radio vulture

David Lynch, Seminal Musician

Rock star.

If I told you I’ve spent this week obsessing over David Lynch’s new electro-pop single, “Good Day Today,” you might be forgiven for guessing it’s some kind of novelty or absurdity or vanity project. (An oddball 64-year-old film director with an electro-pop tune? On which he sings? In a processed, vocoderish voice?) Maybe that’s a little true; I’m not sure how much attention this track would be getting if someone you’d never heard of had made it. But it’s not exactly a novelty. Here’s the thing: I would like to submit to you that David Lynch has had a music career that’s nearly as interesting as his directorial one — or that his general weird “Lynchian” aesthetic has had as profound an influence on recorded music as plenty of beloved bands and producers. Or something like that. Let’s not get too bogged down in the exact terms: Point is, Lynch gets our attention for a two-track single because the guy is more or less a music legend.

The core of that reputation is probably the music he wrote and produced with Angelo Badalamenti for the TV show Twin Peaks. (It even won a Grammy!) The music on that soundtrack ties together exactly as many strange moods as the show itself did, all the different elements that somehow combine to create something “Lynchian” — dreamy tenderness, lurking dread, fifties greaser cool, soap-opera sentimentality so over-the-top that it starts to feel slightly grotesque. I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that the soundtrack is a pretty crucial document, the kind of thing you might put on a list of the eighties’ best albums. Especially if you combined it with Floating Into the Night, the album Lynch and Badalamenti made with Twin Peaks vocalist Julee Cruise — and “Mysteries of Love,” the song Cruise sang for Blue Velvet, a track the late David Foster Wallace once suggested had “acquired an underground reputation as one of the great make-out tunes of all time” (at least if you were in grad school for the arts in the later eighties) … we could go on.

Lynch and Badalamenti have staged “industrial symphonies.” Lynch has an ear for mood and music that lets the soundtrack for Lost Highway make aesthetic connections between free jazz, Rammstein, and This Mortal Coil. And you can track this stuff’s influence through massive amounts of pop music: For instance, the fact that anyone’s heard of Moby has a lot to do with a single called “Go,” which was built around a sample from Twin Peaks’s ominous love theme. “In Heaven,” a song from Lynch’s Eraserhead, has been covered by the Pixies, Bauhaus, and Devo. This is just scratching the surface, and not counting the basically countless musicians who have ever sat around stoned watching something of Lynch’s, tried to work the mood into a song, and maybe thrown in a few lines about owls for good measure.

All of which is how Lynch can wind up heavily involved in music projects like Mark Linkous and Danger Mouse’s Dark Night of the Soul, and why, when he feels like sitting down and making some electro-pop tracks, a niche label is happy to release them — and Vaughn Oliver, one of the three or four cover artists music geeks actually know by name, is happy to do the design.

And also, perhaps, why I’ve been obsessing over “Good Day Today.” The song is very straightforward: mostly just a sedate, pulsing synth and a simple lyric. There’s totally something Lynchian about it, though, and I’m pretty sure it’s just the strangeness of hearing the director’s high-Midwestern accent squeaking through electronic processing — the blurry robot voice of a guy who actually sounds like he prefers his coffee to come from Bob’s Big Boy. The flip side, “I Know,” does the kind of moody roadhouse rock that’s always been in Lynch’s wheelhouse (it’s very Lost Highway/Fire Walk With Me), but we’ll have to wait for January to get the full release, complete with remixes. And I’m going to take a wild guess that some very good producers have been more than happy to hop on that package and flesh out Lynch’s sound.

David Lynch, Seminal Musician