Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston - Rejected UnknownDaniel Dale Johnston (born January 22, 1961) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and artist. Johnston was the subject of the 2006 documentary “The Devil and Daniel Johnston“. He currently lives in Waller, Texas.

Johnston has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. One critic writes that Johnston’s recordings range from “spotty to brilliant.”

Johnston was born in Sacramento, California, and grew up in the northern panhandle of West Virginia between Ohio and Pennsylvania near Chester, West Virginia. Johnston began recording Beatles-inspired music in the late 1970s on a $59 Sanyo monaural Boombox, singing and playing piano and chord organ.

Following graduation from Oak Glen High School, Johnston spent his first year away from home at Abilene Christian University in West Texas. Later he attended the East Liverpool branch of Kent State University, which was closer to his hometown.

Johnston’s musical work gained some notoriety when he moved to Austin, Texas. Johnston began to attract the attention of the local press and gain a following augmented in numbers by his habit of handing out tapes to people he met. Live performances were well attended and hotly anticipated.

His local standing led to him being featured in a MTV special on the Austin music scene. Subsequently he performed at the 1985 Woodshock music festival in Austin, where he was featured in a short documentary of the festival, Woodshock. However, his ongoing problems with mental illness continued to hamper his success. Johnston was unable to complete studio sessions for his 1990 due to the intervention of his mental illness.

In 1991, Johnston was able to air his music on a radio show while being hospitalized at Weston State Hospital. While hospitalized, Johnston sent requests to his manager to have Yoko Ono produce his music and to contact PepsiCo about the possibility of becoming spokesman for the soft drink Mountain Dew. Johnston had written a song praising Mountain Dew during this hospitalization, in which he claimed to have been locked up because he “loved the Mountain Dew so much”.

Interest in Johnston increased when Kurt Cobain was regularly pictured wearing a t-shirt featuring the cover image of Johnston’s Hi, How Are You album. In spite of Johnston being resident in a mental hospital at the time, a bidding war to sign him ensued. Atlantic Records won and released Fun, produced by Paul Leary of Butthole Surfers in 1994.

Also in the mid-1990s, Johnston contributed two songs to the soundtrack for Larry Clark’s controversial film Kids, produced by Folk Implosion and Sebadoh’s frontman, Lou Barlow. Johnston later covered Schoolhouse Rock!’s “Unpack Your Adjectives” for a compilation of the popular education songs called Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks in 1996.

The new millennium saw a gradual widening recognition of Johnston’s work, particularly by established major artists. In 2004, he released The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered, a two-disc compilation. The first disc featured musicians like Jad Fair, Eels, Bright Eyes, Calvin Johnson, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, Sparklehorse, The Flaming Lips and Tom Waits covering songs written by Johnston. The second disc featured Johnston’s original recordings of the songs.

In 2005, Texas-based theater company Infernal Bridegroom Productions received a Multi-Arts Production/MAP Fund grant to work with Johnston to create a rock opera based on his music, titled Speeding Motorcycle.

A 2005, Dutch documentary about Johnston for the TV series R.A.M. was followed in 2006 by The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary, four years in the making, collated some of the vast amount of recorded material Johnston (and in some case, others) had produced over the years to portray his life and music. The film won high praise, receiving the Director’s Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. The film also inspired more interest in Johnston’s work and his pull as a touring artist.

In 2006, Johnston’s own Eternal Yip Eye Music label released his first greatest hits compilation, Welcome to My World. He also appeared as the musical guest on The Henry Rollins Show on which he performed “Mask” and “Care Less”.

Through the next few years Johnston toured extensively across the world, and continued to attract press attention. In 2008, Dick Johnston, Daniel’s brother and manager, revealed that “a movie deal based on the artist’s life and music had been finalized with a tentative 2011 release.” He also said that a deal had been struck with the Converse company for a “signature series” Daniel Johnston shoe. In late 2008, Adjustable Productions released Johnston’s first concert DVD, The Angel and Daniel Johnston – Live at the Union Chapel, featuring a 2007 appearance in Islington, London.

Johnston’s work is often made up of nightmarish mixtures of cartoon images making glib statements, drawn with felt tip pens on paper. Established characters such as Casper the Friendly Ghost and Captain America often sit side by side with his own creation on the page. Johnston has also produced more detailed work, including sketches and water paintings.

Johnston’s visual art became increasingly highly regarded during the nineties and in to the new millennium. Johnston’s work can now command high prices and has been exhibited around the world, including prestigious events such as in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. His artwork is shown in galleries around the world, including exhibits in London’s Aquarium Gallery and New York’s Clementine Gallery. both in 2006, and the 2008 Liverpool Biennial.

Johnston created a notable Austin landmark in 1993, when he painted a mural of the “Hi, How Are You?” frog (also known as “Jeremiah the Innocent”) on the side of Sound Exchange located on the corner of 21st and Guadalupe (The Drag). Locals have successfully endeavored to preserve the image when the building subsequently changed ownership to a restaurant called Crave. In Spring 2008, a Jeremiah the Innocent collectible figurine was released in limited runs of four different colors.

Back to artists
Buy Daniel Johnston albums from Amazon.com
Hi, How Are you?
Rejected Unknown – Daniel Johnston Fan Site
Worried Shoes – The Early Works of Daniel Johnston
Daniel Johnston @ Last.fm

This article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Daniel Johnston”.