How David Lynch Got Creative Inspiration? By Drinking a Milkshake at Bob’s Big Boy, Every Single Day, for Seven Straight Years

“It is no secret that David Lynch, the writer-direc­tor-com­pos­er-painter, has an unusu­al rela­tion­ship with Bob’s Big Boy,” begins a 1999 Los Ange­les Times arti­cle on the auteur of films like Eraser­head and Blue Vel­vet. “For sev­en years in the 1980s he ate lunch there every day, order­ing cup after cup of over-sweet­ened cof­fee and a sin­gle choco­late milk­shake while scrib­bling notes on Bob’s lit­tle square nap­kins.” He took pains, notes reporter Amy Wal­lace, “to arrive at Bob’s at pre­cise­ly 2:30 p.m. each day. The rea­son: It increased the odds that he would encounter per­fec­tion.”

“If you go ear­li­er, at lunchtime, they’re mak­ing a lot of choco­late milk­shakes. The mix­ture has to cool in a machine, but if it does­n’t sit in there long enough — when they’re serv­ing a lot of them — it’s run­ny,” Wal­lace quotes Lynch as say­ing. “At 2:30, the milk­shake mix­ture has­n’t been sit­ting there too long, but you’ve got a chance for it to be just great.”

For his pains, he received “only three per­fect milk­shakes out of more than 2,500. But that was­n’t the point. For Lynch, it was enough to know he had set the stage for excel­lence to occur,” believ­ing that “whether with milk­shakes or movies,” one “must make room for inspi­ra­tion to strike — to lay the prop­er ground­work for great­ness to take hold.”

When the 1980s British tele­vi­sion series The Incred­i­bly Strange Film Show devot­ed an episode to Lynch, it nat­u­ral­ly went to Los Ange­les not just to inter­view him but to shoot some footage at Bob’s, the sacred space itself. In the clip at the top of the post, you can see host Jonathan Ross, seat­ed in one of the retro din­er’s booths and Lynchi­an­ly dressed in a white shirt but­toned all the way up, describe how, after an “all-Amer­i­can lunch,” the direc­tor would embark on “marathon cof­fee-drink­ing ses­sions. Fueled by the caf­feine and his exces­sive sug­ar intake, he’d then spend the after­noon writ­ing down ideas for movies on the nap­kins help­ful­ly pro­vid­ed by Bob.”

In the inter­view that fol­lows, Lynch him­self con­firms all this. “I was into Bob’s halfway through Eraser­head,” he says, estab­lish­ing the chronol­o­gy. “The end of Dune” — his trau­mat­ic, failed expe­ri­ence with big-bud­get stu­dio pro­duc­tion — “was pret­ty much the end of Bob’s.” Even Lynch’s daugh­ter Jen­nifer, for a time her father’s Bob’s-going com­pan­ion, rem­i­nisces about “the draw­ing on nap­kins” and the “tons of cof­fee with lots of sug­ar.” In this late-80s inter­view, Lynch describes him­self as “heav­i­ly into sug­ar. I call it ‘gran­u­lat­ed hap­pi­ness.’ It’s just a great help, a friend.”

Lynch’s rep­u­ta­tion for drink­ing Bob’s milk­shakes long out­last­ed his actu­al habit. Char­lie Rose makes a point of ask­ing about it in the clip in the mid­dle of the post, prompt­ing Lynch to explain the rea­son­ing behind his dai­ly trips — both lit­er­al­ly and metaphor­i­cal­ly, since when Rose asks if all the sug­ar got him high, Lynch admits that “it is like a drug, I sup­pose, because it revs you up.” Though by all accounts still a prodi­gious drinker of cof­fee and smok­er of cig­a­rettes, Lynch has grown more health-con­scious in recent years, a shift that may well have begun when, for rea­sons of his own, he went behind his beloved Bob’s and climbed into its dump­ster. “I found one of these car­tons that milk­shakes came from,” says Lynch in the more recent inter­view clip above. “Every ingre­di­ent end­ed in ‑zene or ‑ate. There was noth­ing nat­ur­al any­where near that car­ton.”

Even though that dis­cov­ery put an end to Lynch’s 2:30 appear­ances, all his cof­fee-soaked, sug­ar-sat­u­rat­ed after­noons spent at Bob’s had already filled him with ideas. One day, for exam­ple, “I saw a man come in. He came to the counter, and that’s all I remem­ber of this man, but from see­ing him came a feel­ing, and that’s where Frank Booth came from.” Blue Vel­vet’s psy­chot­ic, gas-huff­ing, Den­nis Hop­per-por­trayed vil­lain aside, Lynch fans who make their own pil­grim­age to Bob’s Big Boy even today will under­stand how well its sen­si­bil­i­ty may have res­onat­ed with the film­mak­er’s obvi­ous attrac­tion to mid­cen­tu­ry Amer­i­cana. But as we’ve learned from his life as well as his work, it’s best not to go around back.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sur­re­al Film­mak­ing of David Lynch Explained in 9 Video Essays

The Incred­i­bly Strange Film Show: Revis­it 1980s Doc­u­men­taries on David Lynch, John Waters, Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky & Oth­er Film­mak­ers

An Ani­mat­ed David Lynch Explains Where He Gets His Ideas

David Lynch Explains How Med­i­ta­tion Boosts Our Cre­ativ­i­ty (Plus Free Resources to Help You Start Med­i­tat­ing)

Hear David Lynch Read from His New Mem­oir Room to Dream, and Browse His New Online T‑Shirt Store

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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