Friday, March 24, 2006

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

I went to see/hear the Frames front man Glen Hansard perform acoustically in Lisburn last summer. It was a fantastic gig, and among the many Van Morrison covers he performed a song by Daniel Johnston.

I had never heard of him before. But after that night I went out and bought
Daniel Johnston - 1990. Apparently it's "Not the best album to choose if its your first experience of Daniel Johnston", and I can agree. However it has a haunting track called 'True Love will find you in the end'. Anyway, for the uninitiated, Johnston is a manic depressive singer/songwriter/artist who used to play into a little tape recorder in a hospital as a means of therapy. He would record a tape, wander outside and sell it (eventually) to a passer by. Then he would go back to his tape recorder and start again. Eventually more and more of these tapes circulated, and started to become sought after. Word spread and studio owner Mark Kramer brought Johnston to his own Shimmy-Disc label.

Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth were fans many cite Johnston as a genius. Simple sketches fetch $100 easily and his music is credited with re-igniting the low-fi genre. So it is a wonder he has sustained his anonymity.

This is soon to pass. Jeff Feuerzeig's documentary, "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" is soon to get theatrical release in the USA, after a year on the festival circuit. He is a fascinating subject and Stylus review the film with an 'A' grade. I can't wait to see it.

Read the review here.

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