Tear up the notepad and throw out the questions: this road map is getting us nowhere. Across the table, David Lynch appears to be gently yay-and-naying me to death. “Yes and no,” is his reply to my first query. “No, well, maybe,” is how he greets the second. I feel as though I’m stuck on my own personal stretch of Mulholland Drive, going round and round in an endless loop.
All of which is oddly reassuring. We go to Lynch for severed ears and nightmare rabbits, dancing dwarfs and haunted radiators. We look to him for worlds that are wild at heart and weird on top. Straight answers and facile interpretations have never been his bag. There are no rules, he tells me kindly at one stage. The truth is subjective, we live in relativity and every positive has a negative side. Sometimes, it seems, in the course of the same damn sentence.
We meet at a lithographic studio on the Left Bank of Paris. There is an ink-spattered table in the center and antique printing presses against the wall, while the far door opens on to a toilet cubicle that is so calcified — so positively infernal in nature — that it may not qualify as a toilet at all. The director explains that he has been based here, on and off, for the past four years. He’s been working on his lithos, on his painting, and on his music, too. He’s been designing a nightclub (Silencio), across the river, and he has been waiting to catch the idea for his next feature film. “I’m jumping around,” he exclaims, sitting stock-still on his artist’s stool.
He comes dressed for work, resplendent in a sky-blue smock. His face is blandly handsome, his iron-gray quiff listing slightly to one side. Pass him on the street and you might take the man for a small-town pharmacist, or a respected high-school principal on the cusp of retirement. Instead, at the age of 65, David Lynch has just recorded his debut album — Crazy Clown Time. It is a swirling grab-bag of stealthy electronica and black-hearted country blues, its soundtrack honeycombed with orgasmic whimpers and vocoder vocals. Lynch, it transpires, sings lead on most of the tracks; spinning tales of sexual obsession and existential anomie in an acrid wheeze that is perversely endearing.
Crazy Clown Time shouldn’t work and yet somehow it does. In the days before the interview I listen to the CD again and again: first with trepidation, then with anxiety, and finally with a creeping kind of relief. Noah’s Ark is terrific: a spare and creepy “song of love.” I Know, meanwhile, unfurls as a compelling, organ-heavy psychodrama. Give it a few more listens and I may even grow to appreciate Strange and Unproductive Thinking, an epic, unabridged hymn to the joys of transcendental meditation. “Bliss,” Lynch sings. “Which is the 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.” Say what you like, you don’t get that on The X Factor reality TV show.
I ask what possessed him to sing the songs, and he chuckles in delight. “That sounds like a value judgment: ‘What the hell were you thinking, buddy?’” He pauses to consider. “It’s a bunch of stuff. You might get someone else, an actor, to play a role. But then there are some roles where you think: ‘I want to be that person. I want to go into that world’. So I wanted to try. I wanted to see whether I could nail it, assuming I could overcome a lot of fear and embarrassment and find a safe place to work from. But yes, there’s a lot of fear involved. It’s very fearful.”