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Daniel Johnston’s 13 best songs

Daniel Johnston was an ambitious songwriter and artist. When filmmaker Jeff Feuerze began working with him for the famous 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel JohnstonHe was surprised that the musician had faithfully archived his own life, which led to a wealth of material: Super 8 home videos, cassette tapes and drawings.

“He had a master plan that he would do something with all of this,” said Johnston former manager Jeff Tartakov.

The only 58-year-old artist who died of a heart attack was vulnerable. This was ensured by his bipolar disorders and lifelong battles for mental health. But that doesn’t mean that he lacked the agency. In fact, he became a local hero in his hometown of Austin in the 1

980s when he distributed self-made tapes of his lo-fi music, which he also gave in the offices of The Austin Chronicle, the newspaper that brought the news of his death.

Johnston friend Brian Beattie said yesterday to the newspaper: “He was a legend in his own mind first, then he became a legend. That was the only time I saw someone say, “I’m getting famous” and he just made himself. He was the least likely person on earth to become popular – and he did. “

When Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt depicting the artwork for one of Johnston’s tapes, “Hi, how are you?” This legend started. Johnston joined the countercultural movement of the 90s – embodied by alternative bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth and filmmakers like Harmony Korine, who contained Johnston’s strict song “Casper The Friendly Ghost” on the steadfast path Children – which meant the crazies had infiltrated the mainstream. He was their patron saint.

Kurt Cobain in his Daniel Johnston t-shirt

Johnston signed with Atlantic Records and worked with Butthole SurfersPaul Leary Producing ‘Fun’, the 1994 record that spiced up its minimalist sound, was the result of a collection of rattling garage punk. The Devil and Daniel Johnston provided Johnston with another renaissance; A blogosphere from the late nineties, hungry for alternative sounds, devoured the (by its standards) 2009 produced album ‘Is And Always Was’, which was managed by Jason Falkner.

The disease has prevented Daniel Johnston from working in recent years, but his impact on popular culture has been immeasurable. As a musician, he not only inspired Cobain, but also newer denominational songwriters like Bright Eyes and a new generation of musicians who deal with mental health – NME Beabadoobee, the new generation favorite, spoke about his influence on her work. The simpsons The creator Matt Gröning also loved his work as a cartoonist.

As with any complex, ambitious songwriter, Daniel Johnston’s work was varied and diverse – although certain themes reappeared: depression, the power of romantic love, a girl named Laurie, whom he met at art school (they premiered at the 2005 by The Devil and Daniel Johnston). So it can be daunting to analyze his extensive back catalog, which consists of 17 albums.

However, here are 13 great songs from this wonderful, talented musician.

“Devil Town” (1990)

With a time of one minute and four seconds, this a cappella track captures everything that was unique about Daniel Johnson. “I lived in a devil’s city” he sings and continues: “All friends were vampires / I didn’t know they were vampires / It turned out that I was a vampire myself. ” It is haunting, strange and sad. The track was reinterpreted as a jazz number on the 2010 compilation ‘Beam Me Up’, but nothing can beat the otherworldly original.

“Some things take a long time” (1990)

This delicate number comes from the same album and contains piano, but remains almost as light and fragile as ‘Devil Town’. It is usually two ringing notes that are played repeatedly. Johnston insists that “some things last a lifetime ”- That could be his mantra when you look at his ongoing health battles and his lifelong creativity. He was reportedly working on an album before he died. Check out this amazing cover by Lana Del Rey.

“High Horse” (2009)


At the other end of the spectrum is this brisk pop song inspired by Billy Joel, to which Johnston shines through a jumping piano, “Say hello at my funeral / I’ll be there on time”. Although these lyrics are bittersweet – and now particularly moving – it was discovered at the time that ‘Is And Always Was’, the album on which it appeared, was more optimistic than much of his work. It was his last real album and a good way to remember him.

“Without You” (2009)


While we’re here, let’s enjoy another “Is And Always Was” cut. Daniel Johnston wrote beautifully about love and he also wrote fabulous, mischievous comic songs. ‘Without You’ is a carefree separation song: “Without you – I’m fine!” he sings, later in conclusion, “Without you – I’ll be a spell!” Try to hear it without smiling.

“Funeral Girl” (1999)

Johnston was sold off Atlantic when his 1994 album ‘Fun’ was not sold: his 1999 collection ‘Rejected Unknown’ was named after this fact. The outstanding “Funeral Girl” also indicates that he was a more confident songwriter than some might think. The track begins as a strict piano-led song that could have been lifted from one of his early home tapes before it blossomed into a weird honky-tonk ode with parping brass for a woman whirling around at funerals.

“Love Wheel” (1994)

You can’t trust people, especially not those who haven’t bought Daniel Johnston’s 1994 album ‘Fun’. This Belter got off to a shitty start, the clinking drums with a grinding guitar and Johnston’s uninhibited voice: “Show me your love / How heaven will do up there.” It is joyful and melancholy – and you can dance to it.

“Free Life” (1994)

It immediately follows on the ‘Fun’ tracklist, ‘Life In Vain’, an impotent ballad so blissful that it is strange to think that a) it comes from someone who is generally considered an ‘outsider’, and b ) it wasn’t a hit. The sweeping strings (sure – certainly! – an inspiration for Green Days’ Good Riddance (time of your life), which appeared three years later), the easy guitar playing, the question of longing “Where am I going?”: This is one of Johnston’s most accessible songs.

“Casper the Kind Spirit” (1983)

Time to explore some of Johnston’s at least accessible work. It is one of the major contradictions in his conflicting career that thanks to his appearance on the album this has become one of his most famous songs children Soundtrack. Johnston is a real early home shot. He strikes away, presses the keyboard keys and tells the story of a ghost who “smiled through his personal hell “ but in life there was happiness in death because “Everyone respects the dead ”.

in the childrenThis deceptively naive-sounding song was used as a soundtrack for a brutal attack in a skate park, evidence of the darkness that has haunted much of Johnston’s music.

“Funeral Service” (1980)

Daniel Johnston’s music had an indelible quality even in its most rudimentary form. This scratchy, homemade singer mostly sings the same lines over and over, mostly without outside help, until some friends join in: “Funeral home / I go to this funeral home / I have a coffin, glossy and black / I go to the funeral and never come back. ” Still, the melody is so haunting, so strange, and so perfect that it stays with you all day.

“Wicked World” (1980)


This comes from Johnston’s debut album “Songs Of Pain”, which was recorded in the basement of his parents in Virginia before moving to Austin. The album is challenging (it’s just Johnston, a keyboard, and a tape recorder), but its typical sounds are there. While ‘Grievances’, which opens the album, is often seen as the epitome of Johnston, ‘Wicked Word’ is more melodic and sweeter.

“Mountain Summit” (2003)

Fast forward to 2003, Johnston teamed up with Sparklehorse frontman Mark Linkous, who like Paul Leary and Jason Falkner channeled the musician’s uncompromising sound into something more accessible. This pulsating track combines strings, breakneck drums and sparkling sound effects and looks like a classic of the parallel universe travel time – if you maybe get behind the wheel of a spaceship.

“My Life Begins Again” (1989)

Man, Daniel Johnston was great opening albums. This groovy rockabilly number speaks to Johnston’s own career, another indication of his self-confidence. As an aspiring cult hero, he had played the South By South West Festival in his hometown. Here he boasts: “My fame is spreading across the country / My life is starting over.” And the fame and lasting influence of this iconoclastic figure will live on.

“True Love Will Find You In The End” (1990)

Do you want evidence? This sparse, delicate love song became Daniel Johnston’s trademark, which was covered by countless artists, including The Flaming Lips and Beck. With a gentle guitar, Johnston sings the lines that sound with the beautiful simplicity of so many of his works: “True love will find you in the end / This is a promise with a catch / Only if you search it can find you / Because true love also searches.

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