Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston
Daniel Johnston

Johnston in December 2006
Background information
Birth name Daniel Dale Johnston
Born January 22, 1961 (1961-01-22) (age 50)
Sacramento, California, United States
Origin West Virginia, United States
Genres Folk rock, alternative rock,, lo-fi, outsider music
Occupations Musician, singer-songwriter, visual artist
Years active 1978–present
Labels Yip Eye Music
Atlantic Records
Website hihowareyou.com

Daniel Dale Johnston (born January 22, 1961) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and artist. Johnston was the subject of the 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. He currently lives in Waller, Texas.

Johnston has been diagnosed with manic depression and schizophrenia which has been a recurring problem throughout his life.[1][2]


Early life

Johnston was born in Sacramento, California, and grew up in the northern panhandle of West Virginia between Ohio and Pennsylvania near Chester and New Cumberland, West Virginia. He began recording music in the late 1970s on a $59 Sanyo monaural Boombox, singing and playing piano and chord organ. Following graduation from Oak Glen High School, Johnston spent a few weeks at Abilene Christian University in West Texas, but soon dropped out. Later he attended the East Liverpool branch of Kent State University.

Music career

Johnston's musical work gained some notoriety when he moved to Austin, Texas. Johnston began to attract the attention of the local press and gain a following augmented in numbers by his habit of handing out tapes to people he met. Live performances were well-attended and hotly anticipated.[3]

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.[4] Subsequently he performed at the 1985 Woodshock music festival in Austin, where he was featured in a short documentary of the festival, Woodshock.

In 1988, Johnston visited New York City and recorded 1990 with producer Kramer[5] 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.

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 which music journalist Everett True gave him. In spite of Johnston being resident in a mental hospital at the time, a bidding war to sign him ensued. 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 possessed by Satan and would hurt him. He also dropped his manager who brokered the deal, because Johnston believed he too was possessed by Satan.[6] Ultimately he signed with Atlantic Records and released Fun, produced by Paul Leary of Butthole Surfers in 1994.[7]

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 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 small, private two-seater plane piloted by his father Bill, Johnston had a hypomanic episode believing he was Casper The Friendly Ghost and removed the key from the planes ignition and threw it out of the plane. His father, a former 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.[8]

In 2004, he released The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered, a two-disc compilation. The first disc featured many artists, such as Tom Waits, Beck, TV on the Radio, Jad Fair, Eels, Bright Eyes, Calvin Johnson, Death Cab for Cutie, Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips covering songs written by Johnston. 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[9] 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, such as the film's theme song, "I Had Lost My Mind", and increased his pull as a touring artist.

In 2006, Johnston's own Eternal Yip Eye Music label released his first greatest hits compilation, Welcome to My World.[10] He also appeared as musical guest on The Henry Rollins Show on which he performed "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. 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."[11] He also said that a deal had been struck with the Converse company for a "signature series" Daniel Johnston shoe.[11] Later, it was revealed by Dick Johnston that Converse had dropped the plan.[12] In late 2008, 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.[13]

On January 31, 2009, Daniel Johnston joined the band The Swell Season on a broadcast of Austin City Limits (previously recorded on September 28, 2008) to perform the song "Life in Vain".

His latest album, Is and Always Was, was released on October 6, 2009 on his Eternal Yip Eye Music record label. 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, an upstart 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."

In January 2011, it was announced that Daniel Johnston would be performing at the Middle of the Map Fest in Kansas City, Missouri.[14]


One critic from Pitchfork Media writes that Johnston's recordings range from "spotty to brilliant."[15]

Art career

Johnston's "Hi, How Are You" mural in Austin, Texas

His artwork is shown in galleries such as in London's Aquarium Gallery and New York's Clementine Gallery. both in 2006, and the 2008 Liverpool Biennial. Currently his work is being exhibited as "The Museum of Love" at Verge Gallery in Sacramento, California.

In 1993 Johnston was commissioned to paint a mural of the Hi, How Are You? frog (also known as "Jeremiah the Innocent") from his 1983 album cover on the side of the Sound Exchange record store located on the corner of 21st and Guadalupe in Austin, Texas (the "Drag").[16] At the time, the frog image had recently become nationally recognized from media images of Kurt Cobain wearing a "Hi, How Are You?" t-shirt during Nirvana's promotion of their 1991 album Nevermind.[17] The building remained unoccupied until 2004 when a mexican grill franchise called Baja Fresh took ownership and decided to paint over the mural. Diego Gonzalez Joven, an international student from The University of Texas at Austin convinced the managers and contractors to keep the mural intact, later that year it became a sushi and thai restaurant called Crave.[18] In Spring 2008, a Jeremiah the Innocent collectible figurine was released in limited runs of four different colors.[19]

As of June 2010, a biopic about Johnston's life featuring Gabriel Sunday of My Suicide is in production.[20]

New media

Daniel Johnston worked with Dr. Fun Fun and Smashing Studios to develop an iPhone platform game called "Hi, How Are You". The game is similar to Frogger, but features Johnston's art and music.[21]



  1. ^ Burr, Ty (2006-04-07). "His life is troubling, his fame disturbing". The Boston Globe. http://www.boston.com/ae/movies/articles/2006/04/07/his_life_is_troubling_his_fame_disturbing/?rss_id=Boston%2BGlobe%2B--%2BTy%2BBurr%2B%2Bcolumns. 
  2. ^ Seitz, Matt. "The Devil Goes Down to Texas". New York Press. http://www.nypress.com/19/13/film/MattZollerSeitz.cfm. 
  3. ^ Black, Louis. "Genius and Jive: My roller-coaster relationship with Daniel Johnston Austin Screens". AustinChronicle.com. http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:363536. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  4. ^ Barry Shank, Dissonant Identities: The Rock'N'Roll Scene in Austin, Texas (Wesleyan University Press, 1994), ISBN 9780819562760, p. 157-58 (excerpt available at Google Books).
  5. ^ "kramershimmy home". Kramershimmy.com. http://www.kramershimmy.com. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  6. ^ Senft, Michael (August 11, 2006). "The Devil and Daniel Johnston". The Arizona Republic (United States). http://www.azcentral.com/ent/movies/articles/0811johnston0811.html. Retrieved March 15, 2011. 
  7. ^ Robinson, John (August 20, 2005). "Personal demons". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2005/aug/20/edinburghfilmfestival2005.popandrock. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  8. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (April 2, 2006). "Sean O'Hagan on Daniel Johnston". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2006/apr/02/metallica. Retrieved March 15, 2011. 
  9. ^ MAP Fund | Infernal Bridegroom Productions
  10. ^ Filter-Mag.com[dead link]
  11. ^ a b The Austin Chronicle article: "Off the Record: Music News".
  12. ^ "Unreleased Daniel Johnston Converse All-Stars". MonsterFresh.com. http://monsterfresh.com/2009/06/16/daniel-johnston-converse-shoes-photos-unreleased/#more-3588. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  13. ^ "The Angel And Daniel Johnston – Live At The Union Chapel". Prlog.org. 2008-10-30. http://www.prlog.org/10134907-the-angel-and-daniel-johnston-live-at-the-union-chapel.html. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  14. ^ "Daniel Johnston". middleofthemapfest.com. 2011-01-24. http://www.middleofthemapfest.com/2011/01/daniel-johnston/. Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  15. ^ Kristin Sage Rockermann (2002-01-01). "Interview: Daniel Johnston". Pitchfork Media. http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/feature/31391/Interview_Interview_Daniel_Johnston. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  16. ^ http://rejectedunknown.com/art/public/bajafresh.htm
  17. ^ http://www.hihowareyou.com/images/Curt.jpg
  18. ^ http://www.texasobserver.org/dateline/the-peoples-frog
  19. ^ Daniel Johnston Frog Becomes Collectable Figurine
  20. ^ "Daniel Johnston Biopic, My Suicide Soundtrack, & More". TwentyFourBit. 2010-03-18. http://www.twentyfourbit.com/post/457060631/daniel-johnston-biopic-my-suicide-soundtrack-more. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  21. ^ Work of Daniel Johnston, Texas Artist, Inspires Video Game. Retrieved 2009-10-01.

External links



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