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.

 

 

Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band

Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band created music that is hard to characterize because it is completely unique.  It is most commonly tagged “,” but if you watch any of the videos posted here I think don’t think the label does Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band justice.  They are just too funky.

Throughout their career, the band’s musical direction was tightly controlled by Don van Vliet (1941 – 2010), aka Captain Beefheart.  The man was a true artist, committed to the craft of creation.   But that dedication, combined with super intense rehearsal regimes and poor salary, led in large part to the break-up of the original Magic Band.  

Beefheart reformed a new band of musicians under the name, but left the music industry for good in 1982 to pursue his career as a painter.

Although he and his band achieved little commercial or mainstream critical success, Beefheart sustained a cult following as a “highly significant” and “incalculable” influence on an array of New Wave, punk, post-punk, experimental and alternative rock musicians, most notably Tom Waits and the Residents.  Beefheart passed away in 2010 after a long battle with MS.   Below I have posted the last video of him.  It has nothing to do with his Magic Band, but it is just too great not to post.

If you don’t know much about Captain Beefheart, it’s worth checking out his Wikipedia page.  He is kind of like a little known god of music.  Way interesting story.

Rumble Fish

For years, Roger Corman was the man in Hollwood.   Not only did he make some great movies, he made lots and lots and lots of movies!  That’s because Corman had a great appreciation for the two-for-one deal – if you’ve already paid for actors, crew members, and equipment – and if you finish your movie early – then why not keep them all around and make another movie?  Genius.   A young Francis Ford Coppola was one of the many filmmakers Corman helped out throughout his career – a group which also includes Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, and Ron Howard to name a few – and it seems that Coppola learned a bit about thriftiness from his mentor …

Rumble Fish was shot immediately after The Outsiders and utilizes much of the same cast and crew.  But they are very different movies – where the latter was bright, idealistic, and clear-cut, the former was dark and foggy.  Rumble Fish is, as he says, very much an art film, albeit one for teenagers, which is why it probably never really got its due.

The primarily black-and-white film is based on the novel Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton, who also co-wrote the screenplay.  The movie centers on the relationship between Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), a revered former gang leader wishing to live a more peaceful life, and his younger brother, Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a teenaged hoodlum who aspires to become as feared as Motorcycle Boy – “Rusty James can’t live up to his brother’s reputation. His brother can’t live it down.”   Thanks in large part to The OutsidersRumble Fish has an incredible cast that includes Dennis Hopper, Chris Penn, Nicholas Cage, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Tom Waits.  It also happens to feature an excellent soundtrack by Stewart Copeland, drummer of the musical group The Police.

So good, and so cool.  Watch it.