David Lynch talks Scouting, Kennedy’s inauguration and whether Agent Cooper is an Eagle Scout

David Lynch’s bio — the one he uses on Twitter and sends to members of the press — is rather sparse.

“Born Missoula, Mont. Eagle Scout.”

But as you might expect with Lynch, the surrealist director of films like The Elephant Man and creator of the murder mystery TV series Twin Peaks, there are a lot more pieces to this puzzle.

I talked with Lynch by phone last week to hear his thoughts on Scouting. We discussed the time he got to stand with other Boy Scouts at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, why some of his characters aren’t exactly Scout-friendly, and whether he thinks Agent Dale Cooper, the fastidious and focused FBI agent on Twin Peaks, would be an Eagle Scout.

Man on the move

David Lynch was born Jan. 20, 1946, in Missoula, Mont.

His father, Donald, was a research scientist for the U.S. Forest Service. The job meant the Lynch family’s home address was constantly changing — Idaho, Washington state, North Carolina and Virginia.

Through it all, two things stayed constant: Scouting and camping.

Whenever the family traveled with Donald Lynch for his job, they avoided hotels and motels. They camped.

“I grew up like that,” Lynch says. “The Boy Scouts was pretty much a continuation of that.”

Lynch was a Cub Scout and then a Boy Scout. He attended summer camp at Camp Tapawingo near Payette Lake, Idaho. He was a member of the Order of the Arrow.

“I liked working on my merit badges,” he says. “You know, it was all great.”

An extra push

Lynch’s younger brother, John, became an Eagle Scout before David.

This was kind of the last straw. David Lynch, then a Life Scout, began to lose interest and considered dropping out.

“I didn’t really think Scouts was cool anymore,” he says. “I just reached that age where I was a total rebel, but my dear father really wanted me to become an Eagle Scout.”

At that time, the Lynch family lived in Alexandria, Va., and David Lynch was a member of Troop 113.

With his dad’s encouragement, Lynch “finished things up, and by golly, became an Eagle Scout,” he says.

Was he grateful for the extra push?

“For sure,” Lynch says. “And that’s why I say, ‘my bio is: David Lynch. Born Missoula, Mont. Eagle Scout.’ That’s in honor of my father.”

Lynch became an Eagle Scout on Nov. 13, 1962. More than a half-century later, Lynch still has positive feelings about the Scouting program.

“I think the Scouts is a great thing,” he says. “I had a great time living during those years, but I had a great time in the Scouts as well.”

Waiting for JFK

Jan. 20, 1961, was significant for two reasons. It was Lynch’s 15th birthday and it was the date of Kennedy’s inauguration.

As with inaugurations throughout history, Scouts were involved.

The plan: Lynch and his fellow Scouts would seat dignitaries in bleachers next to the White House.

The reality: Lynch, wearing his thin Scout uniform, was trying not to freeze to death.

It had snowed eight inches the night before. The temperature at noon was just 22 degrees, but the 19 mph wind made it feel like 7.

“We were escorting VIPs, but it was so cold there weren’t very many VIPs,” Lynch says.

With some time on their hands, Lynch and his fellow Scouts climbed the bleachers to get a better view of their surroundings. They were looking for the car carrying Kennedy.

At last, they saw something: a pair of gleaming black limousines driving toward them.

“We went running up, and the Secret Service said ‘No, no, no. Go back, go back.’ And they pushed us away,” Lynch says. “But I heard a voice say, ‘you.’ And I turned around, and a Secret Service man was beckoning me back to him.”

The agent placed Lynch squarely in the official line.

“So there’s 20 or 30 Secret Service guys on either side of the drive and me, standing right shoulder to shoulder with them,” Lynch says. “The gates opened, and out came the two limos. In the first limousine, when it passed by me, the glass was about 10 inches in front of my face. Inside there I saw President Eisenhower and soon-to-be President Kennedy. And they were talking. Then that car glided by, and the next one came. And in that car was Nixon and Johnson, and they weren’t talking. And they glided by.”

Years later, Lynch appreciates the historical significance of that moment.

“I realized I saw four consecutive presidents in that short amount of time — 10 inches from my face,” he says. “It was a great, great experience.”

Scouting’s values and Lynch’s work

Lynch has three Academy Award nominations for best director: for The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1987) and Mulholland Drive (2002).

The Elephant Man is rated PG-13, but the other two films earn their R ratings with troubled characters and disturbing images.

The TV show Twin Peaks aired on ABC in 1990 and 1991 — before TV ratings were used. The show has been retroactively classified as TV-PG. But when new episodes begin this month on Showtime, Twin Peaks will be rated TV-MA.

I asked Lynch how he feels about creating characters that don’t exactly follow Scouting values.

“Films reflect our world. Ideas come from our world,” he says. “Our world is filled with characters that don’t reflect Scouting values, for sure. And stories are not all just shiny little pleasant tales. They involve all kinds of different characters, all different kinds of thinking. That’s what makes a story.”

Furthermore, Lynch cautions against assuming that someone who creates unstable characters is an unstable person.

“I always say the artist doesn’t have to suffer to show suffering,” he says. “You want to be happy in your work, but you can tell stories that have darkness swimming along with light. Have the suffering on the screen or in the books — not in your life.”

Agent Dale Cooper, Eagle Scout?

FBI Agent Dale Cooper, the main character on Twin Peaks, is known for being meticulous, prepared, courteous and focused.

Just as I’m about to ask Lynch the inevitable question, he cuts me off.

“He was probably an Eagle Scout,” Lynch says, “and maybe Sheriff Truman didn’t quite make it, but he became a Life Scout.”

Lynch’s Good Turn

The David Lynch Foundation is the director’s way of giving back to the community. Its mission: use Transcendental Meditation to help at-risk populations.

Lynch says Scouting long ago gave him a desire to help other people at all times.

“It does something for one’s character,” he says. “It feeds the future, for sure. In a good way.”

Lynch is a major proponent of Transcendental Meditation, which he considers the ticket to eliminating negativity, stress, anxiety and fear. When you perfect the technique, those bad feelings leave — “just like darkness goes when you turn on the light,” he says.

He even suggests Scouts begin practicing Transcendental Meditation, which he emphasizes is “not a religion and is not against any religion.”

If we had what Lynch calls “Yogi Scouts,” “Boy Scouts could change collective consciousness from a stressed black cloud to a beautiful, bright and shiny, peaceful collective consciousness.”

That’s not unlike, as I pointed out to him, the mission of Messengers of Peace, a global movement of which the BSA is a proud member.

Whether you and your Scouts become “Yogi Scouts” or Messengers of Peace, Lynch has a message all Scouts should consider.

“Remember, true happiness is not out there. True happiness lies within. It always has; it always will,” Lynch says. “And then they can just fall back on their motto: Be Prepared.”

3 Comments

  1. Amazing. Scouting made a huge impression on this important director. I remember David Lynch talking on the Tonight Show about his “Bee Board,” which he made when he was in Scouts. Great interview, Bryan!

  2. Thank you for this enlightening interview. I have admired the man as a director and story teller for years, but never knew his philosophical approach to his work, his life, or the world — not to mention my lack of awareness of his scouting experience. I have always considered Agent Cooper an Eagle scout.

Join the conversation