Daniel Johnston is almost 50, probably a virgin and still lives with his Mum and Dad. He has spent much of his life in mental institutions, has the permanent shakes, is delusional about his relationships with both the real and abstract worlds, and is prone to self-destruction.
He is fervently religious and sees the Devil everywhere, and in everything. He attacks those closest to him, and as well-inentioned as he may be, he is very un-hinged and is the last person you'd want over for dinner.
He records songs on cheap cassette decks, does little cartoon drawings on the front and hands them out to people. He plays piano and guitar badly - kind of just bangs on them and sings songs about Caspar the Friendly Ghost, Mountian Dew soft drink, Captain America, plus hundreds of songs about a girl he had a crush on in his teens who he hasn't seen for 30+ years. And God and Devils.
He is mad; clinically, emotionally, actually. A mad man... he is also perhaps the greatest songwriter of the modern era, and that includes Dylan and Lennon. His little songs, recorded on to 99c blank casettes have been covered by Tom Waits, Nirvana, Somic Youth, Spiritualised and a whole stack of other great artists.
See, Idol has it wrong. They take normal songs with good melodies and piss all over them by playing with the melody. Yes, technically, some of the singers have amazing vocal tricks, but what of the song itself? Does it make it a better song if you can jump eight octaves in the one phrase? Do they have to add a thousand notes to an otherwise basic melody? It's all about the voice these days... "Oh, she's a great singer," they say, but for many of us, we ask, "Yes, but what about the song?"
And that's where Daniel steps in. Can't sing, can't play... but the songs are incredible.
Even his cartoon art is selling for thousands.
Here's the wiki entry.
Here's the beauty he is capable of:
Here's the ad for the brilliant documentary that moved me so:
Here's a song recorded on to a cheap casette, that some dedicated fan made a film clip of animating Daniel's artwork.
And finally, this is perhaps the most beautiful song I've ever heard...