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I 1st remember hearing Daniel Johnston back in the early 1990s when I'd hear this local radio station play "Speeding Motorcycle", "Don't Let the Sun Go Down...", etc. At first, I didn't know what to make of him. BUT, just listening to the incredibly great lyrics, I knew he was up there on the "cult figure" status board. I also recall hearing, around the same period, hearing Yo La Tengo's cover version of "Speeding Motorcycle", which, they'd polished up a bit, slowed down a tad, but, it was still recognizable as Daniel's great tune. Also, in that era, that semi-documentary, directed by Larry something or other, film called KIDS - remember that one anyone? It was this sort of depressing docu-drama but without any real substance, just kind of going around, filming various young people who were living on the street -runaways, kids kicked out of home, or even kids who had a home but spent all their time w/the aforementioned kids - a bunch of strung-out junkie kids (these were kids in the 15-17 or 18 y/o range) - anyway, the soundtrack was WAY better than the film! I recall having the s/t a long time ago & while I don't recall everything on it, the 2 best tunes that were on it (I don't know if there was any original songs on there, just songs that were licensed from the bands or their labels to be on this s/t) were "Spoiled" by Sebadoh, from their awesome album, entitled "III" and they also had Daniel Johnston's "Casper the Friendly Ghost".
Anyway, that is just a kind of trip down memory lane for ya - but, although YIP! JUMP MUSIC was released in 1983, I am not sure, but, I believe he got more and more attention (plus, he'd done more albums too, since) in the late 80s, early-mid 90s. He has (or had-I can't recall if he's still alive) schizophrenia, I believe. I too have seen that wonderful documentary made about him, THE DEVIL & DANIEL JOHNSTON, which was a great showcase for him and it kind of showed the world this poor guy, who suffered so much due to his mental illness, yet, he seemed to keep a positive outlook on things. I can't recall if, in the film, he said he was taking his anti-psychotic meds to keep him lucid (if anyone w/a mental illness really needs to take meds, it's schizophrenics, because they take away - or at least tone down - the hallucinations: voices, visions, warped sense of reality and the sensory overload that is a part of this disease. I know, I've heard a lot of times, from various schizophrenics who've been on these hard-core meds, like Prolixin, Zyprexa, Thorazine, Haldol (which is not being used as much anymore, I think that's what Zyprexa is supposed to take the place of -but, there have been reports of some big problems w/Zyprexa) and Risperdal,which is also given to bipolar d/o pts. -because they can also have some psychotic symptoms. Anyway, what I remember hearing from various pts. who've been on & off these meds is that it feels like you're enveloped in a "wet blanket"; also, some of them are so harsh, because they need to be, in order to quash the very harsh symptoms, they seem to dull the person and turn them into a zombie. I suppose, in the extreme cases, or even not so extreme ones, it's better for the pt to be on them then not, but at what price? I don't know, about Daniel's medication history, but I can only imagine that if he were all doped up on antipsychotics, etc that his creativity would be, like his symptoms, frozen, tamped down, suspended, etc. So, I think he wasn't taking them on a regular basis and when you listen to the lyrics of his songs you can hear the creativity this guy had-he wasn't just some oddity, like a zoo animal, which people liked to come and gawk at, no, he had a true, brilliant musical talent and a great knack for songwriting. The lyrics he wrote had a lot more meaning and are much more memorable than those aforementioned "power ballads" and the other junk that Cinderella, Skid Row, G&R, Winger and the like had to offer. Johnston's lyrics were lovely, they moved you and the way he sang them, with his plaintive voice, had an almost child-like (not "childish"-big difference) vulnerability that showed, at the same time, much more courage than anything Axl Rose ever had to offer! He wasn't afraid to be himself and wear his emotions and feelings on his sleeve; this was probably something that his illness gave him - an indifference to sublimation and putting on a front, acting the part of something he wasn't (which was exactly what these L.A. hair bands DID do). He came off as a simple, straightforward, honest guy, who sang what was in his heart and didn't even think to worry about other people's opinions of his work or what they thought of him. THE DEVIL & DANIEL JOHNSTON, which, like I said, was a great documentary about the man and his music as well as his personal life, also showed a man who was not afraid to be himself, to say what he thought, etc. He wasn't living a phony "rock star" (I HATE that term) life in some glitzy mansion, up on a hill, isolated from others and I'm sure that he would never do such a thing - just the thought of that was anathema to everything he was about. In the film, it was also kind of sad to see the way he had to struggle with his schizophrenia. Schizophrenia has to be the worst mental illness to have - for one thing, the onset of the disease happens to people between the ages of around late adolescence - 17 or 18 up to around one's early 30s, one can grow up "normally" (whatever that means!), as far as not being symptomatic, etc. and come from any socioeconomic background -rich or poor, smart or stupid, big or small, urban or rural and so on - it makes no distinction - in that everyone is equal. But, after you grow up and you're maybe 18, or somewhere in your early or mid-20s and the schizophrenia, which has really been in you all along, starts to manifest itself, it's quite scary -when one gets their first "episode" - hearing voices, seeing things, etc. it can really have a profoundly negative effect (obviously) because, the person doesn't know what is happening or why. Once one gets diagnosed and figures out that it is schizophrenia, at least the rational part of the person understands where the hallucinations, the paranoia, the psychotic episodes, etc, come from. Anyway, I just really had to put in a plug here for Daniel Johnston, who was a great guy, an intelligent, witty and influential singer/songwriter and he deserves all the attention he can get (but not too much, now - he wouldn't like that, tons of cameras and "journalists" getting in his face all the time (who would?). But just realize that this man is a legend and his name is well-known throughout the indie music world (at least the indie world of the 90s, the 2000s, etc, I don't know about the younger generation-they'd probably have to be introduced to him secondhand, like by their older brother or a wise friend who really knows his music, etc), A positive, self-aware and humble person in a world full of angry, jealous, zealous people, so full of hate (I know that's not everybody) and a phony facade they present to the world. - Kent Manthie