Upstairs at the Square host Katherine Lanpher puts authors and musicians on stage together at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. The result is an unique, unpredictable hybrid of interview, reading, and performance.
January’s installment featured surrealist filmmaker David Lynch, and indie synthpop group Au Revoir Simone. I’ve been a big fan of Lynch’s film and TV projects since watching Twin Peaks during its original run — but he wasn’t appearing at this event to plug his new movie. Instead he was there as the author of Catching the Big Fish, a short book about his creative process and his longtime practice of Transcendental Meditation.
Au Revoir Simone performed a few songs and briefly answered questions from Lanpher. But Lynch was the focus of the evening. His newly revealed zeal for Transcendental Meditation is a bit unexpected, but there have long been hints of mystical preoccupations in his work. (Visions beyond time and space played a key role in Dune, and Twin Peaks’ Agent Cooper had supernatural dreams, studied Tibetan Buddhism, and traveled between dimensions.)
Over the years, critics of TM have called it cult-like, attacked some of its more grandiose claims, and questioned its $2500 initiation fee. (Other groups charge far less to teach similar techniques.) Lanpher didn’t get into this, instead letting Lynch expound his basic worldview: that the world is defined by consciousness, and that we have to expand our consciousness if we want to “catch the big fish.” Said fish might be artistic or personal goals, or larger aims like global peace.
A universe defined by our experience of it is a compelling idea, and arguably a very humanistic one. The “inland empire” after which Lynch named his latest film might really be the realm of human experience. He is sometimes derided as merely a sadist or an ironist, but on close observation of his work, it’s apparent that he is a student of all facets of human nature, who believes in the reality of both good and evil.
One might venture that his films portray the light and dark sides of humanity, by projecting them into a world where anything can happen. In any case, there’s only so much he’ll say directly about the content of his art. He told Lanpher that, while all the things he puts into his work are meaningful to him, he doesn’t like to “explain” them to people, because that reduces their impact and freshness.
Even when talking about art, consciousness, and other heady topics, Lynch has a plainspoken, all-American quality that can come as a surprise. His sincere, un-intellectual manner makes him resemble one of his own small-town characters from a bygone era, or, as Mel Brooks described him, “Jimmy Stewart from Mars.”
As for his book, it’s basically a series of short observations, of varying profundity, padded out with a lot of white space. (I bought a copy, mostly to get his autograph.)
I’d seen Au Revoir Simone a few years back, at a small show in Brooklyn. At the time, I was underwhelmed. Their twee melodies seemed geared to the level of a kindergarten music class. And their live configuration — five women all playing keyboards and singing — was overkill, especially because some of them weren’t that great at doing either.
But the group has evolved. Now they are three; all can play their instruments and sing in key. They are also all rail-thin, strikingly tall, and have long straight brown hair. Their music is better-produced and maybe a bit more intricate, if still on the simple side to my ears.
Nonetheless, they should do very well among devotees of independent rock whose taste in pop and electronic music runs to mild fare like The Postal Service. The same crowd is likely to swoon over the group’s Wes-Anderson-perfect prep/geek coltish schoolgirl image.
I can definitely see a kind of synergy between Au Revoir Simone’s blank cheerfulness and the sometimes absurdly innocent sweetness that shows up in Lynch’s work. (Of course, Lynch counters the sweetness with large doses of darkness and mystery.)
The pop trio could easily fit into the niche that Julee Cruise filled in some of the director’s earlier projects. So if a few ARS songs, or the girls themselves, show up in a future Lynch movie, you’ll know where and when the connection was made.
You can listen to a podcast of the David Lynch/Au Revoir Simone Upstairs at the Square event. Max took the photos.