Artists You Should Know Ticket Giveaway: Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston

“Hi, how are you?” Great, and feeling better all the time knowing your show’s coming up, Daniel!

It’s not often that we have the opportunity to see a genuine cult icon perform in our fair city, but we’ll have that chance next week when Daniel Johnston takes the stage at The Barrymore Theatre.  The fragile vulnerability of his unique musical work has been championed by everyone from Kurt Cobain to Yo La Tengo, and it’s not hard to hear why.  There’s beauty in his shaking, nervous hands forced onstage by sheer courage and conviction and in the warbling, almost whispering, voice that invites you into his soul.  Read on to learn more about this beloved artist and find out how you could win tickets to his sure-to-be unforgettable show.

GENRE: Singer/Songwriter, Folk, Indie, Lo-Fi

SOUNDS LIKE: The Microphones, Jonathan Richman, Jandek, Glass Eye

Daniel Johnston’s Official Site and MySpace

Check out Daniel’s just-released Daytrotter session from SXSW!

BIO: As with other talented but troubled artists such as Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson, and Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston fights a daily battle with the chronic mental illness that has plagued him nearly his entire life. However, despite recurrent bouts of delusional behavior wherein he has physically endangered himself and others, Johnston has carved out a respectable, influential career as a singer/songwriter of extraordinary talent who has grown since his first crudely recorded cassette was released in 1980. He became the singer/songwriter of choice of the alternative/underground rock scene, and at various times has had his work championed by members of Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Butthole Surfers, Half Japanese, Nirvana (Kurt Cobain was often photographed wearing a Daniel Johnston T-shirt), and numerous others.

Daniel Johnston

Until the ’90s, Johnston’s recordings were basically homemade affairs, his plain voice accompanied by crude piano and guitar playing. His narrative concerns focused mainly on lost love, the pain of mis-communication, his love for the Beatles, and comic-book superhero Captain America. Johnston’s music is unflinchingly direct, almost embarrassingly and painfully honest. Because of this and his increasingly erratic behavior, he was considered a local hero in his home of Austin, TX (where he moved from rural West Virginia), but too extreme to engender the interest of a record label.

That situation changed in 1985, when MTV filmed a program on the Austin music scene. Johnston’s performance brought him almost overnight acclaim, and he went from local legend to national cult figure. Soon, many of his self-released cassette recordings (on his appropriately named Stress label) began showing up in hip record stores from Boston to L.A., and the buzz was that Daniel Johnston was the coolest. There was, however, a grim side to this “success,” as if his mental illness was the primary component of his hipness; therefore, there was a feeling that those not close to him were marketing his illness as much as his talent. Sadly, Johnston’s behavior wasn’t helping, and he was institutionalized twice in the late ’80s after his refusal to take medication led to two dangerous episodes.

Daniel Johnston

In the late ’80s, indie label Homestead issued some of Johnston’s early recordings on vinyl and a full-blown appreciation of Johnston’s work was well underway. Soon he was recording solo and with Half Japanese mastermind Jad Fair on the Shimmy Disc indie label, and later with Butthole Surfer Paul Leary, who may well be the best producer/musical accompanist Johnston ever had. Johnston, to the amazement of virtually everyone, recorded for Atlantic, and despite occasional behavioral lapses, seemed more self-assured than ever.

As a result, in the late ’90s and 2000s, he recorded some of the best music of his career — smart, ebullient pop with ringing guitars, primitive keyboards, and a wonderfully naïve way of looking at the world. Although he sometimes becomes sad and bitter, cynicism and self-pity aren’t his style, and that makes the little tragedies and epiphanies he writes about all the more compelling. Johnston was exposed to an even larger audience in 2005 with the release of The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a feature-length documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, eventually making its way around the world. The Electric Ghosts, an album credited to the duo of Johnston and Don “Jack Medicine” Goede, arrived in March 2006. Johnston’s world may seem small, but it’s much bigger and friendlier than that of your wildest imagination.

–John Dougan,

WIN A PAIR OF TIX: Daniel’s songs have been brilliantly covered by artists such as Beck, Tom Waits, Wilco, Eels, and Death Cab For Cutie.  Tell us what your favorite Daniel Johnston songs are and who you’d love to hear cover them, if they haven’t already.  Tell us why you think those particular artists could give an interesting perspective to Daniel’s work.  Get your responses in by this Friday at midnight.  We’ll notify a winner shortly thereafter.

If you missed out on our ticket giveaway, don’t worry–tix are still available.  Get yours now and ensure that you’ll get to see this living legend perform right here in our hometown.

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Daniel Johnston

5 Responses

  1. Sufjan Stevens has an alright cover of Worried Shoes but I think that It could be done better by someone with a great, sad voice like M Ward’s. M Ward did wonders with ‘To Go Home’ and I know he’s a fan, so I’d love to hear him cover ‘Shoes’.

    I’d also really like to hear ‘It’s Over’ covered. The song’s oft-repeated chorus (“it’s over, no tears to cry”) would sound awesome drenched with atmosphere and reverb. I’m thinkin cyptograms-era Deerhunter for this one.

  2. “Monster Inside of Me” seems an obvious choice for Band of Horses to reimagine as a more traditional rock song kind of thing…

    “I Live My Broken Dreams” would sound great covered by the Tallest Man on Earth, but I would also love to hear it covered by the Twilight Sad, everything they touch turns to gold anyway.

    Eels has a good cover of “Living Life”, but Daniel’s chorus is so jumpy it makes me think that someone like Los Campesinos could have fun with it.

  3. These are great ideas! I’d love to hear all of these imagined “reinterpretations” come to life. Maybe someday, eh? This giveaway’s tix go to Brandon. If you didn’t win this time, we hope you’ll keep coming back as there are always some great ticket contests going on.

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