Daniel Johnston, gifted and enigmatic American songwriter, dies aged 58

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Daniel Johnston, gifted and enigmatic American songwriter, dies aged 58


Daniel Johnston, a singer-songwriter and visible artist whose childlike, haunted songs introduced him acclaim as one in every of America’s most gifted outsider voices, was discovered useless Wednesday morning at his dwelling in Waller, Texas, exterior Houston. He was 58.

His brother and supervisor, Dick, mentioned that Johnston had in all probability died in a single day. He didn’t specify the trigger. Johnston had been launched from a hospital on Tuesday after being handled for kidney points. “He was nonetheless productive, writing songs and drawing, and was simply irritated by his well being greater than something,” his brother mentioned. “It was only one factor after one other.”

In a profession that was full of stops and begins, Johnston turned one thing of a man-child superstar of the inventive underground, incomes the admiration of rock stars like Kurt Cobain and Tom Waits in addition to comparisons to William Blake. His cartoon drawings – rendered in Magic Marker and regularly impressed by characters like Casper the Pleasant Ghost – have been included within the Whitney Biennial exhibition in 2006 on the Whitney Museum of American Artwork.

People in Austin, Texas pay their respects at the “Hi, How Are You” mural created by musician and artist Daniel Johnston following his death. Photograph: Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Individuals in Austin, Texas pay their respects on the “Hello, How Are You” mural created by musician and artist Daniel Johnston following his demise. {Photograph}: Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman by way of AP

But Johnston was dogged by psychological well being issues that stunted his profession and periodically hospitalised him. Lately he had largely been confined to his household’s dwelling; in 2017, he went on a farewell tour backed by members of the bands Fugazi, Wilco and Constructed to Spill.

As information of his demise unfold, Johnston was mourned on-line by creators throughout mediums and generations, amongst them Beck, director Judd Apatow and John Darnielle of the literary-minded indie band the Mountain Goats. Producer Jack Antonoff praised the way in which Johnston “shared fearlessly.”

Johnston was born on January 22nd, 1961, in Sacramento, California, the youngest of 5 kids in what he described as a Christian fundamentalist family. At a younger age, he moved together with his household to West Virginia, however by the early 1980s he had relocated to the underground rock middle of Austin, Texas, the place he handed out home made cassettes to pals and clients whereas working at a McDonald’s. In response to Johnston’s web site, these tapes have been recorded on a $59 Sanyo boombox.

He rapidly gained the discover of fellow musicians and the music press with songs, like “Rushing Motorbike” and “Don’t Play Playing cards With Devil,” that had a poignant readability but confirmed glimpses of a fractured thoughts. He turned nearly as well-known for the unusual, cartoonish artwork that adorned the tapes. One, “Hello, How Are You,” featured a froglike alien, and the picture turned his signature.

With a boyish voice and a present for pure melody – his largest inspiration was the Beatles – Johnston sang candidly and typically disturbingly about his demons. “Despair got here knocking at my door, and I let her in for some time,” he sang on “Despair Got here Knocking,” from “Hello, How Are You.” “She sat on the sofa and commenced smoking. She mentioned nothing.”

Sonic Youth

Climbing the rungs of the indie-rock world, Johnston was featured on MTV in 1985, and three years later got here to New York, the place he blended with the bands Sonic Youth and Galaxie 500, however ended up in Bellevue Hospital after he assaulted Sonic Youth’s drummer, Steve Shelley. (Upon his launch, Johnston went straight to CBGB to carry out.)

On the identical time, Johnston’s songs have been turning into indie-rock requirements. “Rushing Motorbike,” capturing the joys and concern of ardour – “Rushing motorbike, don’t you drive recklessly/Rushing motorbike of my coronary heart” – was lined by Yo La Tengo, the Pastels, Mary Lou Lord and others.

In 1991, Johnston made a joint album with Jad Truthful of the band Half Japanese, who had cultivated an analogous popularity as an eccentric. However by comparability, the rock information Trouser Press famous, Truthful “appears about as offbeat as an insurance coverage salesman,” as Johnston muttered “Poor you, nobody understands you” in a warped, ghostlike voice.

Within the music business’s alternative-rock gold rush of the 1990s, Johnston was briefly signed to Atlantic Data. However his sole major-label album, “Enjoyable,” launched in 1994, was a flop, and the label quickly dropped him. As Johnston’s psychological issues mounted ? he mentioned he suffered from manic melancholy ? he largely withdrew from performing and remained at his household dwelling. Along with his brother, he’s survived by three sisters, Margy Johnston, Sally Reid and Cindy Brewer. Within the 2000s, at the same time as Daniel Johnston appeared to vanish from public life, his popularity as a singular artist was rising. On a 2004 compilation album, “The Late Nice Daniel Johnston: Found Lined,” his songs have been carried out by Waits, TV on the Radio and Dying Cab for Cutie. The following 12 months, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie “The Satan and Daniel Johnston” received the documentary directing award on the Sundance Movie Competition.

A candle burns next to a sign bearing the name of a song by musician and artist Daniel Johnston at a memorial at a mural he painted on Wednesday. Photograph: Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
A candle burns subsequent to an indication bearing the identify of a music by musician and artist Daniel Johnston at a memorial at a mural he painted on Wednesday. {Photograph}: Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman by way of AP

However when Johnston was chosen for the 2006 version of the distinguished Whitney Biennial, he was utterly unaware of his choice. When requested whether or not he would journey to New York to see his work within the present, he informed The New York Instances: “I’m not in any situation to go abroad. It might wipe me out.”

Lately, Johnston made sporadic makes an attempt to make one other album, which he wished to name “If.” Nevertheless it was by no means accomplished; in response to an account in New York journal, the producer on the venture, Brian Beattie, clashed with Dick Johnston and others who have been concerned in Daniel Johnston’s administration.

Nonetheless, Johnston remained devoted to his artwork, planning his 2017 tour regardless of failing well being. “I can’t cease writing,” he mentioned in an interview with The Instances. “If I did cease, there might be nothing. Perhaps every thing would cease. So I received’t cease. I’ve acquired to maintain it going.” – New York Instances



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