Daniel Knox put on a David Lynch retrospective at the Music Box last week. I was just gonna see Lost Highway, but I got done with work early, so I decided to catch Eraserhead as well. Lynch’s movies have been with me nearly forty years. My memory for dates is suspect but I’m pretty sure I saw Dune in the theater in 1984. Whether I saw Eraserhead or Elephant Man before, I can’t say. The thing is time goes haywire in all his movies, so a linear chronology’s kind of pointless anyway. Better to peg his movies to biography.
True art will change with you. Whenever I first saw Eraserhead, it was too soon. I know it scared me. But as a teenager I had no inkling what it was about. As I aged and had experiences with others, the movie came into sharper and sharper focus. Last week at the Music Box, it struck me as much funnier than I remembered it. Also, note-perfect in the way it showed bedtime for a couple about to break up as a kind of battlefield.
Daniel Knox came into my life a little later than Lynch. He was the opener for my friend, Azita, at the Hideout sometime around 2007. He was a big man who sat at the piano and belted out twisted tunes in a booming baritone. I found out soon after that he was a projectionist at the Music Box. We became sort of friends. Sort of, because Daniel held people at arm’s length. Yet, for whatever reason, he respected my work, and thus considered me worthy of his acquaintance. He liked to let me into the movies for free. We’d chat in the lobby of the theater. He was always good for an odd ugly anecdote about a nasty neighbor or a detailed description of whatever dead crushed animal he happened upon in his nocturnal wanderings about the city.
I remember sitting at the Harvard Square Theatre in 1986 next to a woman having a full-on panic attack as Blue Velvetrolled. I loved every second. Later, when it was released on VHS, I stayed home sick from school one day and watched it three times in a row, back to back.
Daniel kept working at the Music Box, but his star slowly rose. I’d catch him whenever he performed in town. His records became more accomplished, elaborate. He composed a great score for a production of The Glass Menagerie. His girlfriend bought him my first book for Christmas.
David’s movie, Lost Highway, came out on a Friday in March, 1997. I caught a matinee at a theater in Boston, then got into a U-Haul van and drove west to Chicago, to stay for good.
In 2006, David brought his latest, Inland Empire, to the Music Box. He invited Daniel to accompany his presentation before the screening on the theater’s organ. I missed out on tickets but went to see the movie the following afternoon. Then returned the next afternoon to see it again. I bought the DVD and watched another four or five times over the years. It’s David’s crowning achievement, a summation of everything he’s about, and perfect bookend to Eraserhead.
In the late ’90s/early ’00s, my next-door neighbors, Anthony and Lisa, held a Lynch-themed Halloween party. The Log Lady, Laura Palmer, several Lynches, an Audrey, and assorted Dune creatures were there. Several years later, I married a Dorothy Vallens for a short spell; ten years on, I shacked up with a Radiator Lady.
I introduced her to Daniel’s music and she was hooked. After we broke up, he asked her to help him find a new record label after the one he was on went kaput. She wondered aloud why he chose her for the task. When I told a mutual friend about this, she laughed and said they were fucking. It had never even crossed my mind. I hope they both had a good time.
One time, Daniel showed up at the Skylark. I put on one of his records—a thing I often did when recognizing a musician who’d come in. He looked around suspiciously from the table where he was sitting with his friends. Then he trudged up to me and asked whether I was playing a prank on him.
Before Eraserhead on Monday, I spotted Daniel and came up to say hello. He told me he’d recently moved to Portugal—the only country his music is truly appreciated. The theater was packed and he was in his glory.
I soaked it in, thinking back all the while about David, Daniel, and me.
Listen to my playlist on Apple Music.
—Listen to my talk with Adam Gnade posted last Wednesday. I sent out around twenty-five invites to people I wanted to record talks with and almost everyone said yes. This means that, even with a few cancelations, I’ll have a new episode up every Wednesday through the summer. Upcoming guests include Gil Roth, Laura Park, Christian TeBordo, Damian Rogers, Emmett Kelly, Kat Sachs, Scott McClanahan, and many more. I’m pretty excited about it, though there’s a shitload of work ahead to make it happen. Meanwhile, listen to the archive and subscribe wherever you get podcasts to hear new ones as they’re posted. Not sure if I’ll end up adding the whole back catalogue, but who knows?
Please spread the word if you like what you hear. It’s the only way these conversations will be heard and I believe they deserve to be.