BOOK REVIEW: “Room to Dream” by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna

BOOK REVIEW: Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (Random House) 2018

As it turned out, reading Room to Dream, the just-released bio/personal memoir of director/artist David Lynch, while on a trip to the beach made a lot of sense. No mindless fiction for me. No sir! This oddball overview of Lynch’s life – with writer Kristine McKenna providing the “biography” chapters to Lynch’s oral/written memories of his remarkable existence on this earthly plane – was just what I needed, sitting there in my chair, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, wondering what it all means …

After all, once I watched Twin Peaks back in 1990, as a high-school senior, Lynch’s vision (like Stanley Kubrick’s) broke my mind. This was not TV. This was fucking art!

My good friends Carter and David (both victims of gun violence later in life) were rabid Lynch fans as well and we pored over his films, including Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and the then-just-released Wild at Heart.

Lynch (and, frankly, Mark Frost, co-creator of Twin Peaks) spoke to me on a deeper level. On a level that St. Elsewhere, thirtysomething, and even Northern Exposure could not reach. This was real, somewhere on a spiritual level that many of us are afraid to acknowledge and/or explore.

But it would be too much, too soon. Lynch was in his early 40’s and was still heavily involved in his art, be it film, TV, drawing, creating, whatever. He is like a whirlwind of activity and ideas, something he attributes to his longtime embrace of Transcendental Meditation. In fact, outside of the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and The Beatles, Lynch (and maybe Jerry Seinfeld) are the most well-known practitioners of TM, with Lynch even having a foundation named after him that helps bring TM to at-risk populations, helping them deal with stress, while healing them at the same time.

But what of Room to Dream? Well, it takes readers who are familiar with Lynch and his work into familiar territory. His pastoral beginnings, born to two loving parents in Missoula, Montana back in January 1946.

The strong sense of forthright and upstanding behavior instilled by Lynch’s father Donald Lynch, a U.S. Forest Service employee, along with doing everything well, regardless of what it was. Lynch took these characteristics to heart when it came to his creative passions over the course of his life.

Lynch’s formative years, in a golly-gee-whiz, Truman/Ike-led America clearly made an impression on the young man, with Lynch writing: “That fifties small-town thing, it’s different, and to catch that mood is important. It’s dreamy, that’s what it is. The fifties mood isn’t completely positive, thought, and I always knew there was stuff going on.”

David Lynch (right) on the set of Twin Peaks: The Return in 2016 (Michael Barile / Showtime)

And so with many of his TV and cinematic endeavors, Twin Peaks in particular, Lynch has incorporated a sense of being in-and-out of time, when telling his stories. While the events in the original Twin Peaks are set in 1989, the town of Twin Peaks, Washington seems left behind, somewhere in the Eisenhower era, in a strange bubble of its own be it in Missoula, Boise, Idaho, or in suburban D.C. But it was in the grand forests of the American West that gave young David room to dream.

And it has been Lynch’s dreams that have led him to be one of the leading auteurs in the world, starting with the aforementioned Eraserhead, which took half-a-dozen years to complete, through The Elephant Man, Dune, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway, The Straight Story, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire and last year’s 18-episode Twin Peaks: The Return.

Much like Lynch himself. In his early years, he took up a certain “style” and stuck with it, saying that during his high school years in Alexandria, Virginia, “I dress the same way no that I dressed then, and I wasn’t aware in high school that I had my own style. I got my clothes at Penney’s. I loved khaki pants and I liked warning a coat and tie – it was just something I felt comfortable with.”

In a way, Lynch is admitting to having one foot in the past – his past – and one in the present, or is that the future? With Lynch, it’s hard to say. And that’s the thing. I have read plenty about Lynch and his life over the years, but there is a lot that remains mysterious and unknown, and he admits he likes to keep it that way.

We learn about the industrial nature of Philadelphia and its impact on Lynch’s work in Eraserhead. While in England filming The Elephant Man, Lynch takes in the decaying factories of northern England, sighing that they would soon be gone. There are the many women in Lynch’s life, and info about his children, including his daughter Jennifer, his oldest, who followed her father’s creative footsteps, more or less.

The 1970’s proves to be a decade of great cinematic education for Lynch. His time spent in Los Angeles is key and meeting all the “right” people along his life path make a world of difference from the quirky man from the Pacific Northwest. 

Lynch takes the immense failure Dune (1984) as a learning experience (admitting he was “sick and devastated”, noting that it gave him time to lay low, go to North Carolina and film Blue Velvet (1986), allowing him to stay true to his creative vision. And that “vision” caught the attention of many in Hollywood (including Mel Brooks and Dino DeLaurentiis, among many others) who appreciate the things Lynch is trying to say in his films.

And his collaboration with Mark Frost on Twin Peaks in the late 1980’s (originally called Northwest Passage) would lead to the TV phenomenon where his on-screen, acting doppelganger Kyle MacLachlan led us on a mysterious and dark trip into the underbelly of rural, small-town life, where not all is as it seems. And the character of Laura Palmer, played by actress Sheryl Lee, becomes the key figure in a tale that crosses time and space – literally – when all is said and done. Or is it? Shall we wait another quarter-century for more answers?

And while I enjoyed the portions about the creative process (and how hands-on Lynch is when it comes to detail and his collaboration with musicians like Angelo Badalamenti, the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Chrysta Bell, Julee Cruise, etc.) and the stories behind the films and the memories from the writers, actors, ex-wives, and so forth, I am most drawn to Lynch’s spiritual outlook, which is most visible in the Twin Peaks series/film. A mixture of Eastern philosophy, Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism and the Transcendental Meditation he has long rallied behind, and his deep admiration of Maharishi, seeing that side of Lynch come into play on screen is most appealing.

Any chance Lynch gets to talk about TM and Maharishi, he is there. And thanks to the success of the David Lynch Foundation, the word is spreading fast about the positive aspects of TM and how it is changing lives.

In Lynch’s words: “After Maharishi’s teacher, Guru Dev, dropped his body in 1953, Maharishi built a little house next to the Ganges in Uttarkashi, the Valley of Saints, where he pretty much stayed in meditation and silence for two years. After that he began traveling and teaching this technique, Transcendental Meditation, and everywhere he went he was met by people who wanted to help. Everywhere he went he set something up before he left, too, and he stayed in touch with these meditation centers that were springing up and built a worldwide movement to teach this technique. Maharishi’s two missions were enlightenment for the people and peace on earth, and before he dropped his body he said it’s all in place, it’s done. It’s like the train has left the station and it’s on its way. Peace on earth is coming. It’s just a question of how long before the train arrives. It’s all meant to be, and it’s happening now because the time demands it.

And knowing Lynch (who would participate in a spiritual ritual in the Ganges in India after Maharishi dropped his body), he demands more of all of us. The audience. Those who are bewitched by his puzzling-but-fascinating take on life and death and what may lie beyond. At the core, David Lynch, while he does not claim a particular creed or religion, is truly a spiritual person. Watch The Straight Story (which was filmed in Iowa, where the Maharishi University of Management is located in Fairfield) and try and not conclude that Lynch is showing a bit of his soul and depth in this simple-but-beautiful story.

Sure, there is a lot of pain and violence in Lynch’s films. But there is great beauty and stories that have a realism that is couched by a surreal dreaminess that keeps things in this realm and that of the great beyond. That’s what makes David Lynch so special and so unique. He can show us two worlds at once and while it may not make sense, initially, it touches the viewer on a deeper level. And that makes all the difference.

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