Feat. Members of Beirut, Cibo Matto and more
Daniel Johnston has spent the last 20 or so years exposing his heartrending tales of unrequited love, cosmic mishaps, and existential torment to an ever-growing international cult audience. Initiates, including a healthy number of discerning musicians and critics, have hailed him as an American original in the style of bluesman Robert Johnson and country legend Hank Williams. A number of artists -- among them the Dead Milkmen, Yo La Tengo, the Velvet Underground's songs. And he as collaborated with the likes of Jad Fair (a founding member of Half Japanese, who've also done Daniel's songs), the Butthole Surfers, Bongwater/Shimmydisc guru Kramer, and members of Sonic Youth. Daniel gained his widest public exposure to date when, at the 1992 MTV Music Awards, Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain (who constantly touted Daniel in interviews) wore a Johnston T-shirt.
Surprisingly, the bulk of his considerable acclaim snowballed from a series of homemade, lo-fi cassettes which Daniel started recording and handing out to fans and friends alike in the early 80s. Eventually, the independent label Homestead re-issued some of these tapes on CD, and Johnston recorded a few new albums in almost-proper studios.
Throughout his career, Daniel's songs and drawings have been informed to some degree by his ongoing struggle with manic depression -- lending an added poignancy to his soul-searching times. His five-month stint with the carney left him in Austin, where he decided to stay. In the midst of that city's mid-eighties music scene, Johnston was a definite iconoclast. While he continued to hand out his tapes for free, Austin record stores started selling them; in fact, the became best-selling local releases. Soon, a camera crew from MTV's seminal "Cutting Edge" show came to town and all the Austin bands suggested they feature Daniel.
The 90's were difficult for Daniel, but will probably be regarded as the years that medical relief was achieved. Modern medications eventually achieve stability.
He signed with Atlantic Records in 1992 and released "FUN" which sold 12,000 copies. But his mental stability and productivity didn't produce another album until 1999 with Brian Beatties production "Rejected Unknown".
Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse collaborated with Daniel in the 2003 release "Fear Yourself" on Gammon Records, making what many regard as an "accessible" contemporary sound to Daniel's music ideas.
In November of 2004, Gammon records released a cover tribute album with covers from eighteen artists on one CD and Daniel's originals on the second CD. This work, "Discovered Covered - The Late Great Daniel Johnston" gave Daniel new exposure to fans of Beck, Clem Snide, Gordan Gano, Eels, Calvin Johnson, Tom Waits and others.
In January, 2005, the feature-length documentary "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" premiered at Sundance Film Festival and at film festivals around the world that year. The movie was distributed in North America by Sony Pictures Classic and by Tartan Films in the United Kingdom on March 31, 2006.