Q&A: David Lynch on Enlightenment, ZZ Top and 'Yeezus'

The 'Blue Velvet' director and self-described 'bliss ninny' talks meditation and music

David Lynch
Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage
David Lynch
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David Lynch knows exactly when he started transcendental meditation: "On July 1st, 1973, at about 11 am." Although Lynch is most famous as a director of delightfully twisted movies from Eraserhead to Inland Empire, he is also a painter, an actor (most recently on Louie), a coffee seller, and the founder of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. The foundation is dedicated to spreading transcendental meditation (the practice developed by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who famously taught it to the Beatles)—particularly to groups at risk, such as the homeless, prisoners, and military veterans. 

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This year, the David Lynch Foundation is increasing its public profile with a pair of musical tributes: they've already honored Ringo Starr with the "Lifetime of Peace and Love Award," and on February 27th will present producer Rick Rubin with the "Lifetime of Harmony Award." Lynch took some time away from work on his next project ("an experimental film for [shoemaker] Christian Louboutin") to talk  with us about music and meditation.

Which way do your musical tastes run?
I love the blues. And I love rhythm and blues, and Elvis Presley taking off from those two things. And I like rockabilly, and I like the Beatles—my favorite Beatles song is "Across the Universe."  I like Jimi Hendrix and I like Bob Dylan. ZZ Top is one of my all-time favorite bands. When I first heard them, I said, "These people have got the power. And the roots are there." But they just kick butt.

What's your favorite ZZ Top song?
"Sharp Dressed Man."

Your movies have some striking sequences involving music, from "In Dreams" in Blue Velvet to Club Silencio in Mulholland Dr. Do you conceive the visuals first or do you have a piece of music in mind?
It depends. Sometimes music kicks off a whole idea. In the case of Club Silencio, that was Rebekah Del Rio who sang Roy Orbison's "Cryin'," a Spanish version. She came in to meet me, but she went into the booth, and John the engineer recorded her. It went into the film and it sparked the whole thing. A lot of times for me, ideas come in fragments. The sequence was written, but without her part. I had a lot of the fragments, but she finished off the puzzle.

Can you think of a time when music took you someplace that you didn't expect to be?
I was in a car--a beautiful black Mercedes, big, brand new—in Germany, in a snowstorm. The snowflakes were as big as silver dollars, it seemed like. I was alone in this car, waiting for some people who had gone into a building. And on the radio came this song by Richard Strauss—I think it was the first one of "Four Last Songs." The Mercedes had a great sound system, I turned this thing up, and it reduced me to tears. It ended up in Wild at Heart. You never know when the thing's going to come along that will make you fall in love.

You went onstage at the end of the Ringo event. You were trying to lead guitarist Steve Lukather through a piece of music and you were asking him to play one chord instead of many….
Steve worked on my film Dune; [his band] Toto did a lot of the music in the film. So I've known Lukather for a long time. I sprung this on him on the eleventh hour. Poor guy, he didn't know what I wanted. 

To what extent do you value simplicity in music?
Oh, I love a minimal thing. Kanye West worked with Rick Rubin [on Yeezus], and that got super-minimal, but super-strong. A minimal thing, it doesn't hurt the mind, and the mind can soar. When there's lots and lots of things around, it disturbs me.

Do you think of your movies as being minimal?
Some parts are minimal, and some parts aren't.

What aspect of the Foundation are you proudest of?
Well, all of it. Transcendental meditation is for human beings, and it transforms life for the good, no matter who you are or what your situation is. For instance, everybody knows education is pretty bad shape these days. There's lots of problems, even in the so-called "good" schools. Stress is hitting kids at a younger and younger age, and there's bullying, there's fights, there's legal and illegal drugs, there's bad relationships, bad grades, nobody likes to learn, there's teacher burnout, and it's kind of a mess. People have tried many things to help, but in my opinion, lots of these good things are surface cures--they don't address the torment inside the student, or the teacher, or the principal. When they get this transcendental meditation, it's a mental techique that allows them to dive deep within to the deepest level of life, which underlies all matter and mind. At the border of intellect, you transcend and experience that unbounded level of life: all positive, pure consciousness with qualities of intelligence, creativity, happiness, love, energy, and peace. I like to say gold flows in and garbage goes out. 

There's a school that's the flagship school: it's Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco. There was tremendous violence, shootings in the neighborhood, very bad grades, lots and lots of traumatic stress. They tried many many different things. Jim Dierke, the [now-retired] principal, looking into transcendental meditation, said, "Let's try this." He had to fight for it. But little by little by little, the whole student body learned, the teachers learned, the staff learned, and the principal learned. And within one year, the school was 180 degrees turned around. The fighting stopped, the relationships improved, students got happy, the teachers started loving to teach again, and the principal was just jumping up and down. Jim Dierke is just a bliss ninny, he's so happy.

Would you characterize yourself as a bliss ninny?
Sort of. I'm a happy camper, and everything is relative. I'm not supremely enlightened, that's for sure. But I for sure have found way more happiness in the work, and the world looks better every day, even though it's a world filled with incredible problems. 

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