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David Lynch & DonovanCatching the Big Fish
Is an evening in the company of Lego dragons, a nostalgic folk musician and David Lynch enough to make one take up transcendental meditation? Not quite, says Judith Evans.
By Judith Evans
Institute of Education, University of London, 24 October 2007
For many of us it’s simple: we are here to see our guru. He loves coffee and dwarves, and has an indescribable way with a sentimental soundtrack. He is brutal, romantic and famously opaque. His well-known reluctance to talk about his work has no deterrent effect on us, his fans, who whether we prefer the delight of ‘I am holding in my hand, Diane, a small box of chocolate bunnies’, the desperately tense darkness of Blue Velvet or the imposing murk of Inland Empire, have found new parts of our brains opened up by David Lynch.
This evening, however, he is here to talk about his own guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and the expensive and mysterious practice of transcendental meditation (TM). The Institute of Education, hosting the event, may have had their doubts about this. They begin the evening with a screening of several films by children, and an accompanying talk which places emphasis on the evening’s theme of ‘creativity’ among children (the David Lynch Foundation, which has put on the event with the Institute of Education, exists to promote TM in schools).
In the event, the frenetic Lego animations and lush pop videos the children have produced seem the perfect prelude to Mr Lynch. We’re ready to be charmed, and the films — produced at Parkside Community College in Cambridge — are not just technically impressive, but fresh and surprising. Perhaps the most entertaining are the two Lego films: a version of the story of St George and the Dragon, in which an amiable George and his purple female friend energetically attack a number of growling monsters, and a tiny magic show, enacted to a swing soundtrack, with Lego rabbits jerkily pulled from Lego hats.
Then on comes David Lynch’s sidekick, who he will later describe as ‘the great Bobby Roth’. With a permatan, a sharp suit and severe posture, the great Bobby could easily have walked from the set of Twin Peaks, and displaying the kind of huge smile English people don’t see every day, he introduces the master.
It’s purely a question and answer session. Hesitantly at first, people come down to queue for the microphones. Almost every single one is too star-struck to be coherent. But Mr Lynch is both amiable and precise. Crisp in his suit and his total self-assurance, he knows how to end a sentence.
One mentions the subject of smoking; about this, Mr Lynch is definite. ‘I have loved smoking since I was four years old,’ he explains, before politely and vehemently condemning the twenty-first-century attitude to smokers (who are ‘treated like animals’). Other questioners are desperate to tell him about their own work — the best of these being the world record holder for push-ups on one finger, who brings out the Guinness Book of Records complete with photo of himself for the great man’s approval.
But plenty of us oblige with questions about transcendental meditation. On this, Mr Lynch is both benevolent and gnomic. ‘It’s like a car,’ he explains. ‘It’s like a key…. It’s that field, it’s that field. Get wet with that!’
Asked whether other types of meditation can be useful, he says he wishes he could adopt an egalitarian approach to different forms of meditation, but that’s not possible: ‘I wish I could say there are many roads to Rome. But there may be a dirt track to Rome, a little winding road to Rome — and perhaps there’s a superhighway to Rome. That’s transcendental meditation.’
Questioned about the Upanishads and other spiritual works, he characterises these as among the array of ‘Vedic technologies’ available to the meditator. I notice a man a few rows away wearing a gold pyramid on his head, and wonder if this is another Vedic technology.
Meditation, it seems, is crucial to his creative process. Rather than subscribing to the myth of the artist as deluged by involuntary inspiration, or the converse ‘99% perspiration’ trope, he seems to see the creative process as one in which the artist is at once active and passive; he speaks of the desire to have ideas as ‘the bait on the hook’. Even the smallest action starts with an idea — right down to ‘having a cup of coffee’ — but ideas must be nurtured and refined into their final form, with a rigour which can involve rejecting elements you’d otherwise like to keep. (He characterises each idea as ‘a small red and purple fish’.) He mentions that The Trial and Crime and Punishment — the latter ‘beyond the beyond’ — are two of the books he might consider adapting, but cautions, ‘the idea has to come first’.
Someone asks about meditation as a way to overcome difficulties. Mr Lynch says that bad feeling becomes more difficult to ‘hold onto’ once you’ve started to meditate. ‘It’s ok to be melancholy as a way to get chicks,’ he explains. But real melancholy, real depression blocks the creative mind; it stops you from getting out of bed in the morning. A questioner points up the ‘darkness’ in his films — but for him, darkness is different from the blankness of mental illness: darkness is an important facet of how things are. At one point, pleasingly, he uses the phrase ‘peachy keen’.
David Lynch’s talk is followed by a short gig from Donovan, whom Mr Lynch hails as a great artist and fellow TM practitioner. But from the introductory video of Donovan in the sixties, to the songs — sung exactly as they were in the sixties — to the patter about hanging out with the Beatles in the sixties, to the air of embarrassing would-be mesmeric charm, which was probably enchanting back in the sixties, Donovan came across as someone who, unlike David Lynch, had lost his creative vision somewhere along the drug-addled way.
After this evening’s presentation, would I be prepared to spend the £1280 price of a transcendental meditation course? Considering the total lack of transparency about what you receive for this money, and the mixed advertisements we saw for it, I don’t think so. But the good news is that events like this — close encounters with the mind of David Lynch, in the name of TM — are currently free, if you can catch them. Cultishness and Donovan notwithstanding, I can hardly imagine better value. ‘You’ll become powerful, bright and shiny!’ promises the guru, and I almost consider signing up.