If ever David Lynch were to agree to something of a career-spanning tell-all book, he'd do so after seven decades of his "art life". For fans familiar only with his cryptic modes of expression, Room To Dream cuts through Lynch's professional and personal mystique to something more substantial.
From birth to present day, each chapter is divided into two parts. First, journalist Kristine McKenna maps a rich biography derived from extensive interviews she conducted with 90 people who were in Lynch's life, from long-lost friends and ex-wives to actors and agents. Lynch jumps in second: "I read what they say, and I basically tell them they remembered it wrong, and I tell them how it really was." This two-pronged approach creates an accurate timeline and intimate self-portrait, but it's what happens in the space between that's special: a man engaging not with his own mythology, but rather his own personhood.
McKenna and Lynch claim in the introduction that "nothing was declared off-limits" while writing the book. Perhaps that's true: this is the most thorough look at Lynch's life and work to date. Naturally, not everything here could be fresh: the syrupy 1950s childhood, complete with flashes of darkness which foreshadow the themes of his work, were recently explored in documentary David Lynch: The Art Life. Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks compiled everything there is to know about the cult show. And Lynch's book Catching The Big Fish outlined his thoughts on meditation. But one hugely dominating aspect of Lynch's life that hadn't yet been fleshed out until this point are the stories of the many women who have been a part of it.
You'd be naive to think a man who’s been married four times and writes films about the often deviant subconscious of sexuality didn't have a rich and fruity dating life. But Room to Dream reveals that rarely a moment has passed without Lynch being in a relationship of sorts, or maintaining overlapping ones and infidelities.
This began early in life. Of his main high school girlfriend, he writes: "I loved her so much… Was I faithful to her? No. I mean, I was and I wasn't. I was seeing some different girls and getting further with them because Judy was a Catholic."
The biography sections allow great loves, romantic flings and everyone in between to speak. Quotes possibly given offhand in interviews often sit sadly on the page. His first wife, Peggy Reavey, who'd been integral to his early work, spoke of married life during the Eraserhead shoot. On it, Lynch had an affair with Doreen Small. "I wasn't part of it anymore, and there were all these assistant-type girls around – there was no place for me," Reavey said.
Second wife Mary Fisk echoes this when talking of their marriage during the Dune shoot: "I went out there for the cast-and-crew party, and girls were all over him, and I remember thinking, 'This is weird.' But then I realised this was the way it was going to be."
Daughter Jennifer Lynch was 17 when she watched her father fall in love with Isabella Rossellini on the Blue Velvet set. She resists a characterisation of Lynch as any sort of lothario, and says his roving affection was never based in selfishness. From the warmth of the interviews, this feels very true. "When he loves you, you are the most loved, and he’s happy and giddy and he has ideas and gets creative and the whole thing is insanely romantic."
It's true that however heartbroken they may have been at the time that their relationships with Lynch failed, or when they were abandoned, all the women were – and in some ways remain – completely infatuated with him. "Something that’s been a constant throughout Lynch’s life is that he’s like catnip to women," McKenna summarises.
This makes for some colourful anecdotes – the amorous feelings of many of the Twin Peaks female cast, for one. In another glorious section, Lynch remembers kissing Elizabeth Taylor at the Oscars when he was nominated for Blue Velvet. "She’s sitting down and I’m standing, and there’s Elizabeth Taylor’s face right there, and I lean down and I see these violet eyes and this face, and I go down on these lips and I keep going down, her lips are miles deep."
As women historically have had to around great male artists, Lynch's women duly submit to the importance of his work and their role as a support giver. Again and again, the book tells of the stability and normality at home that nurtured him – something he'd become accustomed to during his childhood.
"David's work was the centre of our life," recalls first wife Reavey. "I had no doubt that he loved me, but he said, 'The work is the main thing and it has to come first.'" Lynch responds that he loved Reavey, but says they probably wouldn't have got married were she not pregnant, "because marriage doesn’t fit into the art life". Second wife Fisk said that he made it clear she wasn’t wanted on the set of The Elephant Man. What becomes apparent is a firm differentiation for him between his two lives: his "art" life and his home life – a concept admittedly muddied by the love affairs that blossomed while he was at work.
This was an unwavering attitude as life went on, that if anything solidified by his marriage to fourth wife, Emily Stofle. "There are kites and there are kite-holders, and she’s just happy to be the kite-holder and let her partner soar," comments Chrysta Bell, a guest at the couple's 2009 wedding.
"Before we had our daughter, David said, 'Why can't I be enough? Why do you have to have a baby?'" remembers Stofle. When she said she wanted one, he replied (her words): "Then I need you to know that I have to do my work and I don't want to be made to feel guilty."
There's an especially cheerless account from Stofle of Lynch moving out of their marital bedroom during the making of Twin Peaks: The Return in order to think. He admits at the end of the book that he wasn’t as good a dad as his dad was, who, though loving, was often absent, off living his own life, throughout Lynch's childhood.
Not merely a stabilising presence, women were vital to Lynch's vision. Comedian-producer Mel Brooks, a friend of Lynch's, offers: "He's all screwed up, too, of course, and he projects his own emotional and sexual turmoil into his work and assaults us with the feelings he’s being assaulted by."
It's likely that reviewers will pick up on one of Isabella Rossellini's memories – that Lynch laughed throughout the shooting of her rape scene in Blue Velvet ("I said, 'David, what is there to laugh at? Are we doing something ridiculous?' I still don't know why David was laughing!") – and attempt to spin meaning from it. Far more interesting are the occasions in which he fleshes out his obsession with broken and attractive women himself.
"It's hard to say exactly what it is about Marilyn Monroe, but the woman-in-trouble thing is part of it," Lynch muses. "It’s not just the woman-in-trouble thing that pulls you in, though. It’s more that some women are real mysterious." His interest in Marilyn Monroe extends to him saying that Laura Palmer could be read as Marilyn Monroe, and that Mulholland Drive is about Marilyn Monroe, too. What, he literally says, isn't about Marilyn Monroe?
David Lynch has this career because he has followed ideas without fear of failure – even when people don't agree, as they occasionally didn't, with his vision. "The thing is, you fall in love with ideas and it's like falling in love with a girl," he remarks at one point. "It could be a girl you wouldn’t want to take home to your parents, but you don’t care what anybody else thinks. You’re in love and it’s beautiful and you stay true to those things."
Palpably clear, here, that ideas and women have been the two great loves of his life.
‘Room to Dream’ is available from Canongate now.