David Lynch’s second solo album, The Big Dream, seems to have made less of a splash than its predecessor, Crazy Clown Time. I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, just the practiced eye of a former record store clerk and lifelong cheapskate.
The Big Dream should not be overlooked, because it includes David Lynch’s reading of “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” by Bob Dylan. You may prefer the Stooges’, the Neville Brothers’, Nina Simone’s, or perhaps even Entombed’s version of Dylan’s take on “Pretty Polly,” but I’m partial to the particular feeling of emptiness Lynch summons.
In the movie David Lynch: The Art Life, the director tells a story about walking out of a Bob Dylan show as an art school freshman in 1964, leading to a bust-up with his roommate Peter Wolf, future singer of the J. Geils Band. As Lynch tells it, back in their room after the concert, Wolf scolded him—“Nobody walks out on Dylan!”—and Lynch responded “I walk out on Dylan—get the fuck outta here!”
David Lynch and Scotland’s answer to Bob Dylan, Donovan (via Pinterest)
Bob doesn’t appear to have played “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” that night in Boston, but the song, released earlier that year on The Times They Are a-Changin’, is a murder ballad about a man who kills his five children and his wife before turning the shotgun on himself—Dylan’s “Frankie Teardrop.” I suspect Lynch was drawn to “Hollis Brown” as much by the violence in the song and the blankness of the singer’s persona as by the cosmic perspective that appears in the last verse. It’s worth considering that this move to a God’s-eye view of the Wheel of Birth and Death isn’t necessarily redemptive. I take it to mean that a murder–suicide is as natural as the weather.
Below, Nina Simone’s stunning live version of “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.”