Friday, January 19, 2007

The Devil & Daniel Johnston

It could have been so different if I'd discovered Daniel Johnston in the eighties. I would have been over him by now. I would have loved him for a few years then dropped him from my listening schedule.

My eighties fixation with American indie music has long gone. I didn't hear him at the time. And that time has gone.

I'm not over him. I'm discovering him for the first time. And Christ, do I feel for him.

Not only manic depressive in the extreme, with all the horrible delusions that go with it, he was, in addition, born into a very religious family. The poor sod never had a chance.

His whole life seems to be either filmed or on a cassette tape. And that's really freaky.

There are his freaky cartoons, too. And of course his songs obsessing about a teenage girl he once knew. When I say obsessing, I mean obsessing. He can't leave her to the past.

Satan is never absent from either his songs or his art.

His songs have been covered by the great and good of indie rock. They probably sound clearer and more professional than Daniel's versions but no way could the stars put as much real feeling into the songs. Daniel hurts so much it's painful to listen. Since his teens he's needed buckets of medication to keep him from doing something stupid. But being the real deal, he's skipped his medication in order to perform his songs the way he's wanted to: honestly and with full raw emotion.

It's too much for me. I'm quite happy with false emotion and singers just singing the songs, not baring their haunted souls. OK, there are a lot of suicides in my music collection but they all seem to be holding things together on the recordings. Please tell me they are. I couldn't bear it if they're cracking up.

The film ends with Daniel out of the mental home, living with his elderly parents. He so wanted to become famous to be able to afford to make his parents' lives comfortable in their dotage. They end up caring for him, 24 hours a day.

They won't be able to do it for much longer. They are running out of time.


  1. Anonymous12:09 PM

    In the interests of not sounding a divvy, I had a quick listen to Daniel Johnston on Itunes to check him out.
    Having sat through the sample of "Funeral Home" I'm going to be depressed the whole weekend now.

    Mind you, you didn't mention Morrissey, Leonard Cohen, Bob Zimmerman and...just about every other miserable sod. Even Leo Sayer's Music is tinged with sadness.

  2. Sorry, Murph.

    Kurt Cobain loved Daniel Johnston and he didn't take things too seriously, did he?

    Please don't be depressed. And thank you for commenting on what I thought was going to be my first "0 comments" in a long while.

  3. By the way, Daniel's unrequited love married an undertaker - that's where the funeral home comes into play.

    She's now divorced and has a restraining order if she has any sense.

  4. Anonymous6:38 PM

    I loved the final shot of him kind of looming over his parents like an unwitting albatross and them looking somewhat terrified. I discovered Johnston in the 90s and was an insta-fan. (I was also into Wesley Willis, which would make for an awesome comparative documentary) If you like the idea of Daniel Johnston but not so much the emotion, try listening to Half Japanese. Jad Fair actually sounds a lot like him.

  5. Welcome, Monica. And thanks for the recommendation.

    I think my indie days are far behind me, though. I'm a lost cause.

  6. 1/2 Japanese are only pretending. Daniel Johnston really is like that. It's a good film, but I did feel for him, there were points where I'm sure people regarded him as a novelty to be laughed at.

  7. There was a lot of that "cool to like the weird guy."

    As far as pretending goes, I prefer Jonathan Richman and I don't think I like him much anymore.