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David Lynch Dreams Up 'Crazy Clown Time'

David Lynch.
Mark Berry
David Lynch.

David Lynch commences Crazy Clown Time with "Pinky's Dream," featuring a vocal by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O and summoning up, as the song title suggests, a dreamy atmosphere. With Karen O's pretty voice and the galloping rock beat, it's as though Lynch is trying to ease us into his album, ushering us into a welcoming waiting room before the real operation, when the scalpel comes out.

David Lynch's voice rises up from the mist created by his own guitar and the drums and bass of engineer Dean Hurley in "So Glad." It's the voice of a man who's talking to his wife, who's gone. Where? Who knows? Maybe the narrator does, but he's not telling. What he is telling us is that he's so glad the "ball and chain" is gone, that he feels "free" in his house, in his truck, on the street. "Please don't come back," he sings. Even if there's a suggestion that this guy may be a lot more upset than he's letting on — that maybe she left him, glad to get away from this unhappy man — the song also carries one of the themes of Crazy Clown Time: that isolation can bring freedom. A freedom of happiness, or a freedom to pursue more morose obsessions.

There's a song on the album — "Football Game" — that is, yes, dark, bleak, a muffled blues moan in the dead of a black night. But what an exhilarating groan it is. Throughout Crazy Clown Time, Lynch taps into a rock 'n' roll version of the blues, bending reverberating notes on his guitar. He's said that some of his inspirations here include Elvis Presley, The Platters, The Fleetwoods and The Everly Brothers. He said to The New York Times, "It just drives me crazy just to say the names." And so, at other times, that craziness is inserted into the mouth of a character who can barely contain it.


In the song "Crazy Clown Time," Lynch tries out various voices, partly to disguise the lack of a conventional singing voice, but more to inhabit a variety of personalities. In the case of "Crazy Clown Time," Lynch sings in a high, querulous tone, the sound of a man telling you about a vivid, hallucinatory, low-down tableau he witnessed: a bunch of crazies downing beers, jumping around "so high," and one girl, Susie, stripping off her shirt, a vision emblazoned on the thrilled narrator's mind. The music may seem ominous, but it's not his nightmare — it's in every sense his dream. It's the story of a lonely man's pleasure, as is "These Are My Friends." It's almost like an eccentric's version of a William Carlos Williams poem, a list of simple things: a table painted red, a bed, a truck, a stove. The pay-off: Oh, he's also got a "prescription," "to keep the hounds at bay." You get the feeling Robert Johnson is holding the leash on the hounds.

In his liner notes, Lynch asserts that another song, "Good Day Today," is about "being sick of negativity." I do think that Lynch — cheerfully productive, a dedicated student of Transcendental Meditation — is an artist for whom the creation of art is a way of holding negativity at bay, even if the roiling undercurrents of his work frequently grapple with emotions and situations most of us would consider negative. If not outright upsetting or weird. Ah, but the creation of them — that's where his pleasure comes from. And, if you get on his wavelength, your pleasure as well.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.