David Lynch Must Be Honored in Philadelphia with a Giant Monument to the Guy From Eraserhead. For Real.
This essay is by my friend, muse, and hero(ine), the irrepressible ******. She pitched it to any number of papers in Philadelphia and failed — as you’ll see in just a moment, it probably wasn’t her fault.
Philadelphia has a problem with its statuary: we build lavish monuments to to the wrong people while letting the right ones go unmarked.
We have statues of people who polarized us (Frank Rizzo), who could have cared less about us (Charles Dickens) or who never existed (Rocky Balboa). Meanwhile, we overlook people who logged real time here and did great things.
This problem has a solution: put a big-ass statue of the title character from the movie Eraserhead, directed by former Philadelphia resident David Lynch, at the corner of 13th and Wood.
That’s where Lynch lived for several years in the 1970s as an unhappy undergraduate at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. But if you’ve seen any of his films, particularly Eraserhead, it is obvious that the city deeply inspired him, which he recalls through “vivid images—plastic curtains held together with Band-Aids, rags stuffed in broken windows, walking through the morgue en-route to a hamburger joint.”
Philadelphia tends to catch people either before they’ve made it or when they are on their way down. For the former, see W.E.B. Dubois, author of the classic, The Philadelphia Negro. For the latter see Billie Holiday, whose tragic decline into opiate addiction coincided with her residency here.
And then there are the ones who we memorialize but get wrong, like Walt Whitman. All Whitman gets from us, besides a suspension bridge to New Jersey, is Leonard Baskin’s sculpture of the poet’s head atop what can only be described as a Pez dispenser, tastefully located in front of a Kmart.
Why David Lynch? Because in him, we still have a chance to do that classically Philadelphia thing where we celebrate someone who gave us a chance, went unrecognized and then moved on to another city with greater resources. Because David Lynch, unlike other former Philadelphians we’ve neglected, is still alive! Like DuBois he got his start and stoked his vision here, as Lynch has pricelessly described:
“Philadelphia, more than any filmmaker, influenced me. It’s the sickest, most corrupt, decaying, fear-ridden city imaginable. I was very poor and living in bad areas. I felt like I was constantly in danger. But it was so fantastic at the same time.”
A plaque at the base of the statue would say Philadelphia is where Lynch bought his first camera and made his first short film and that the city moved him to make his first feature film.
So let’s stop bickering with Baltimore over Edgar Allen Poe’s pickled corpse and get down to business! Eraserhead, rejected by Cannes and other film festivals, is now a classic of American cinema. There is no better symbol for Philadelphia in its drive to rise as high as Eraserhead’s hair, a goal we should pursue, like Lynch’s art, in our own weird way—starting with that statue.