David Lynch’s Mesmerising Music Videos

still from a music video by david lynch

There are two things in the world that I love: music and David Lynch. Of course, I love other things too, but they don’t go together quite as well as this pairing. David Lynch has been directing music videos almost as long as he’s been making movies, and they are just as—if not more—bizarre than his feature films. We all know Lynch has a great taste in music and is a musician himself, so let’s look at the videos he has created over his career.

Chris Isaak, “Wicked Game”

There are two videos for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” One, which was on MTV constantly, was shot by Herb Ritts and featured Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen rolling around half-naked in the sea. It was very sexy indeed, and everyone in the world fell in love with Chris Isaak. Yep, every single person. But that wasn’t the video that Lynch directed. His video was made as a tie-in to his brilliant, Wizard of Oz-obsessed road movie Wild at Heart and has much less nudity and frolicking—which is odd considering the movie is pretty much nonstop frolicking. Instead, the video is pretty straightforward: just Isaak and his band playing the tune intercut with shots from the film. It still wins the Wild at Heart video award because it features Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern). Nothing and no one beats that coupling.

Thought Gang, “A Real Indication”

Under the joint moniker Thought Gang, a short-lived experimental free-jazz project of Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch, “A Real Indication” is the fifth song on the album. The music video was recorded in 1992 using a Hi8 camcorder and filmed in minimalist black-and-white. It features Angelo Badalamenti wandering in a stark urban environment, singing about the night his girl went away.

The track famously features in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the bit where Bobby starts dancing as Laura flutters her eyelashes and smiles that prom queen smile that allows her to get away with murder.

X Japan, “Longing”

If Wikipedia is to be believed, this video has never been released.

I don’t know enough about X Japan to speak about them beyond that they are a Japanese heavy metal band with a tragic backstory that is documented in the film We Are X (2016). Lynch directed a television commercial to promote their track “Togireta Melody” shot on a beach in Malibu. He also created this music video for “Setsubou no Yoru.” 

This particular song appears to have three different versions. This is the third one, and its music video was recorded in Los Angeles and shot at Coyote Dry Lake in San Bernardino County, California.

Blue Bob, “Thank You, Judge”

Recorded from 1998 to 2000 at the Asymmetrical Studio—David Lynch’s home studio in Hollywood, California—BlueBob was another short-lived experiment and musical collaboration between David Lynch and John Neff. Influenced by John Lee Hooker, the music video incorporates elements of electricity and the raw sound of rock-and-roll as a hapless, freshly dumped man sings about how the cruel judge sided with his ex-wife and how she took everything. Oh yeah, and it stars Naomi Watts and Eli Roth, and it’s completely and utterly bonkers!

Moby, “Shot In The Back of The Head”

After Mulholland Drive, Lynch turned his back on celluloid film, preferring the endless possibilities of digital. His enthusiasm for this new technology resulted in a flurry of projects, including Dumbland, a crudely animated series presented in stark black-and-white. The video of Moby’s “Shot in the Back of the Head” is a moodier animated work, but it is definitely in the same vein.

Ariana Delawari, “Lion of Panjshir”

Ariana Delawari is an Afghan American filmmaker, musician, and activist. Delawari recorded her debut album Lion of Panjshir in Kabul, working with Afghan elder Ustads. She finished the album in Los Angeles with Lynch, who, after hearing her play a live show, signed her to his label and mixed her record himself.

The record borrows its title from Ahmad Shah Massoud, the revolutionary leader nicknamed “The Lion of Panjshir.” Massoud, a prominent anti-Taliban leader and a lover of art and poetry, was assassinated on Sept. 9, 2001. A theme of identity runs through The Lion of Panjshir, and Delawari’s songs move back-and-forth between Afghan and Western styles of music.

Interpol, “Lights” (I Touch a Red Button Man)

In 2011, Interpol played Coachella, and the band’s performance of “Lights” was accompanied by a film by Lynch. This film is so compelling, and I’m not sure that I can totally explain why. Yes, the music has a big part to play, as I do love Interpol, and so does the design of the Red Button Toucher. But there’s something else. Maybe it’s the video’s rhythm or intensity. Either way, this is wildly entertaining, even though it is literally just a “man” touching a red button repeatedly.

David Lynch, “Crazy Clown Time”

Lynch’s first studio album of “modern blues” was self-produced. Created alongside engineer Dean Hurley, Lynch said of the project, “Mostly it starts with a jam,” in a past interview with The New York Times. “Dean now lately on drums and me on guitar, and out of the jamming comes some kind of form, like, lots and lots of garbage—you can picture a landfill—but some chunks of gold.”

About what inspired him, Lynch said, “It’s the Chicago electric blues, that’s the main influence,” while talking to EW. “You know, when the guitar got plugged in with electricity, it jumped it to making sounds that sink into the soul. So much power. So much beauty. It’s just the greatest thing. I like to think of my guitar as being powered by a V-8 engine. Lots of smoke and fire. A gasoline-powered guitar.”

In the video, an ensemble of oddball characters provides percussion in a nondescript backyard while Lynch’s lyrics flatly detail what’s happening. Pure, slightly-sleazy-but-we-love-him-anyway Lynch.

Nine Inch Nails, “Came Back Haunted”

Trent Reznor famously took the role of musical supervisor on Lynch’s divisive Lost Highway, and the pair have collaborated several other times since then. This is typically confounding stuff, and Lynch is in fine form as he splices together fuzzy black-and-white images with sickening closeups of Reznor. It isn’t far from the EBM videos of the mid-’80s scene that birthed Nine Inch Nails in the first place, and that can’t be an accident. 

It’s not a small-scale affair; this video—it’s abrasive, full of strobes and creepy, ever-shaking imagery, so be warned if you have photosensitive epilepsy. 

David Lynch, “I Have a Radio”

David Lynch returned with another gem for his increasingly popular YouTube channel in July of this year by releasing a new video to an old song. He turned the dial back to 2011 and dropped an eerie, if not morbidly hypnotic, music video for Crazy Clown Time bonus track “I Have a Radio.”

Two oil figures dance in unison to the track, looking like something out of a Stephen Gammell nightmare. If you make it through the full six minutes, you’ll be rewarded with a bunch of pig-fucking noises. Thanks, David.

Donovan, “I Am The Shaman”

Released on the Scottish psychedelic-folk legend’s 75th birthday on 10th May 2021, Donovan teamed up with David Lynch, who produced his new song “I Am The Shaman.” Lynch also directed the video and added his unique Ferrington modal chord guitar textures, which certainly reminds me of when Audrey’s dance comes to an end in S3 of Twin Peaks. There is definitely some Black Lodge tomfoolery going on here! Both Donovan and Lynch practice Transcendental Meditation of course, and both have both these men have creative minds that exist on another astral plane, so it’s a perfect collaboration, dark yet strangely uplifting.

The song is about the famous German myth of Lorelei (pronounced Laura-Lee), a beautiful maiden who waited for her lover on a rock at the narrowest and shallowest point of the Rhine River. He never returned, so she jumped off the rock to her death. The legend is that her spirit remains at the rock, seeking revenge against her unfaithful lover. She sits on the rock, now named after her, combing her long hair and singing softly. Her beauty so enchants sailors that they crash their ships into the rock or run aground in the shallow water.

So there you go! I can’t imagine that this will be the last music video we see from David Lynch, but who knows. With his new TV series Unrecorded Night reportedly in pre-production with Netflix, he may be too busy for music for a little while.

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