Daniel Johnston

29 03 2011

DanDaniel Johnston is one of my favorite artists.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, to see one of his drawings or listen to one of his recordings you likely wouldn’t be terribly impressed.  But after hearing more of his work it becomes apparent that Daniel Johnston is an inspired visionary.  He is not the best performer in comparison to some more accomplished artists but if you have an understanding of what Daniel Johnston is about and what he lives for, his performances take on a whole new meaning.

Art and music flow from Daniel like water down the Nile.  He is unstoppable and it is as though he can’t help but create music and art.  He has many recurring themes throughout his art, mostly of battles between good and evil and the same themes run through his songs.  Much of what he sings about has to do with his affection for a never gotten love interest named Lori.   He met her in his youth and followed her with a video camera as his way of worshiping and admiring her.  He did get her to say, “I love you Danny” but that was only to satisfy him and she eventually went on to marry an undertaker who he used as the subject of many songs.

His mother would lecture him endlessly about his slothfulness and call him an unprofitable servant of the Lord (he would call himself an unserviceable prophet) as he spent all of his time drawing, writing and recording.  Daniel grew up with faith in his religion and a profound fear of hell and damnation.  He spoke often of Satan and the torment of the devil in his songs and in his conversations and lived in fear of losing his soul.  One therapist said about Daniel, after analyzing his drawings, that he is surely going to heaven because it’s obvious he has already been to hell.

Daniel finally realized one of his life long dreams by accident when MTV profiled the Austin music scene in the mid eighties.  Dan worked his way in front of the cameras, was interviewed and eventually given a spot live on MTV performing his songs.  The world was finally introduced to Daniel Johnston and his career began to bloom. But Daniel perceived the experience as a dichotomy or paradox in that MTV was serving the devil but there he was on MTV, just like he said he would as a kid.

When Dan was still pretty young he began to develop bi-polar disorder which became so severe he spent a lot of time in and out of many mental institutions.  He changed suddenly from a happy and care free young boy to a troubled and self loathing youth.

When he was in New York City spending time with the members of Sonic Youth he had a severe episode and was again sent to a mental facility.  He was accidentally released on a clerical error and found himself at CBGB that evening and opened up for the LA band fIREHOSE.

Daniel Johnston had many extreme episodes of mania where he would essentially lose touch with reality.  One time he was in his father’s private airplane, his father piloting and he turned the engine off and threw the keys out the window.  The airplane crash landed in the trees and both were uninjured.  Another time he whacked his manager over the head with a lead pipe three times.  Daniel has been quoted as saying, “I whammed him, I whammed him good“.  After these episodes he again found himself committed to mental institutions where he realized the horror of what he had done.

As Dan got older and into his forties he went back to living with his parents, taking his meds and focusing on writing and playing music.  Dan tours the world and elsewhere performing his music to the delight of devoted fans.  Sometimes his shows are sub-par and sometimes they are purely brilliant.  True fans love his performances either way.

God bless Daniel Johnston.  The poor man has been tormented all of his life and he has produced some amazing art and beautiful songs.  Over 400 artists have covered his music including Beck, fIREHOSE, Sonic Youth, Death Cab for Cutie, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Built to Spill and Pearl Jam.

Daniel’s life has been chronicled in the movie “The Devil and Daniel Johnston“.  It spans over twenty years of Daniel’s life as he had recorded most of his life on video and audio tape.  Learn more about Daniel Johnston at his fan site rejectedunknown.com

(some images used without permission of the artist)



28 12 2010

The universal song inside us

There’s a hole in my shoe but I don’t care
It don’t matter much to me what’s down there
Around my feet or on the ground
‘Cause I listen what’s above me for that sound
I’m searching for, it’s plain to see
And when I hear it right it’s gonna speak to me
From a place in time I do not know
The song that comes into my soul
Is what I am and who I love
Connecting to my life force from above

The universal song inside us
All together must unite us
Harmony will set us free
And rock the ages soulfully

It’s that cosmic tune that plays the band
Just let it flow right through your hand
There ain’t no fear in honesty and what is true
Everything created here is just for you
Come on climb aboard the magic carpet ride
And if it gets a little weird step inside
We’ll keep you cool and then we’ll get on down
To anything that touches you within the sound
You’ll wake up safe at home again when it’s all through
Singing that new song, it’s a part of you


Woke early this morning, my dreams they just amaze me
Feeling kind of cruel and I’m feeling kind of lazy
The snow is falling hard and I’m going stir crazy
Looking for myself while I’m fighting off the enemy

He told me
Come through my door
I know you want more
Forget what you know
It doesn’t matter below

Running from my demons they always get that best of me
Tie me up and burn me down and hang me from the tallest tree
Leave me feeling all alone and leave me feeling angry
The choice is mine there ain’t no way I’m gonna let them beat me

He told me
Here’s another clue
It’s old and it’s new
It’s all about you
No matter what you do

I know what’s right there ain’t no way I’m gonna let you fool me
I’ve been around the block with you a time or two and now I see
There’s nothing new that you can give, it’s all right here in front of me
All I need from day to day is truth and soul to set me free

He told me
No man you’re wrong
You’re not that strong
And while I’m gone
I’m gonna leave you this song


I’m sick again, it’s been a while
I know there is a cure
But I don’t want to hide away
The pain of life is sure

Keep it far away from me
The soothing soulful bliss
That calls for me on days like these
And kills me with a kiss

Twelve steps are never quite enough
To keep me clean and pure
A burning hot desire is
The secret to endure

So one day more is all I need
Tomorrow surely knows
I have the tools I need to win
My action surely shows

Everything is what it is

Slamarama mama jama
Give me back my panorama
Do me now in Texarkana
Driving blind into Montana

Everything is what it is
And what I do is my own biz
‘Cause what you are is what you is
That winding road lead to this

Funkadelic old time relic
Captain mustache, Tom Sellick
Tuck me back into my shell it
Comes to me in time to sell it

Everything is what it is
And what you do is your own biz
Don’t sell your soul to find the wiz
The winding road leads to this

Number seven made in heaven
Interruption nine eleven
On my honor all for you then
Come to me my perfect ten

Everything is what it is
And what we do, my lovely miss
Will take us home on through the mist
The winding road leads to this

The Subway Bandit

The Subway Bandit is a friend of mine
I met him on the inside doing time
His criminal nickname prompted the rhyme
That I made into this song I’m singing line for line

Stickin’ up sandwich shops in SLC
Taking their dough and runnin’ free
By then he started showing up on TV
And now he’s sitting here in jail next to me

What would your mama say if she knew
You made a name for yourself just like this dude
By robbin’ and stealin’ and breakin’ the rules
Then sitting in the pokey wearin’ slip on shoes

So don’t do it man, ‘cause it ain’t no fun
Even if you get away with it you’re still on the run
When you least expect it, that’s when they come
And you find yourself staring down the barrel of a gun

Rhythm of my soul

Born with a drumbeat in my heart
It’s been there right from the start
Soulful rhythm from above
Keeping time with what I love
Syncopated melodies
Here to accompany
Each and every step in time
And everything I make mine

Now I wish she was still there
To run her fingers through my hair
But that pretty woman, she is gone
And now she’s just part of this song
A tragic twelve bar memory
Still keeping rhythm with what’s inside of me
She’ll always rock my heart to sleep
And roll the memories of what I keep

Always in time with what I love
Bringing rhythm from above
It beats inside me like a drum
Getting back to where I’m from
With all my friends by my side
It’s been a long and funky ride
Don’t ever want it to slow down
‘Cause I can’t sit still and I can’t stand around


Yeah, I wrote this stuff whatever it means.

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