[Editor’s note: I have a guest blogger today, and it’s my husband, Scott Allie, editor of such comics as Hellboy, Fight Club 2, and Umbrella Academy. He loves Twin Peaks and David Lynch with a mad, passionate fervor, and Episode 8 of the revival spurred him to write about art, storytelling, and his old friend the One Armed Man. Enjoy!]
Last night I went to bed with a feeling (and today woke up with that feeling) I’ve had just a handful of times in my life, where I lost track of the line between myself and an experience of art. The first time was when I saw Eraserhead, an experience Mike Mignola has likened to having the flu. I felt it more strongly after I watched the pilot for Twin Peaks in 1990, staring for hours at a bright patch on my dorm room ceiling from a streetlight below. I haven’t only felt this with Lynch’s work. Eyes Wide Shut did it to me. Books by Chuck Palahniuk and Patrick McGrath have done it. I hate to admit that no comic has done it, but it’s the truth, as much as some of them have gotten under my skin. If anything could, it would be Hellboy, if I could experience it more from the outside.
But nothing has affected me as deeply as the first time I saw Lost Highway. The night turned into one of the weirdest in my life, and there are no shortage of weird nights . . . I was disoriented, couldn’t communicate well. The NIN song from the film, “You Are the Perfect Drug,” could’ve referred to the film itself. After freaking out my sister, who I was living with at the time, I went to my neighborhood bar, former Mayor Bud Clark’s Goose Hollow Inn, to find my friends—who immediately shut down any conversation about the movie, which they were going to see in the morning. (I ended up joining them, then seeing it a third time before the next weekend.)
I went to the bar for a pitcher. We all knew everyone in the place in those days, so while I waited for the server, the old guy drinking alone at the bar greeted me. I told him I’d seen Lost Highway and felt unhinged. He said, “Well, David likes to fuck with you,” at which point I remembered this particular barfly was Al Strobel, the One Armed Man from Twin Peaks. Al was there at the Goose most nights in the mid nineties. I’d fanned out about the show a couple years earlier, and had frankly sort of forgotten.
That night Al told me, “David’s a painter.” At the time I didn’t realize that it was more than a metaphor. He said Lynch isn’t necessarily telling a story, but putting something in front of you so you can look at it and experience it, and accept whatever it makes you feel.
A motto I’ve heard lately that I try to live by is that “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” Art definitely isn’t a problem to be solved. In college, my best friend told me “Perfect art should kill the spectator,” and I’ve always thought he was on to something. When last night’s episode of Twin Peaks, Episode 8, was over, I told my 12-year-old son, Sid (that’s right), “You just saw the strangest hour of television there’s ever been.” A dozen smarter critics than me have said that this morning, and I don’t think of it as a debatable point. I would argue that it was also the greatest hour of TV.
In the early 1990s, Twin Peaks inspired some imitation, but the more lasting impact was the permission it gave talented storytellers to open up the television medium. I like to think cable television will go through another bizarre evolution in the next couple years, taking big chances. I hope the auteurs of this so-called Golden Age of Television get the message: “Trust the audience. Go even farther.” Maybe comics, and even the movies, can do it too.