Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mid to Late Week Mad Geniuses - Daniel Johnston

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...


wari lasi said...

I can't see any of the pictures. Is it just me?

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

It's just you, Wari.

plus hundreds of songs about a girl he had a crush on in his teens who he hasn't seen for 30+ years.

This sounds a lot like Persesu in 30 years time.

wari lasi said...

How come? Even if I re-load I don't see the images.

Now I feel persecuted, even more than the usual constant feeling of persecution that I have.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

They're YouTube clips. Your system may not be able to process them.

Persesu is obviously Perseus' Romanian cousin.

Who is a complete loser.

Unlike Perseus.


wari lasi said...

Me and my shit system.

Shit. I'm going home then.

Melba said...

Wow Perseus, what a fabulous story, thank you.

That last song was indeed beautiful and haunting. How about the weird sounds behind the music about half-way through, was that the devil? And just the lyric "something's last a long time" is so filled with pathos and fidelity - heartbreaking really.

You know what, this is an example of the power of technology. Usually I am a techno-hating luddite, but I don't know that we (meaning me, a non-muso) would have ever heard of this guy without the internet.

How did you find out about him?

squib said...

Wari, have you got net nanny?

I liked the last song, the other two are too folksy wolksy for me

Anonymous said...

This sounds a lot like Persesu in 30 years time.But hang on... hasn't it been 30 years already since Perseus was in his teens?

Also, isn't Daniel Johnston the lead singer of Silverchair?

I wish Desci was here to confirm this - isn't she a big Silverchair fan?

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Last I recall Desci called SilverChair a pack of cunty, cunty, cunt-sticks.

And a cracking post, as usual Bob.

Anonymous said...

She does like them then.

And poor Perseus is probably sitting in a corner quitely lamenting how Lewd Bob once again takes credit for his hard work.

Perseus said...

Melba - I first heard of him about 15 years ago when Kurt Cobain kept plugging him, but I didn't really get into him properly until the documentary came out a few years ago.

Squib - Yeah, they are all a bit folksy wolksy the way he does it, because he is limited by his lack of instrument proficiency. Where the songs really shine is in their lyrics and basic melody, and when real musos and bands cover his songs, they come to life.

There's an album you can get of his, where disc one is his songs as he recorded them at home, and disc two is real bands performing them - and by real bands I mean real good ones, like Flaming Lips, Beck, Tom Waits, M.Ward and Bright Eyes.

Hang on. Strike that. Beck is shit. Never been into him.

Perseus said...

It's alright Boogey - Lewd Bob and I have been stealing each other's stories and gags since we were five years old. Swings and roundabouts, it's probably even'd out over the years.

Lewd Bob said...

Fuck you, Perseus, you ingrate! You know you're 3 up on me.

Puss In Boots said...

Wow. This is really amazing stuff!

Also, Connor Oberst is shit. I can't stand Bright Eyes. I respect the lyrics, but I can't listen to that guy's voice. He sounds like a sheep.

Melba said...

Daniel Johns of Silverchair...

homesick said...

Can't play.. can't sing and yet his songs are beautiful.

Anyone else thinking of a resemblance to a Mr Bob Dylan ??

Dylan.. great poet but I wish he hadn't opened his mouth anywhere near a microphone.

wari lasi said...

I can't see the fucking links. So I'm forgetting about him.

No Net Nanny Squib. But I am presently sleeping with the girl I hired as a Nanny for my daughter.

Maybe that's the problem. My PC is objecting to me being morally challenged.

Perseus said...

Shagging the nanny, Wari?

Atta boy.

Anonymous said...

No Net Nanny Squib. But I am presently sleeping with the girl I hired as a Nanny for my daughter.That must be the most shamelessly self-promoting segue I've come across all week.

Desci said...

Persueus, Beck's great.

Speaking of Perseus, I like silvershair. And it's 1995 and I'm in year eight.

No, silverchair are pretty awful. But best not bitch about them considering the above's... involvement with the band.

I've said too much.

eat my shorts said...

No Net Nanny Squib. But I am presently sleeping with the girl I hired as a Nanny for my daughter.Dude.


You mean the woman you hired as your Nanny, right?