Daniel Johnston



Daniel Johnston is a multi-talented, but oh-so-tortured guy.  Johnston is often described as a genius, but he also suffers from manic depression (Bipolar Disorder) and Schizophrenia (for the record, I can easily imagine those two three going together); his overwhelmingly original creations have landed him spots on MTV and college radio, on the soundtrack of Kids and Where The Wild Things Are, in gallery exhibitions and the Whitney Biennial, while his illness has placed him more often than not in mental institutions.  
Johnston was born in 1961.  He grew up in the northern panhandle of West Virginia where he spent most of his childhood drawing, until Johnston discovered his love of music.  His favorites were Bob Dylan, David Bromberg, Neil Young, the Sex Pistols, and the Beatles. As a teen, Johnston and his friends would record their own tapes and trade them amongst each other. ‘Songs of Pain’ and ‘More Songs of Pain’ were just a couple of his contributions.  They told the tale of Johnston’s anguish for Laurie – his long-time crush who eventually married an undertaker.  Bummer.  

He moved to Austin, Texas and slowly but surely began to gain notoriety within the Indie music scene.   In 1988, Johnston visited New York City and recorded 1990 with producer Kramer at his Noise New York studio.  Then, Kurt Cobain began to wear a t-shirt featuring the cover image of Johnston’s album Hi, How Are You.  By the early 90s Johnston was officially a star.  The only problem?  He was in a mental institution at the time


Mental breakdown or not, a bidding war to sign Johnston ensued. He refused a multi-album deal with Elektra Records because Metallica was on the label’s roster and Johnston was convinced that they were possessed by Satan and would hurt him.  He also dropped his manager (who brokered the deal), because Johnston believed he too was possessed by Satan.  Ultimately, he signed with Atlantic Records and released Fun, produced by Paul Leary of Butthole Surfers in 1994.


Throughout all of this, Johnston was always drawing.  He made his album covers, and just about everything else.  And his demonic obsession is evident in every one of his creations.

In 2004, he released The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered, a two-disc compilation. The first featured artists such as Tom Waits, Beck, TV on the Radio, Jad Fair, Eels, Bright Eyes, Calvin Johnson, Death Cab for Cutie, Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips covering songs written by Johnston. The second disc featured all of the original recordings.  Johnston has also continued to draw and his work has been featured in art shows around the world (currently at Agnes B in NYC).  In 2005 The Devil and Daniel Johnston was released by Director Jeff Feuerzeig.  It tells the story of this amazing artist better than you could ever imagine.

Such a great story.  And Johnston’s most recent collaboration is with Supreme – way cool.




3 thoughts on “Daniel Johnston

  1. If I had your talent I would also share my insightful views. I agree with many from the points you make in this post. They are fresh and incite believed in the reader. Thank you.

    • Thanks so much! I actually used a WordPress theme to create the blog. I don’t have much tech/programming expertise so anything you see was simple to create … thanks for looking. Mara

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