there is one — is love.
These are vignettes; they are little pictures of things. This one is about seeing your girl with another man at a football game. Here we see Lynch playing with the images of Americana as he has so often done elsewhere. One imagines a high school football game, and is there any more American milieu than that?
Also, lest we forget, in Twin Peaks Bobby was the quarterback of the football team and Laura’s official boyfriend; James was the illicit partner.
One of my favorite David Lynch songs, “I Know” is basically about a man who understands that he fucked up and this is why you are leaving him.Sometimes we do things that we cannot take back. What the thing in question was here is left open, which I think makes the song all the better. Of course it could be an act of infidelity, but it could well also be something else; exploding in a moment of rage, for example.
It is a sad thing to know that you have irreparably destroyed something, “since [you] went and did that thing.”
(“I Know” was also a part of the video contest mentioned above. Check out the phonograph in this one, dating from 2010)
Strange and Unproductive Thinking
I don’t know what to say about “Strange and Unproductive Thinking,” insofar as it presents a sort of thought-poem more than it is a traditional song. The lyrics provide a lot of interesting things to think about, but not much to “interpret.” As such, I have decided to simply give them to you here in full:
Bearing all the aforementioned dialogues we discover the possibilities of the curve towards progressive behavior and the ultimate realization of the goal of evolution, which grants the benefits of added awareness with unlimited boundness of happiness, also known as bliss, which is a result of the laws which govern physical behavior merging with the highest levels of spirit, and together manifesting the magical and mystical level of cosmic awareness, becoming one with the longing for complete surrender to the higher self, which has potentially been waiting these long eons of time, and in fact sometimes has been dipping into a state of semi-sleep or unconsciousness, bordering on complete absence of thought. Specifically, the areas concerning the new futuristic thinking have to do with several abstract, somewhat hidden, emotional tendencies which lead one to believe that the consequences of interaction between the positive and negative forces are producing a vital link between the subconscious and superconscious minds, which therefore can only be considered as actual structures with two separate and distinctly different qualities. As we have seen, when one or more intensely feeling energies become associated with the higher levels of perceptible phenomenon, and these new forms are then instantly acted upon by the two minds previously discussed, and brand new associations are given over with resulting problems sorting out the new strains of emotional and physical qualities we see cropping up in schools and places of business across the country, and in the cities which of course have the added complications of the much-argued-over proposition that one cannot tolerate the existence of two or more intensely opposing ideas at one point in time. Others may find it easier to say “however,” and that thought alone is one which troubles many of us here who have for so long held the light up on the words which brought meaning to us concerning the amount of effort it takes to ignite a certain process leading one to the knowledge of the truce behind the alternating essence which is unending without actually beginning, and in those words of course is the key to beginning a long journey toward understanding which, as we have learned, is something for which each human being cries out, cupping his hands over the mouth. Sometimes in the evenings a feeling of the type which haunts young children in the forest will come in on a dark wind, and all the light will fade leaving a low sound penetrating the eyes, which follow the dark shapes running for safe nests just out of reach of small white teeth and noses filled with dirt going up over the mountains covered with tall trees and green needles and red bark with pitch oozing out into the air, which dries it on the surface causing it to become crusty which allows for the protection of all that lies within the crust, for it will now remain liquid and hold itself remaining in a state close to that of the pure essence which will remind us of home, which will remind us of the red cookie-jar, and the smiles dancing around in the golden afternoons, while the pipe puffs out small clouds of smoke from the mouth of the father with an axe to cut wood growing on the tall mountains. In order to assure that the fundamental qualities inherent in the solutions to modern philosophical questions are accurate, the first and foremost consideration lies in the field of abstractions associated with the loss of nature, and with them the interaction of the primary forces of life itself which have now been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to have their basis in the field of the absolute in the vacuum state bringing to mind that there has been a reversal of sorts of the age-old phrase, “You can’t get something from nothing.” As we have seen this kind of thinking which has been going on since the beginning of time is just a smoke-screen necessary to block almost all truthful inquiries for centuries following, and it is with this also on our minds that we see that the initial thinking on a subject is critical to all that follows, and can be an excellent partner to the dark and evil forces which would have us living forever in darkness and confusion, refusing even to acknowledge that we even existed, or that there was such a thing as a bad tooth, or a tooth-ache. Bringing our discussion to the realm of practical considerations, it is interesting to note the possibilities of dental hygiene and the remarkable idea of a world free of tooth-decay and all other problems associated with the teeth, tongue, or oral cavity, which would, in fact, become a prime motivator for a certain disappearance of fears associated with pain connected with dental applications, and even the idea that plaque could appear upon the surface of the teeth, and the negative occurrences which follow such as the hideous odors emitted from the oral cavity and the discolorations and the resulted perforation of the once beautiful mental images, and the possibility of the breaking of relationships based upon the idea of negative distortion of the mouth, for teeth, while not necessarily considered one of the primary building blocks of happiness, can in fact become a small sore, festering and transferring negative energies to the once quiet and peaceful mind, giving it over to strange and unproductive thinking.
The Night Bell with the Lightning
This one is an instrumental, and it reminds me of the Pink Room scene from Fire Walk with Me, though the song is perhaps a bit mellower.
Stone’s Gone Up
I must admit I am at a bit of a loss when it comes to the central image of this song: that of a stone going up. The best I have is to connect it to the way that Steven talks to Gersten about being like turquoise in Twin Peaks: The Return, which, of course, isn’t an answer so much as a broadening of the question. Regardless, it strikes me that Steven talks about “going up” (he asks if Gersten will go up with him even), and says this line about turquoise, which is, of course, not just a color but a stone. Perhaps this image of a stone going up struck Lynch as a symbol for suicide (?)
There are a number of other images in the lyrics of this song that also resonate with Twin Peaks: the mention of driving (which is, of course, a Lynch staple), “smoking the stuff of dreams,” a bird, the dark, wilderness, and even slot machine bells. I don’t really know what to do with any of this, but it seems worth mentioning.
In general, this is a song about how things don’t work out; how our fantasies have a way of not matching up with reality. “I just don’t know what I’m gonna do; got this dream that I’m loving you.” But then it went all dark, and I knew it couldn’t be. Things fall apart. Sometimes you might dream about loving someone, and life gets in the way.
Unless the sirens at the end of the song should lead us to an even darker conclusion?
Crazy Clown Time
The title track of Lynch’s first album, “Crazy Clown Time” paints a scene that Lynch has suggested to be quintessentially American: that of a backyard party that includes beer, nudity, and fire. Here is a condensed version of the lyrics, to evoke the image:
Molly had her ripped shirt
Suzy, she ripped her shirt off completely
Then he poured the beer all over Sally
Buddy screamed so loud, he spit
We all ran around the back yard
It was crazy clown time
It was real fun
Diddy lit his hair on fire! Oh, oh, oh!
Danny spit on Suzie
Bobby sat and drunk two beers
Kimmy jumped all around, so high
Oh, oh, oh!
While many of us might think that this is a portrait of a party that got a bit out of hand, Lynch insists that it was “real fun” — this is their idea of fun, and Lynch passes no judgment. Lynch also directed the video for the song.
These are my friends
Frankly, as much as I love it, this sounds a bit like a Mister Roger’s song, as Lynch lists off the things that his friends have: a dog, a bluebird, a yellow basket with a frog inside, etc. And while Lynch promises a “prescription for our problems” to “keep the hounds at bay,” he never indicates what that might be. I suppose that isn’t the point, though, so much as the song is celebration of friendship in its sometimes brilliant simplicity.
Here, Lynch presents the perspective of a man who has been spurned by a woman and has let it drive him to disturbing depths. This is basically a song from the perspective of a stalker, or some guy who feels like he is entitled to a woman’s affection.
I can empathize to some degree — mostly by thinking back to my high school self — and I imagine that most men probably can. She won’t answer her phone; she had sex with your pal, Al, and so on. You’re hung up on her, and she just isn’t that into you. So you stalk her — or, wait, this is the point where I can no longer empathize, to be clear — and she ends up saying she wants you dead.
I’m back to empathy with “Shit, fuck my head. I got fucked by you. Fucked real bad” — as I can relate to the experience of feeling like a woman has wrecked my psyche — but back out of it again with, “Maybe you’re happy, but I hope you’re sad.”
I think Lynch is performing a character here, and inhabiting the space of the kind of guy who might become a stalker, or maybe even kill the woman he is obsessed with. The move to get the titular speed roadster even feels to me like a stand-in for the way in which some of these particularly despicable guys go and shoot people to assert their masculinity.
Lynch isn’t celebrating this, by any means, but I do think he is exploring that psychological terrain.
It’s hard to make out all of the lyrics on this one, and, again, internet transcriptions aren’t a lot of help (though here they at least tend to ellipses in lieu of mondegreens). There are, nonetheless, a few lines that are clearly understandable, and may be of note to Twin Peaks fans:
On the road I saw the signs go by
Flashing dark green
The owl of thunder from
A golden look and a smile
…past the future, screaming up
I see myself, I don’t recognize the same
Time roll backwards start that show again
Actually, pretty much all of the lyrics in this song could evoke something along these lines. It feels more like a series of images, or symbols, than anything else, and is thus as opaque, or open to polyvalent interpretation, as the most enigmatic of Lynch’s cinematic work.
She Rise Up
“She Rise Up” is basically a celebration of a woman. What exactly the backstory of that woman is, or the nature of her relationship with the protagonist, is less clear. It does seem evident that it was a loving one, and sexual.
There is something problematic about the relationship sketched here, to be sure — as when Lynch sings, “I was all she had, for awhile” — but it is hard to pin down how problematic it is. Of course, it also is not clear to what extent this is anything like an autobiographic account.
The basic story seems to be of a man struck by a woman he encounters — enamored, if you will. She perhaps depended on him for awhile, but he is at pains to say “she took nothing from me.”
One might worry that this is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl type situation, or perhaps be put in mind of Andre Breton’s Nadja. I think those are meaningfully different, but could definitely see some worries with regard to the latter, nonetheless.
Yet, Lynch’s story isn’t about how the eponymous she helped him, but about her ascendance, and the acceptance of that. All he could do was watch her leave.
Overall, Lynch’s first album presents a series of vignettes that hang together only in a loose thematic way when it comes to the ideas presented in their lyrics; though each certainly provides an entry point into a universe that feels definitively Lynchian. Judged as an album — as opposed to a mere collection of songs — Crazy Clown Time coheres; it is well organized, with each song flowing into the next fairly seamlessly. If you have yet to listen to it, I hope that you will, and join me next time as I dig into Lynch’s second album: The Big Dream.