When in Doubt Think about Ghosts

“When in doubt, think about ghosts.”

This is what director David Lynch told actor Russ Tamblyn while shooting a key scene for the original Twin Peaks in an attempt to get the right reaction. And it worked. I vividly recalled that scene, and man, Russ Tamblyn was all kinds of spooky looking, obviously thinking about ghosts.

It’s these great little tidbits that make Room to Dream such an enjoyable, and often weird, read for fans of surrealist extraordinaire David Lynch – a man who seems like he must have had a tragic, horrible upbringing to be able to tap into such pain and darkness, yet seemingly didn’t (by any account, his or another). Here is a man who had a Norman Rockwell upbringing only to obsess over the seamy underbelly of the white picket fence world he both loved and railed against.

The semi-autobiography has alternating mirrored chapters (it is eerily its own doppelgänger) about the same events  – one from the point of view of David Lynch’s friends, family, and colleagues and then one from his point of view. It is long and rambling and very detailed. Though none of the back-stories on the productions of his films were previously unknown to me, someone who has studied and read about Lynch for decades, I especially enjoyed those walks down memory lane to Philadelphia and the Eraserhead days. The meat of the book is in those delicious little tidbits and the altered views of what happened…Lynch sometimes disagrees with (or doesn’t remember) what the others say happened.

One of the best lines is during Blue Velvet post-production when Lynch talks about his then three-year sold son Austin coming to visit him in Berkeley and he wonders years later in his quizzical aww-shucks kinda way, “How the hell did he get there?” Likely a common utterance of his fans wondering about the protagonists in his films.

Meanwhile the reader knows from the mirror chapter before it that his soon to be ex-wife Mary Fisk (Austin’s Mom) had done everything in her power to make sure Austin got to be with his Dad as much as possible inspite of his Dad’s insane travel and work schedule. Of course it was Mary who got Austin there, and Lynch was clueless about it all. The logistics of things often don’t matter to Lynch, he relies on others for that, but the important thing was he got to be with his son, and he remembers that fondly and with an air of mystery.

Thus the “How the hell did he get there?” becomes, like so much of what Lynch says in the book or does in his art and life, both funny and sad.

Early in the book Lynch in breezy confidence says he’s had hundreds of girlfriends since he was in kindergarten and every single one of them was fantastic. He has an unbridled enthusiasm about love and the women in his life and never has anything negative to say…but all of them, except his current paramour, were moved aside for the next one. He only settles down for a certain period before someone else comes along to alter his path. He’s the same way with his art and the mediums he uses…be it painting, photography, music, film, television, the internet, Transcendental Meditation, or whatever captures his imagination and he falls in love with…for awhile. Yet he still loves them all. His moving on, their moving on, doesn’t detract from the art (or children) they created together.

Clearly woven throughout the book are Lynch’s enthusiasm for life, his humor, his darkness, his sense of the uncanny…and as singular as he is, it’s also clear he wouldn’t have succeeded had it not been for all those he charmed with his talent and personality into piecing together all those puzzle pieces that need to fit in order for an artist to succeed (the funding, the planning, the networking, the accounting, his daily meals, his coffee, his rooms to smoke in, etc…etc….)

Strangely then David Lynch is both one man, and a sea of individuals riding his wavelength, and Kristine McKenna captures that beautifully. Perhaps we then, his audience, are his/their doppelgänger?

Here’s to wonderful, scary, beautiful dreams together.

Written by D. H. Schleicher

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