Who is David Lynch's Bob?

David Lynch believes in fate. He has said as much in many interviews, and has also discussed signs and signals that have led him to creative discoveries, and those that have acted as a tool to confirm the notion that he has "caught" the perfect idea. He does not take coincidence lightly and, like Twin Peaks' Agent Cooper, pays strict attention to synchronicity. For example, when traveling to ABC television with Mark Frost for their first meeting about Twin Peaks, he saw a license plate that read "DKL 999". DKL are his initials, and 999 was a lucky number to Lynch, and so he felt confident that the meeting would go well, and it did.  As many Lynch fans are aware, he has a strong association to the name Bob. In this article I delve into the connections to the name throughout his life and the characters and projects the name has inspired.  Bob, like electricity, the singing woman, and fire also becomes a motif in many of his works, often embodying the sinister aspects of humanity. 

Lynch Ate at Bob’s Big Boy Obsessively

John Waters and David Lynch outside of Bob’s Big Boy restaurant in Los Angeles, 1979.

John Waters and David Lynch outside of Bob’s Big Boy restaurant in Los Angeles, 1979.

Lynch is in the company of great minds such as the late Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein who chose not to waste their creativity or brain power on decisions they viewed as mundane and time consuming.  Some successful people choose to wear the same clothes or same colours each day or, in the case of Lynch, follow the same lunch-time ritual. 

"I like things to be orderly. For seven years I ate at Bob's Big Boy. I would go at 2:30, after the lunch rush. I ate a chocolate shake and four, five, six, seven cups of coffee--with lots of sugar. And there's lots of sugar in that chocolate shake. It's a thick shake. In a silver goblet. I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas! I would write them on these napkins. It was like I had a desk with paper. All I had to do was remember to bring my pen, but a waitress would give me one if I remembered to return it at the end of my stay. I got a lot of ideas at Bob's.” 

 

Lynch has also explained the inspiration for Blue Velvet's villain Frank Booth came to Lynch while he was sitting at Bob's Big Boy. (Was he sitting in a booth at Bob's I wonder?)

"So one day in Bob's I saw a man come in. And he came into a counter, to the counter, and that's all I remember of this man. But seeing him, came a feeling and that's where Frank Booth came from."

Blue Velvet Was Based on a Bobby Vinton Song

Aside from "catching the idea" of Frank at Bob's, it was another Bob (Mr Vinton), who was the inspiration for Lynch's cult classic film. An avid fan of 1950's music, he is often inspired by conflicting emotions, 

"You know, '50s music held a happiness for sure, but you know Elvis also sang "Heartbreak Hotel", and there's kind of a sweet sadness, and that dream could go either way."  It was, however, an early '60s cover of the 1950's classic hit that served as the inspiration for the film.   

 

“It would be great if the entire film came all at once. But it comes, for me, in fragments. That first fragment is like the Rosetta stone. It’s the piece of the puzzle that indicates the rest. It’s a hopeful puzzle piece. In Blue Velvet, it was red lips, green lawns, and the song — Bobby Vinton’s version of “Blue Velvet”. The next thing was an ear lying in a field. And that was it.” 
 

Twin Peaks is Rife With Bob references. 

Most obviously we have Killer BOB - one of the most terrifying characters to ever grace the small (and later, in Fire Walk With Me, silver) screen. This is the first instance we have of a Lynchian "Bob" who represents an evil entity or, perhaps, the potential for darkness inside the human psyche. As Agent Rosenfield states, "Maybe that's all BOB is. The evil that men do. Maybe it doesn't matter what we call it."  Conversely we have many characters, including Laura Palmer, who believe "Bob is real", and is a spirit who inhabits human hosts with deadly consequences. 

As an aside, Laura points out in her secret diary that B.O.B is an anagram for "Beware of Bob".  Bob is also a palindrome (a word or phrase which is the same if written forwards or backwards), as is the phrase spoken by the Little Man from Another Place in the Red Room, “Wow, Bob, Wow”.  This is especially interesting considering that the inhabitants of the Lodges use backwards speak.  

We also have Bobby Briggs, whose name is mentioned no fewer than 29 times in the show’s pilot alone. Also in the pilot we have Audrey’s dismissive “Ok, Bob” to a Great Northern worker spreading the word not mention Laura’s murder in front of the Norwegians.   Later we have Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman questioning Philip Gerard, The One Armed Man, if he knows BOB, and he states that “Bob Lydecker is just about my best friend in the world.”

With the Twin Peaks revival set to begin its six week shooting schedule in North Bend and Snoqualmie, Washington State this week, fans of the show are anxiously awaiting the new series and wondering how BOB will be portrayed. Sadly, the original actor Frank Silva passed away in 1995, but considering the final image of the final episode of the original series, and the importance that he name BOB plays in the Lynchian universe, I am excited to see how Lynch and Frost find a creative way to incorporate this essential character into the revival's mythology.  

Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart

Winner of the 1990 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Wild at Heart is a manic road movie, full of violent, terrifying characters - perhaps none more so than Willem Dafoe's Bobby Peru. Although Peru was in Barry Gifford’s novel that the movie was based on, Lynch’s Bobby was a far more menacing character than the one we meet in the book, with the scene where Peru accosts Lula, for example, only appearing in the film. Once again the name Bob is used for a character who terrorises others, and is considered utterly repulsive.

Lynch’s cartoon series “Dumbland” has an episode entitled “Uncle Bob” 

Watch Episode 7, "Uncle Bob" from 23:10

Okay, I am going to be straight with you, I kind of hate this episode. In its five minutes of crude animation, flatulence plays a major role, and I am not a toilet humour girl. Some people love the series and find this episode hilarious. I have nothing against people who do, we all find different things interesting and amusing, but I am not going to write any more about it because this is my article and I don’t want to.

I will say, curious about the Uncle Bob moniker, I did some research on Lynch's family's genealogy, and could not find any "Bob's" on either his mother or father's sides.  I also considered that the idiom, "Bob's your uncle", which is mostly commonly used in British Commonwealth countries, may have served as an inspiration for this title, but this is pure speculation on my account. All we know for sure is that Lynch was once again inspired to use the name Bob in one of his projects.

 

 

Mulholland Drive's Bob Brooker

In another instance of a Bob in a Lynchian work, we have Mulholland Drive's Mr Brooker. He is the director of “The Sylvia North Story” who, in Diane's dream (as Betty), feeds us some deliciously hilarious lines such as, “It's not a contest... the two of them... with themselves... So don't play it for real until it gets real”  and "very good, forced maybe, but humanistic."  Rather than a menacing Bob, this character is more an amusing stereotype, and almost serves as a scapegoat as to why she didn't get the role - she isn't a bad actress, he is just a crazy director. He is a lighter Bob, we laugh at his moon-unit shtick, rather than recoil in terror. 

 

BlueBOB

In 2001Lynch released an album with long-time collaborator John Neff entitled BlueBOB. Lynch wrote all the Lyrics and Neff all the music, and they both performed all the vocals and instrumentals. According to Neff, during a brainstorming session to come up with a name for the album, he was reeling off a number of different title ideas and as soon as he said BlueBOB Lynch said “STOP!” and that was it. For Lynch, this title must have seemed like kismet, as we have seen a number of references to the colour blue in his works, further solidifying the idea that Lynch believes in symbols, signs, and relies heavily on motifs that appear throughout all of his works.  

 

Lynch's "Bob" Series of Paintings

Unlike his films, television and music, Lynch's  artwork is a completely solo exploration of his inner thoughts, and perhaps the most raw insight into the deeply guarded mysteries of his consciousness. With that in mind, it is not surprising Bob has made his way onto the canvas. Over the years, Lynch has created a number of artworks that centre around "Bob." Often violent and sexual in nature, these paintings are the closest to Twin Peaks' BOB out of any of his subsequent works and, like the show's character, his name is often written in all capitals.  Lynch has previously stated that the Bob in his paintings is not the BOB from the show, but we see painting Bob in a number of similar situations, such as playing with fire, or in a forest, leaving me to believe that both Bobs come from the same place - in the deep, dark recesses of Lynch's mind. 

The series of paintings includes “Bob Setting Fire to A Tree", “Bob's Second Dream”, “Bob Finds Himself in a World for Which He Has No Understanding”, “Bob Sees Himself Walking Toward a Formidable Abstraction”, "Bob's Anti-Gravity Factory",  and “Bob Loves Sally Until She is Blue in the Face”. In his piece, “Mister Redman”, we learn through words sprawled across the canvas that
“Because of wayward activity based upon unproductive thinking BOB meets mister REDMAN”. This piece shows Bob as a smaller character, overshadowed by the larger REDMAN, perhaps hinting that there is a force in the universe greater than BOB, one who will pass judgement upon him, and perhaps gives us an insight as to what might happen in the future Twin Peaks episodes. 

Whoever or whatever Bob means to Lynch, it is clearly more than a name. Bob is a source of inspiration, a release of frustrations, a symbol of darkness, a singer who sparks an idea, a diner where ideas flourish and an essential part of the Lynchian universe. And if that's true - where's BOB now?