“It’s a world out there that is horribly stressed,” said Bob Roth, the well-known transcendental meditation (TM) teacher, providing some remarks at a two-day festival designed to raise money for David Lynch’s TM-promoting charitable foundation. And then, as part of their effort to bring tranquility to the world, they showed “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” verifiably the most stressful movie ever made.
This was not your grandfather’s TM festival. Lynch’s second annual Festival of Disruption, held over two days at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, drew some in solidarity with the higher-consciousness cause, others were there just for the musical acts — which also included Bon Iver, TV on the Radio, Sharon Von Etten, and Laura Marling — and more had traveled from around the globe just to get their “Twin Peaks” fandom on with Lynch, who was greeted at least as warmly as a Buddha in a Sunday afternoon Q&A.
Other guests included actors Bill Hader and Pete Holmes, both discussing their meditation practice as well as their comedy with Roth; artist Ed Ruscha, talking about L.A. following a screening of the documentary “Los Angeles Plays Itself”; DJs Moby and Shepard Fairey; and “Twin Peaks” actress Sheryl Lee, as well as that resurgent show’s producer, photographer, editor, and music supervisor.
With nearby art exhibits showing the work of Lynch, Brian Eno, and William Eggleston, as well as a space where attendees could get a Polaroid snapped in a replication of the “Twin Peaks” Red Room, the two-day event was a little bit ComiCon, a little bit LACMA, a little bit Bodhi Tree, and a lot of fun for pop-art hounds of an omnivorous inclination.
For serious fans of the series, the happiest non-surprise was the benediction tagged onto the very end of the festival, as promised, by Rebekah Del Rio, the member of Lynch’s musical company who reprised her powerful “No Stars” from the end of episode 10. The happiest surprise was the appearance of the Mitchum brothers’ three favorite showgirls — Candie (Amy Shiels), Sandie (Giselle DaMier), and Mandie (Andrea Leal) — who, staying in delighted and distracted character the entire time, assisted audience members during Lynch’s Q&A.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Candie girls!” barked Lynch, to ecstatic applause. After the tumult died down, a woman in the audience yelled out an objection: “They’re women, not girls.” “I know that. They’re human beings is what they are,” answered Lynch. But later, as everyone waved goodbye, the director acquiesced: “To make everybody happy, we’ll call them, this time, the Candie women.”
Lynch had a good number of expansive moments — especially when it came to spiritual evolution — and a few less so, like when it came to explaining “Twin Peaks.” Interviewer Kristine McKenna, who is working with Lynch on an artistic memoir, went out on a limb and asked about the infamously surrealist episode 8, asking about “Bob and the evil egg, and the implication that that was the birth of evil we were witnessing. Do you think that’s true?” “I don’t talk about things like that, Kristine,” he replied, quickly shutting that line of inquiry down as she gave up an apologetic I-tried chuckle.
He was at least able to deny, if not confirm, a few theories. A fan asked about Sky Ferrara rather violently scratching an itch in her one appearance in a roadhouse scene, wondering if it signified anything. (At least one blog had actually wondered about a possible metaphysical connection to Mike, the one-armed man.) “Sometimes human beings get a bad rash,” Lynch replied. “But,” the fan protested, “with your art, I believe everything ties in to something, and that’s what screws me up.” “I understand,” said Lynch, reiterating: “That, I can tell you, is pretty much a basic rash.”
The best exchange, at least for a certain subset of fan, came when someone stepped up to one of the Candie gals’ mics and inquired: “My question is, is James cool and if so how long has he been cool?” The audience didn’t chant along with Lynch’s answer, though many of them well could have: “James is cool. James has always been cool.”
Given that the festival was a benefit for Lynch’s foundation, which promotes the use of TM in dealing with PTSD for veterans and anxiety for troubled teens, the director was as high-minded as you might imagine in discussing his belief in spiritual evolution: “It’s every human being’s birthright to one day enjoy supreme enlightenment … One day, each of you will become a seeker, and you’ll look for a technique that allows you to transcend. You’ll get on the path. You’ll start unfolding rapidly your full potential. And one day, bingo, you’ll be in supreme enlightenment, total fulfillment, total liberation, immortal, zero chance for suffering, zero negativity.”
“Zero negativity” isn’t exactly the hallmark of the films from the director who gave us Frank Booth, though, and he addressed the seeming disparity. “A lot of times people say, okay, you’re on a spiritual path, you should do uplifting films that benefit humanity. And that’s beautiful, if that’s what you really love and comes out of you… Ideas come along and some I fall in love with… and I want to translate them to one medium or another, and I go. I don’t think my films are all darkness. There are many things swimming in them.” And then Lynch, the man who’d spent so much time quoting the Maharishi, quoted another holy man, Samuel Goldwyn: “If you want to send a message, go to Western Union.”
Hader brought down the house with his impression of Lynch. “I tried to get David Lynch on [‘Saturday Night Live’] forever and could never figure it out,” he said, recalling meetings with Lorne Michaels where he would do Lynch’s distinctive voice: “’I have an idea about a wind. A sketch about a wind that’s a key to a mystery. Red lips, green lawns, and a wind.’ … We would just sit in the office and do that for hours.”
Hader’s bigger role was to tout how TM had helped cure him of the crippling panic attacks he suffered every week before going on the air in his early “SNL” years. “I was terrified… I’d have two lines on the show and I would be up all night every Friday… I’ve been a big meditator, and it unlocked this thing and that fear kind of went out of me in a way,” said Hader. “That insecurity that builds anger sometimes, I felt dissipate the more I did it. And it’s a thing you have to keep doing. I started it like a lot of people and then I dropped off because I went ‘Hey, I’m cured!’ That’s not how it works… I’ve been doing it twice a day – and this is not a joke – since the day Trump became president.”
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon didn’t speak about TM, but did endorse the spiritual overlay of the festival. “We need to start going in and stop going out so much,” he advised. Present experiences excepted, of course.
Vernon wasn’t having any panic attacks, but he did remark, presumably jokingly, about doing a solo set. “Very kind of you. It’s very lonely up here,” he quipped early on, establishing an easy, funny rapport with the audience that came in handy when it came time to quip about the technical difficulties that arose from being a one-man-band. His use of a loop pedal for many of the songs made for a slightly Ed Sheeran-esque (or Jon Brion-esque) experience, most startlingly in a closing slow build-up of 2009’s “Wood.” He wasn’t joined just by the equipment: Von Etten came out to duet with him on her “Love More,” which he referred to as one of the most beautiful songs he’d ever heard. At the end of it, they embraced — not a show-biz embrace, but an almost uncomfortably-long-by-Hollywood-standards one, with Von Etten tenderly grasping the back of Vernon’s head. And suddenly transcendence didn’t seem like just talk.
Marling also performed solo, albeit with an acoustic guitar and none of Vernon’s electronic aids. Von Etten’s was practically a solo set, too; at least, she was sans band, joined by a couple of keyboard player pals for her first live appearance since having a baby. It was up to TV on the Radio, on Saturday, and the Kills (pictured below) on Sunday to bring the noise. “Get up and dance! Eventually,” said TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, sensing, correctly, that a charitable-contribution crowd needed permission so soon after experiencing Marling’s Joni-esque ballads and open tuning as the first live music of the event.
The crowd did, perhaps sooner than the singer expected. And there was far less hesitation on night 2, when the Kills, just one weekend after rocking Cal Jam out in San Bernardino, overpowered a house now primed to more easily make the shift from discussions of guided meditation to pure guided mayhem.