Daniel Johnston (1961-2019)

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domino harvey
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Daniel Johnston (1961-2019)

#1 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jul 05, 2019 5:59 pm

colinr0380 wrote:
Fri Jul 05, 2019 5:08 am
domino, I have that Devil and Daniel Johnston documentary film in my kevyip but have not got to it as yet. Is it worth digging out as a newcomer to his music?
My comment was as much a commentary on his music as his cringe-inducing doomed crush on a friend given way too much screentime in the doc. The doc is enjoyable and I dare say more people have seen that film than have ever listened to Johnston's music apart from it. Johnston is a compelling figure as-presented, childlike and naif but enthusiastic and doing what he can with the hand life dealt him-- the film's best scene finds Johnston playing live on MTV and he looks like those GIFs of dogs who dive into a ball pit, all joyfully overwhelmed. But like all outsider art, there's some degree of condescension to the cult that's sprung up around his music-- one can quite easily picture Embeth Davidtz in Junebug popping one of his CDs into her stereo. His songs on the Kids soundtrack give a concise sampling of his output and helpfully surround it with much stronger songs by various incarnations of Lou Barlow's Folk Implosion project. Beyond that, I truly can't imagine needing a whole lot of songs from him, as they really do all sound about the same.

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swo17
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Re: Algo-rhythms: Do the musical shuffle!

#2 Post by swo17 » Fri Jul 05, 2019 6:18 pm

What about that song of his from Friday Night Lights?

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domino harvey
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Re: Algo-rhythms: Do the musical shuffle!

#3 Post by domino harvey » Fri Jul 05, 2019 6:21 pm

Sure, it's fine, though to be honest its use as something of a motif in the series never left me as awed as most. I think it's telling that the doc as much as says that the only time Johnston makes money on his music is when more palatable musicians record covers, though I don't think his voice is really the problem with his output and is indeed probably their best asset!

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Gregory
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Re: Algo-rhythms: Do the musical shuffle!

#4 Post by Gregory » Fri Jul 05, 2019 6:35 pm

The Devil and Daniel Johnston gets my highest recommendation. I've watched it and the extras repeatedly. It's such an incredible story told with so many great interviews, images, recordings, and even animation—Feuerzeig did an amazing job bringing it all together. (I never bought the Blu-ray because it's a BD-R.)
The documentary really did make Johnston something of a superstar, as it introduced him to the broader world outside of his existing cult following, and suddenly people were willing to pay large sums for his artwork, for example. I know a guy who had an ongoing correspondence with Johnston in the early days and had saved a lot of the drawings he'd sent him. After the doc came out, he put these up on eBay and then used the money he got for them to buy his house!

I hope you'll watch the film and post your thoughts, colin. Being a fan of the music isn't a requirement at all for getting a lot out of it.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Algo-rhythms: Do the musical shuffle!

#5 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Jul 09, 2019 12:08 am

Gregory wrote:
Fri Jul 05, 2019 6:35 pm
The Devil and Daniel Johnston gets my highest recommendation. I've watched it and the extras repeatedly. It's such an incredible story told with so many great interviews, images, recordings, and even animation—Feuerzeig did an amazing job bringing it all together. (I never bought the Blu-ray because it's a BD-R.)
The documentary really did make Johnston something of a superstar, as it introduced him to the broader world outside of his existing cult following, and suddenly people were willing to pay large sums for his artwork, for example. I know a guy who had an ongoing correspondence with Johnston in the early days and had saved a lot of the drawings he'd sent him. After the doc came out, he put these up on eBay and then used the money he got for them to buy his house!

I hope you'll watch the film and post your thoughts, colin. Being a fan of the music isn't a requirement at all for getting a lot out of it.
It's also an excellent look into the effect that mental illness can have on someone's life path and family, much in the way that Crumb is. That final shot of Daniel standing with his parents will haunt me for a long time, and I would put myself in the camp of those who think he has a lot of very impressive music. "Life in Vain" was released when Johnston was committed to a mental hospital, and it's one of my favorite songs ever written, period - what he could have accomplished as a songwriter were he not so ill will never really be knowable. I can't believe I spoke with Louis Black a few months ago and didn't ask him about Johnston. Anyway, I would recommend the doc highly as well, Colin.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Passages

#6 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Sep 11, 2019 3:59 pm

Very sad to be the one to share this: Daniel Johnston.

Wrote some of the most memorable songs of my life, but one, Life in Vain, continues to chill me to the bone, with an almost Nico-ian level of accidentally gorgeous overproduction on the album version. Just a perfect song in my view, with enough childlike lyrical abstraction and conviction in delivery from Johnston to stick with me in my mind forever. I don't even really have the emotional fortitude to watch this Johnston performance with The Swell Season, where he is absolutely delighted throughout, especially when the children who are serving as backup vocalists appear.

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colinr0380
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Re: Passages

#7 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:43 pm

domino and Gregory had just been talking about Daniel Johnston in the random music track thread, so he had only just come back to my attention recently. I guess it is worth mentioning that documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston here as well.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Daniel Johnston (1961-2019)

#8 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:12 pm

Carefully (as not to disrupt the rest of the thread) yanked Johnston-only posts and brought them here so there'd be a dedicated thread.

Does anyone want to share their favorite songs of Johnston's? Favorite covers? "The Sun Shines Down on Me" is one of my favorites of his, and of course "The Story of an Artist" was on an Apple ad recently and I'm sure exposed his work to an entirely new audience. Disappointed to see that a good chunk of his early catalog is pretty fragmented and difficult to find on streaming services, and even in places like the iTunes Store for purchase. The most comprehensive collection I can find is on Google Play Music, if you've got that.

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denti alligator
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Re: Daniel Johnston (1961-2019)

#9 Post by denti alligator » Wed Sep 11, 2019 7:32 pm

"Worried Shoes"

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jazzo
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Re: Daniel Johnston (1961-2019)

#10 Post by jazzo » Wed Sep 11, 2019 11:41 pm

His singing of “Speeding Motorcycle” over the phone while Yo La Tengo cover the song’s instrumentation on live radio is one of my favourite things in the world. My kids love it, too.

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Gregory
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Re: Daniel Johnston (1961-2019)

#11 Post by Gregory » Thu Sep 12, 2019 12:31 am

"Speeding Motorcycle" would have to be one of my picks as well. The whole show that Johnston put on during that call to WFMU is well worth listening to, for anyone who hasn't heard it.

But what makes it such an amazing song to me is that it's a love song to a motorcycle yet it's somehow a completely convincing and effective bit of romantic lore. What's more, he had actually lived the dangerous itinerant life of buying a moped, going off the grid for months, joining a carnival and eventually getting punched out by a menacing carny—all the sort of thing that's a pose or flight of fancy when 99.999% of other songwriters write songs about it, but it was lived experience for Johnston. And it was because his family were trying to put him in mental institution, and he didn't want to go so was trying to escape.

I listened to "Life in Vain" again today, and I thought I knew that song well but had forgotten those last two words in the song's final seconds. Hearing that today knocked me for a loop—simultaneous throat lump and chills.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Daniel Johnston (1961-2019)

#12 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Sep 12, 2019 1:02 am

Rewatched the doc tonight for the first time in years and it's even better than I remembered it being. For some reason I thought, as Domino mentions in the lead post, that the Laurie stuff was more pervasive and intrusive in the film than it actually is. She nestled into his head somewhere beside his other schizophrenic obsessions (alongside his religion-adjacent fears, for one), and unless there's something we don't know that muddies the water of his behavior (which would be believable considering what he was capable of when badly manic), it's not as though he harassed or stalked Laurie, just idolized her memory from afar for years afterward. Even when he sees her again working at a funeral home, it sounds as though he was uncomfortable and embarrassed to be in her presence, not eager to persist with some kind of misguided attempted courtship. Johnston's songs that are about his idealized memory of her are not much different than something like "The Girl From the North Country," in my view. We've all loved somebody who didn't love us back who we still think about, right? We're just not all legendary songwriters.

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denti alligator
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Re: Daniel Johnston (1961-2019)

#13 Post by denti alligator » Fri Sep 13, 2019 11:17 am

"Hey Joe"

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