Decaying buildings, a painting of a beheaded duck, and the music of Kanye West: For 90 minutes on Tuesday night, David Lynch listed the things he thought were beautiful during a special program, “David Lynch in Conversation,” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The eccentric director and transcendental-meditation enthusiast managed to do this despite an obliquely intellectual line of questioning from Paul Holdengräber, the director of LIVE from the New York Public Library, who read lengthy quotations from Spanish auteur/provocateur Luis Buñuel and experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage before asking for Lynch’s responses to them. (He agreed most of the time.)
But nevertheless, the moviemaker and musician – who has made showing the dark undergut of Anytown U.S.A. his calling card in works like Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks – told a number of hilarious stories that revealed a few new things about himself. Despite giving several answers in his matter-of-fact Midwestern patois, which was often funny just in its bluntness, Lynch gave Holdengräber a number of amusing anecdotes and revelations about himself. Here are 12 things we learned.
David Lynch is afraid of the New York City subway.
“I got a tremendous fear coming here in the Fifties,” he said. “Just going down in the subway filled me with fear. Even today, smelling in the subway fills me with that fear. The feeling in the air – it wasn’t so much what I saw – but [it was] the feeling of fear. Many things could go wrong at any minute.”
The City of Brotherly Love inspired Blue Velvet character Jeffrey Beamont’s catchphrase “It’s a strange world.”
“I think the city of Philadelphia exemplifies that,” he said to a room full of laughs. “In Philadelphia, there are row houses and big buildings, and these buildings were covered with soot, and the row houses were covered with soot. The architecture was very interesting to me. The rooms in a lot of these places were a certain kind of green, and I kind of fell in love with this green. And there was tremendous fear in the air. There was corruption in the city. There was filth. There was a kind of insanity, and there was not a lot of ‘brotherly love.’ And it affected me and inspired me somehow. I got a lot of ideas from Philadelphia.”
He loves factories.
“I love smoke,” he said of why he loved old industrial buildings. “I love fire. I love metal. I love glass. I love plaster. I love bricks. And I love nature going to work on those things. In the old days, in the 1800s, they started building the most beautiful factories that were like cathedrals. I’ve visited many of these factories and photographed them. For me, it’s like walking into a dream – a dream of textures, shapes and mood…. The factories, more often than not, today are very boring.”
He has a simple rider for public appearances.
While describing why he visits a film festival in Poland that celebrates directors of photography annually, he explained the deal he worked out with its organizers. “I said, ‘Do you have factories there?'” Lynch said. “They said they did. I said, ‘Do you think it would be possible for you to get me into some of these factories so I can photograph them. And do you think you can get me nude women at night?” The audience laughed. Holdengräber asked if Lynch ever combined those requests and photographed nude women in the factories. “No, not in the factories,” the director matter-of-factly replied .
He likes light bulbs and one kind in particular.
“I like Christmas tree bulbs,” he said while describing a painting.
He once went dumpster diving at Bob’s Big Boy.
“I went there for about seven years off and on, and I would go at 2:30 in the afternoon,” Lynch said. “The reason I went at 2:30 was because I would have a chocolate shake and lots of cups of coffee. And the chocolate shake, if it was during lunchtime, they ran so many they were never solid. These were silver-goblet shakes – they were supposed to be very solid – but the machine couldn’t do them fast enough and they were runny. So at 2:30, I figured it had time after lunch to cool down. I only had three perfect shakes. After seven years, I went in the back of Bob’s and climbed into a dumpster and got a carton of the mix that they use to make the shakes. And I read the ingredients, and there was no word that didn’t end in ‘-ate’ or ‘-zine.’ I stopped drinking those.”
He likes diners.
“There’s a beautiful thing about a diner,” he said. “Your mind can go into dark places, but you can always return to the warmth and comfort of a well-lit diner. It’s a nice place to think.”
He likes sugar.
“It’s granulated happiness,” he said.
He likes spying on people.
“I think everybody’s a voyeur,” Lynch said. “And looking into windows is something so fantastic. It’s like cinema, and a glimpse into another world, other lives. So beautiful.”
He told the story behind the “Lady in the Radiator” in Eraserhead.
“The script had been written and I always say something isn’t finished ’til it’s finished,” he recalled. “I was in the food room, which was across the hall from [Jack Nance’s character] Henry’s room. And I did a drawing of a little lady, and I thought, ‘This lady lives in a radiator.’ And I thought, ‘This lady lives in a radiator in this film.’ I bought a radiator. I couldn’t picture it in my mind. I ran into Henry’s room and I looked at this radiator and, unlike any other radiator I’ve ever seen, it had a place – like a theater – for her to live in. True story.”
He admires Jimi Hendrix.
“He may be the best guitar player,” he said after listening to a snippet of “Little Wing.” “And I’ve seen the film of Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop, and that’s when, I guess, a lot of people first saw him. And he and the guitar are one, absolutely one. I love Jimi Hendrix, but later on, like everybody else, I came to appreciate him more and more and more, and what he can get out of the guitar. So he took it to another place that all the guitar players – the great ones – they say he took it to another place. Fantastic.”
And he admires Kanye West.
“I love ‘Blood on the Leaves,'” Lynch said of a Yeezus track. “I just think it’s one of the most modern pieces and so minimal, so powerful but at the same time so beautiful. It’s a great, great song.”