Keeping your hair on
The peace, bliss and abundance of creative energy David Lynch now possesses are a world away from the anxiety, fear and anger he once held on to. Barry Egan hears how transcendental meditation has helped the movie guru direct himself away from the grislier fates met by his fictional film characters
The czar of bizarre, David Lynch, has an unapologetic otherness. "My original image was of a man's head bouncing on the ground, being picked up by a boy and taken to a pencil facotory. I don't know where it came from," he once said of Eraserhead, the 1977 movie that first brought him to the attention of the world.
It is similarly difficult to work out just where David Lynch came from. Officially, he was born on January 20, 1946, in Missoula, Montana, the son of a research scientist for the Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest who was brought up Presbyterian. You couldn't be so sure watching any of his movies, however.
In 1980, Mel Brooks, who was executive producer on The Elephant Man, and gainfully employed Lynch to direct the classic movie, described Lynch, not inaccurately, as "Jimmy Stewart from Mars." Lynch's work on that movie earned him two Academy Award nominations: Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Without him -- and his cosmic, nay Martian, detective movies like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart -- directors such as Jane Campion, Quentin Tarantino, Gus Van Sant, Tim Burton, the Coen brothers, Jim Jarmusch, perhaps wouldn't have had the artistic permission to do what they do. (Just as Bunuel, Couteau, Kubrick and artists like Francis Bacon did the same for Lynch, presumably.) Even Woody Allen, whose film Hannah and Her Sisters was nominated for Best Picture, said the best picture of 1986 was Blue Velvet.
I doubt there is another person walking the planet right now as bizarrely unique as Mr Lynch. And I'm not just talking about his gravity-defying hairdo which makes him look like Jimmy Stewart having had a row with a bottle of industrial-strength hair gel."My hair does this somewhat naturally," he says, with a beatific smile, "but I am not real happy with this last haircut. So I have been using some hair spray."
What about the ozone layer?
"That's Al Gore's thing," he jokes.
It is slightly surreal how normal and implacably straight he comes across when you first meet him. When he talks as he does in that mannered accent -- complete with a smile that is on full blast the whole time a la Bill Clinton -- it is easy to forget that this is the award-winning movie maker who created Frank Booth, the joyriding, Roy Orbison-quoting psychopath in Blue Velvet, who can only reach an orgasm with an oxygen mask strapped over his face.
Or that in Eraserhead, the chickens start to spout blood. Or in Twin Peaks when Special Agent Cooper realises who homecoming queen Laura Palmer's murderer is in a dream and then promptly forgets the name the next morning. Or. . . Listen, I could type until my fingers started to spout blood, giving you examples of Lynchian weirdness. But as the New York Times once headlined an interview with the director: "In a Weird Way, David Lynch Makes Sense".
He is here in Dublin as a guest of "Maharishi International University" (MIU Ireland) to give a talk on transcendental meditation (TM) at Edmund Burke Theatre, Arts building, Trinity College. In the front row, later that evening, you had Lainey Keogh, Alison Doody and behind them Harry Crosbie and wife Rita.
"Anyone who listened to him was inspired by his vision for a better society. We hope to see him back in Ireland soon," Noel O'Neill, the TM guru from Monkstown, told me after the talk.
His hope, through the David Lynch Foundation, is to bring stress-reducing meditation to at-risk children and teenagers around the world. "Negativity is like darkness," he says in La Stampa, "it goes away when you turn on this light of peace and unity. Bliss is our nature. Bliss."
He smiles so broadly when he says the word "bliss" that it would be rude not to smile broadly back, or at least try to.
I should reveal here now that recently I took up TM -- through Jack Lyons in Rathmines -- and it was Noel O'Neill who very kindly set up this exclusive interview with Lynch in Dublin. So I do have something of a vested interest in talking to David Lynch, who has been transcendentally meditating since 1972. His vocabulary is chocker with phrases like "bliss that includes unbounded, infinite intelligence, creativity, consciousness" and words like "light," "peace" and "bliss." If you didn't know better, or if you hadn't seen Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway or new movie Inland Empire, you would think Lynch and his TM buddy Donovan (who sang at Trinity later that night and is sitting on the hotel sofa with him) were two old hippies cryogenically frozen from the Sixties and defrosted right here in the suite at La Stampa.
"Transcendental Meditation is like a field of pure creativity," he says. "Ideas come from there, creativity comes from there. All these anxieties and fears and things that just kill us, all of those start going away. It becomes like a fluid, pure, open channel of ideas."
And just when you think he needs to draw breath, he continues: "Pure vibrant consciousness, bliss, intelligence, creativity, love, power, energy -- all are there within. At the base of mind, the base of matter, is this field. And it's there. Modern science has just discovered the unified field by going deeper and deeper and deeper into matter. And there it was: a field of oneness, unity."
As you are about to pass out with the bliss coming off Mr Lynch, there is yet more: "Any human being can go dive within through subtle levels of mind and intellect, transcend and experience this field," he says. "When you experience this deepest field, it's a beautiful experience, and experiencing it enlivens it and you grow in consciousness.
"You grow in creativity and intelligence. And the side effect is that negativity starts to recede. Things like hate, anger and depression, sorrow, anxieties -- these things start to recede and you live life in more freedom, [with] more flow of ideas, more appreciation and understanding of everything."
He says he had gone to see a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression. "I wasn't so depressed that I couldn't work, but I had plenty of anxieties and fears and anger." He quit the shrink and left the teachings of Sigmund Freud for those of your man, Maharishi. "The heavyweight negativity started to lift."
His anger lifted away. "I knew I had this anger, and I'd take it out on my first wife. Two weeks after I started meditating, she came to me and said, 'What's going on?' And I said, 'What are you talking about?' And she said, 'This anger --where did it go?' And I honestly didn't know that it had lifted. But she knew it had lifted. It just went away. I had anxieties and fears and this anger, and those negative things started lifting. And I started enjoying life."
YOU don't get angry? "It doesn't mean you can't get angry," he explains. "You just can't hold on to it. You can get sad -- you just can't hold on to it.
"When I heard my mantra, when it was given to me, my first meditation was --I cannot describe how -- I say in my talks, 'You're in an elevator and they snipped the cables and just, Boom!' You go so deep in bliss and it's so profoundly beautiful and I just said, 'Man, everybody should have this experience. Everybody. It's unbelievable!'"
I wondered whether sicko scumbag Frank Booth (played with chilling credibility by Dennis Hopper) might have been different had he meditated instead of sexually and psychologically terrorising Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet (Lynch had a long relationship with Rossellini.)
"Frank is a beautiful soul with a beautiful soul," David smiles. "With TM, his inner happiness would grow. His anger would go."
Would his sex-toy oxygen mask go too? "From time to time, he would look at the mask and laugh happily about it. He wouldn't need it any more. He wouldn't torment people. He would love them. And a joyride would really be a joyride. He would take Jeffrey out sometimes for a hamburger."
Is it true that Dennis Hopper rang you and said, 'You have to give me the role of Frank Booth because I am Frank Booth'?
"That's very true. There was a happiness on one side and a big fear on another. And what Dennis said was true," he adds, by way of explanation. "Dennis had to have been through experiences on the dark side to have owned that character. When Dennis called me and said that to me, he had been clean and sober for about a year-and-a-half, and had already made another film clean and sober, but he had held all that he had learned from his suffering. He could bring that now in a very strong way to characters without screwing everything up. He is a great, great guy."
I ask Donovan to describe Mr Lynch. "He is a painter who wanted to see the painting move. He is a renaissance man dabbling in many different acts -- and presenting extreme human conditions in a very compassionate way, not in an arbitrary way of showing the suffering as a mindless thing, but making the audience look at it in a certain way. He is a celebrated master of his art but a beautiful loving soul."
A beautiful -- and beautifully weird -- soul who has a sense of humour as gargantuan as his movies, it transpires. And he has the coolest laugh on the planet. "All relationships have to improve," he says. "Stress and anxiety and anger and all that kind of stuff starts dissolving -- relationships are affected by that. You can still get divorced. I have been divorced three times," he laughs, before steadying himself for the Groucho Marx-like punchline.
"But they are happier divorces!" Cue more laughter.
What's a happy divorce?
"Just understanding that we're moving on but not a lot of hate and anger, a mess. I always say, 'Maybe the events of our lives will be the same but how you go through those events will change for sure.'"
TM is taught in Ireland through an organisation called "Maharishi International University" (MIU Ireland). To contact MIU, ring 051 855950 or log on to www.tm-ireland.org to find centres where TM is taught