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31.8.08

David Lynch and the Big Fish

Lynch on creativity and meditation
'I used to go to Bob's Big Boy Restaurant just about every day from the mid-seventies until the early eighties. I'd have a milkshake and sit and think.

'There's a safety in thinking in a diner. You can have your coffee or your milkshake, and you can go off into strange dark areas, and always come back to the safety of the diner.'
David Lynch
We all have our heroes, and most of us have more than one. Different people can speak to us at different times in our lives, or all come rushing in to influence us at once. As an undergraduate, I had a fascination with the late 70s David Bowie: his distinctive look and austere philosophy of life appealed to me at the time. As a result, Bowie's collaborators and influences also had an affect: I became interested in Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, NEU! and Kraftwerk all in the same breath. And they were all heroes. (No pun intended.)

I know that these characters have had a lasting impact on my development, and without them I wouldn't be quite the person I am today. But there have been others who held my attention in more subtle ways, and I can imagine that their influence on me has been even greater still.

I've been a fan of the film director David Lynch since I was a teenager. I connected with his films, his television series Twin Peaks, and certain strains in his personality. But although I've never emulated Lynch as such, his interviews and his work have held a strong, if largely unrecognized grip.

I think on some level I've adopted my neat and simple dress sense from Lynch (with a passing nod to Bob Dylan). My love of jazz was partly sparked by music in the soundtrack of Lynch's films. And there's no doubt that through Lynch I discovered an enduring love and adoration for strong black coffee. Black as midnight on a moonless night.

I've recently finished reading Catching the Big Fish, a book where Lynch discusses his preoccupation with transcendental meditation, and his love and enthusiasm for the 'art life'. The book is as close as we are ever likely to get to a discussion of meaning in his work. Lynch is famously evasive about his personal interpretations, and always stresses the importance of an audience finding their own way through. But what drew me to the book was his zest and joy for the magic of cinema, and the charms of entering a fantastic, imaginative world.


David Lynch
What I love most about David Lynch is his willingness to follow an idea, and let it grow and develop into something new. He seems to see the world with a certain childlike wonderment, and it's inspiring to hear the way he sees film, and art, and culture as a way-of-life rather than a passing entertainment. If there is any one influence that David Lynch has held over me, it's this simple and impassioned view.

Of course, I don't agree with everything the man says. There are certain experiences I do not relate to, and I can't say his love for transcendental meditation has rubbed off on me. But nonetheless, there is so much to love and to enjoy. Catching the Big Fish is very short, and comprised more of short asides or observations than sustained discussions. It's more aphorism than autobiography. Here are a few lines that struck me in particular:
[On solitude:] Bushnell Keeler, the father of my friend Toby, always had this expression: 'If you want to get one hour of good painting in, you have to have four hours of uninterrupted time.'
[On the experience of cinema:] It's so magical - I don't know why - to go into a theatre and have the lights go down. It's very quiet, and then the curtains start to open. Maybe they're red. And you go into a world.
[On artistic suffering:] Right here people might bring up Vincent van Gogh as an example of a painter who did great work in spite of - or because of - his suffering. I like to think that van Gogh would have been even more prolific and even greater if he wasn't so restricted by the things tormenting him. I don't think it was the pain that made him so great - I think his painting brought him whatever happiness he had.
[On a sense of place:] A sense of place is so critical in cinema, because you want to go into another world, and its own feel, and its own mood. So you try to put together all these things - these little details - to create that sense of place.
[On Beauty:] When you see an ageing building or a rusted bridge, you are seeing nature and man working together. If you paint over a building, there is no more magic to that building. But if it is allowed to age, then man has built it and nature has added to it - it's so organic.
[On working with wood:] Wood is one of the greatest materials to work with. There are soft woods and hard woods, and they all have their own beauty when you are working with them. When I saw through a piece of freshly cut pine, the smell of it just sends me right to heaven. The same goes even for pine needles. I used to chew Ponderosa pine pitch, which is the sap that oozes out of the tree and dries on the outside of the bark. If you can get a fresh piece of pitch, it is like syrup. It will stick to you and you won't be able to get it off your hands. But sometimes it hardens like old honey. And you can chew this, and the flavour of pine pitch will make you crazy, in a good way.
[On Fire] Sitting in front of a fire is mesmerizing. It's magical. I feel the same way about electricity. And smoke. And flickering lights.
What a guy.