Saluting Beloved Eccentric Artist Daniel Johnston [1961-2019]

Posted by Billyjam, September 11, 2019 11:49pm | Post a Comment

Beloved eccentric Austin singer/songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston passed away earlier today at age 58 following a heart attack, leaving behind a prolific body of unique work including such recording projects as Yip/ Jump Music and Hi, How Are You. Coincidentally those two 1983 albums were released as a double album set just a few months ago by the Feraltone label with the weird bugged eye happy frog cover art of “Hi How Are You” being a well known example of Johnston’s visual art. There's even a mural version of it in Austin, Texas. 

Born in Sacramento, California and raised in West Virginia, Johnston lived most of his life in Austin TX; a town he became closely associated with and where he first came to fame in the early 80's. It was there his unique music and unique DIY approach to promotion and distribution of it turned heads as he passed out homemade tapes of his music fans he met on the street. Johnston soonafter earned himself a cult following with many of his fans also being musicians. Upon news of his death today numerous musicians and music fans all over took to Twitter to express their sadness of the news of his passing including the staff at Amoeba Music.

Truly an artist’s artist, in 2004 Johnston was celebrated with an album of cover versions of his songs by such admiring artists as Beck, TV On The Radio and Tom Waits. He was also once one of the favorite artists of Kurt Cobain; something that resulted in him being exposed to an even wider audience at the time.

But despite landing a major label deal, that followed a bidding war by several labels 25 years ago,  major commercial success always evaded Daniel Johnston. Seemingly his quirky, lo-fi soulful approach to music, while critically acclaimed, would never be quite mainstream ready. Eternally the outsider, Johnston was a gentle, beautiful but restless soul who, to many of his devoted followers, often seemed too sensitive for this world.

As is well documented Johnston long suffered from health problems; both physical and mental. Diagnosed early on with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, despite his health battles that resulted in him taking several years off from music, Johnston somehow managed to remain creative throughout most of his life.  Not just a musician but Johnston was also a noted artist and comic book writer.  His art graced the covers of most of his releases. In 2006 the Whitney in NYC featured his art in a major exhibition.

For those just now familiarizing themselves with Daniel Johnston perhaps the best introduction to this unique and brilliant artist remains the award-winning 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. A decade after that documentary's release Johnston would star as himself in the 2015 biopic  Hi How Are You Daniel Johnston?

Video clips of both of those movies appear below along with the 1988 documentary  “My Dinner with Daniel” by David Fair and the audio-only clip to Johnston's hauntingly beautiful best known song "True Love Will Find You In The End."  Meanwhile check the Amoeba online store for such available Daniel Johnston titles as Rejected Unknown, The Story of An Artist (Promo Sampler), Welcome To My World: The Music of Daniel Johnston, the 2006 reissue of Continued Story / HI How Are You, The Electric Ghosts  (with Jack Medicine) and The Lucky Sperms: Somewhat Humorous  (with Jad Fair).

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Trailer)

“My Dinner with Daniel” – Daniel Johnston documentary footage by David Fair 1988

Hi, How Are You Daniel Johnston? (Short Film- 2015)

Daniel Johnston "True Love Will Find You In The End"

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