Saturday, March 21, 2009

Daniel Johnston

"I hate mainstream. Its mediocrity and caculability make me sick. A man like Daniel Johnston records just for himself. It's this almost primitive integrity which makes his work so unique and authentic. It reminds me of aspects that made me love art in the first place."
-David Bowie

Thursday, I went to the Paste/Brooklyn Vegan showcase at the Radio Room for SXSW to see Daniel Johnston. He was backed by a Brooklyn band I had never heard of before called The Hymns. I thought they did a good job of backing him up. The place was packed. I was behind the sound guy who, thinking he certainly had a sympathetic audience, smirked and said, "who the fuck is this guy?" I let it go because I can't imagine anyone who is unfamiliar with Daniel Johnston thinking anything else. A young girl next to me, however, didn't let it go and proceeded to give him an earful regarding the importance of the trembling man on stage. Johnston's performance is a painful thing to watch and yet it moves me beyond anything I can explain. Art is not always a breezy meadow with rainbows and unicorns. For me, personally, the best music is that which is channeling something ugly and deep from within. I know that sounds really artsy and pretentious, but it's just what I like and I get that Daniel Johnston is not for everyone. Here's one such review for the Thursday show:

"We really split the difference on Daniel Johnston. Andre found it a bit weird to trot a great songwriter onto the stage who could barely sing or play guitar. In fact, he rarely even played guitar, instead acting as a kind of frontman for Brooklyn rockers the Hymns. On one side, the show was a cruel charity case, a grotesque “Look at what the mentally ill guy can do, isn’t it special?” kind of deal. Andre was made physically sick by the whole thing, clearly preferring to just listen to his songs at home. He didn’t want to watch Johnston up there, hands shaking, voice trembling, trying for his dear life to make it from one song to the next."
-Craig Eley of

I've heard musicians who can play their instruments with the greatest of skills and it sometimes bores me to tears. On the other hand, I have heard "musicians" who are the sloppiest of players and it absolutely blows me away. Sometimes it's about emotion and the road you've traveled in life. Daniel Johnston is on all types of medications for his mental problems which is why his performances can be a bit off-putting for some. I clearly understand that. It's just that I see so many overly-hyped, manufactured, desperately image-conscious bands that sound like everything else in this world that it makes me extremely glad that Daniel Johnston - who's music is far more heart-felt than most - is still with us making people uncomfortable. Thank fucking god for the Daniel Johnstons of the world.

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