Johnston performing in 2012
|Birth name||Daniel Dale Johnston|
January 22, 1961|
Sacramento, California, U.S.
Daniel Dale Johnston (born January 22, 1961) is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and visual artist who is regarded as a significant figure in outsider, lo-fi, and alternative music scenes. Most of his work consists of cassettes he recorded alone in his home, and his music is frequently cited for its "pure and childlike soul".
Johnston has spent extended periods of his life in psychiatric institutions and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He gathered a local following in the 1980s by passing out tapes of his music while working at a McDonald's in Austin, Texas. His cult status was propelled when Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was seen wearing a T-shirt that featured artwork from Johnston's 1983 album Hi, How Are You. In 2005, Johnston was the subject of the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
Johnston was born in Sacramento, California, and grew up in New Cumberland, West Virginia. He is the youngest of five children of William Dale "Bill" Johnston (1922-2017) and Mabel Ruth Voyles Johnston (1923–2010). He began recording music in the late 1970s on a $59 Sanyo monaural boombox, singing and playing piano as well as the chord organ. Following graduation from Oak Glen High School, Johnston spent a few weeks at Abilene Christian University in West Texas before dropping out. He later attended the art program at the East Liverpool campus of Kent State University, during which he recorded Songs of Pain and More Songs of Pain.
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Johnston's musical work gained some notability when he moved to Austin, Texas. Johnston began to attract the attention of the local press and gained a following augmented in numbers by his habit of handing out tapes to people he met. Live performances were well-attended and hotly anticipated. His local standing led to him being featured in a 1985 episode of the MTV program The Cutting Edge featuring performers from Austin's "New Sincerity" music scene. Subsequently, he performed at the 1985 Woodshock music festival in Austin and was featured in the short documentary Woodshock.
In 1988, Johnston visited New York City and recorded 1990 with producer Kramer at his Noise New York studio. It was released in 1990 on Kramer's Shimmy-Disc label. This was Johnston's first experience in a professional recording environment after a decade of releasing home-made cassette recordings. His mental health further deteriorated during the making of 1990. In 1989, Johnston released the album It's Spooky in collaboration with Half Japanese singer Jad Fair.
In 1990, Johnston played at a music festival in Austin, Texas. On the way back to West Virginia on a private two-seater plane piloted by his father Bill, Johnston had a manic psychotic episode; believing he was Casper the Friendly Ghost, Johnston removed the key from the plane's ignition and threw it outside. His father, a former US Air Force pilot, managed to successfully crash-land the plane, even though "there was nothing down there but trees". Although the plane was destroyed, Johnston and his father emerged with only minor injuries. As a result of this episode, Johnston was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.
Interest in Johnston increased when Kurt Cobain was frequently photographed wearing a T-shirt featuring the cover image of Johnston's album Hi, How Are You that music journalist Everett True gave him. Kurt Cobain listed Yip/Jump Music as one of his favorite albums in his journal in 1993. In spite of Johnston being resident in a mental hospital at the time, there was a bidding war to sign him. He refused to sign a multi-album deal with Elektra Records because Metallica was on the label's roster and he was convinced that they were of Satan and would hurt him. He also dropped his manager after having a psychotic episode at a Butthole Surfers concert. Ultimately he signed with Atlantic Records in February 1994 and that September released Fun, produced by Paul Leary of Butthole Surfers. It was a commercial failure. In June 1996, Atlantic dropped Daniel from the label.
In 1993, the Sound Exchange record store in Austin, Texas commissioned Johnston to paint a mural of the Hi, How Are You? frog (also known as "Jeremiah the Innocent") from the album's cover. After the record store closed in 2003, the building remained unoccupied until 2004 when a Mexican grill franchise called Baja Fresh took ownership and decided to remove the wall that held the mural. A group of people who lived in the neighborhood convinced the managers and contractors to keep the mural intact. As of 2018, the building houses a Thai restaurant called "Thai, How Are You".
Johnston contributed two songs to the soundtrack for Larry Clark's controversial 1995 film Kids, produced by Folk Implosion and Sebadoh's frontman, Lou Barlow. Johnston later covered Schoolhouse Rock!'s "Unpack Your Adjectives" for a compilation of the popular education songs called Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks in 1996.
In 2004, he released The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered, a two-disc compilation. The first disc featured covers of his songs by artists including Tom Waits, Beck, TV on the Radio, Jad Fair, Eels, Bright Eyes, Calvin Johnson, Death Cab for Cutie, Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips and Starlight Mints. The second disc featured Johnston's original recordings of the songs. In 2005, Texas-based theater company Infernal Bridegroom Productions received a Multi-Arts Production/MAP Fund grant to work with Johnston to create a rock opera based on his music, titled Speeding Motorcycle.
A 2005 Dutch documentary about Johnston for the TV series R.A.M. was followed in 2006 by The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Jeff Feuerzeig's documentary, four years in the making, collated some of the vast amount of recorded material Johnston (and in some case, others) had produced over the years to portray his life and music. The film won high praise, receiving the Director's Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. The film also inspired more interest in Johnston's work, and increased his prestige as a touring artist. In 2006, Johnston's label, Eternal Yip Eye Music, released his first greatest-hits compilation, Welcome to My World. He appeared as musical guest on The Henry Rollins Show, performing "Mask" and "Care Less" (the latter was exclusive to the Internet).
Through the next few years Johnston toured extensively across the world, and continued to attract press attention. His artwork was shown in galleries such as in London's Aquarium Gallery, New York's Clementine Gallery and at the Liverpool Biennial in 2006 and 2008, and in 2009, his work was exhibited at "The Museum of Love" at Verge Gallery in Sacramento, California. In 2008, Dick Johnston, Daniel's brother and manager, revealed that "a movie deal based on the artist's life and music had been finalized with a tentative 2011 release." He also said that a deal had been struck with the Converse company for a "signature series" Daniel Johnston shoe. Later, it was revealed by Dick Johnston that Converse had dropped the plan. In early 2008, a Jeremiah the Innocent collectible figurine was released in limited runs of four different colors. Later in the year, Adjustable Productions released Johnston's first concert DVD, The Angel and Daniel Johnston – Live at the Union Chapel, featuring a 2007 appearance in Islington, London.
Is and Always Was was released on October 6, 2009, on Eternal Yip Eye Music. In 2009, it was announced that Matt Groening had chosen Johnston to perform at the edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that he curated in May 2010, in Minehead, England. Later that year, he was invited by rock band Cage the Elephant to appear at Starry Nights Fest, a music festival in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Johnston performed a brief solo set before being joined on stage by Cage, who backed performances of several songs, including "Speeding Motorcycle" and "True Love Will Find You in the End". Also that year, Dr. Fun Fun and Smashing Studios developed an iPhone platform game called Hi, How Are You. The game is similar to Frogger, but features Johnston's art and music. It is said[by whom?] Daniel Johnston played it during its development and liked it, although he was not familiar with the iPhone.
On March 13, 2012, Johnston released his first comic book, Space Ducks – An Infinite Comic Book of Musical Greatness  at SXSW, published by BOOM! Studios. The comic book ties-in with the Space Ducks album and an iOS app.
On March 1, 2012, Brooklyn-based photographer Jung Kim announced her photo book and traveling exhibition project with Johnston titled DANIEL JOHNSTON: here, a collaboration that began in 2008 when Kim first met Johnston and began photographing him on the road and at his home in Waller, Texas. On March 13, 2013, this photography book was published, featuring five years of documentation on Johnston. The traveling exhibition started at SXSW 2013 in Austin, Texas, hosted by Johnston's long-time friend and early supporter Louis Black, co-founder of The Austin Chronicle and SXSW Festival. The opening featured a special performance by Johnston along with tribute performances led by Jason Sebastian Russo formerly of Mercury Rev. The second exhibition ran in May and June 2013 in London, England, and featured a special performance by Johnston along with tribute performances by the UK band Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs with Steffan Halperin of the Klaxons. On October 10, 2013, Jason Pierce of Spiritualized hosted the New York City opening of the exhibition which included special tribute performances led by Pierce and Glen Hansard of The Swell Season and The Frames.
In November 2015, Hi, How Are You Daniel Johnston, a short biopic about Johnston's life, was released featuring Johnston as his 2015 self and Gabriel Sunday of Archie's Final Project as Johnston's 1983 self. The executive producers for the film included Lana Del Rey.
In July 2017, Johnston announced that he would be retiring from live performance and would embark on a final five-date tour that fall. Each stop on the tour featured Johnston backed by a group that had been influenced by his music: The Preservation All-Stars in New Orleans, The Districts and Modern Baseball in Philadelphia, Jeff Tweedy in Chicago, and Built to Spill for the final two dates in Portland and Vancouver.
- Songs of Pain (1981)
- Don't Be Scared (1982)
- The What of Whom (1982)
- More Songs of Pain (1983)
- Yip/Jump Music (1983)
- Hi, How Are You (1983)
- Retired Boxer (1984)
- Respect (1985)
- Continued Story (1985) (with Texas Instruments)
- Merry Christmas (1988)
- It's Spooky (1989) (with Jad Fair)
- 1990 (1990)
- Artistic Vice (1991)
- Fun (1994)
- Rejected Unknown (2001)
- Fear Yourself (2003) (with Mark Linkous)
- Lost and Found (2006)
- Is and Always Was (2009)
- Beam Me Up! (2010) (with Beam)
- Space Ducks (2012)
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- Zanger, Doug (June 15, 2018). "Apple Created an Ode to the Trials and Triumphs of Creating on a Mac". Adweek. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
- Hi How Are You: Daniel Johnston's official website
- Daniel Johnston's official fan website
- Daniel Johnston's digital download site
- Daniel Johnston on IMDb
- New York Times article on Daniel Johnston (Feb 2006)
- Daniel Johnston on MusicAustin
- Secret Tones review of The Devil and Daniel Johnston (by John Barron)
- 2001 Daniel Johnston interview with Jon Niccum
- "Songs of Pain" interview with Daniel Johnston (Apr. 2008) on MonsterFresh.com
- Daniel Johnston, Paris, 2007
- Exclusive Images of unreleased Daniel Johnston signature model Converse
- Feature on Daniel Johnston in German magazine ZOO, Summer 2005
- "Coloring Daniel Johnston" (Jan. 2012), a tribute to Daniel Johnston from Spanish bands