Music: Daniel Johnston

Daniel Dale Johnston (born 1961) is an American musician and artist. He has a strong cult following and is today the most well known "outsider musician". Johnston is usually known for his lo-fi recordings from the 1980s, his most popular album being Hi, How Are You?, released in 1983. He received a Colbert Bump when Kurt Cobain wore a Johnston T-shirt and named Johnston's Yip/Jump Music one of his favorite albums. Other famous Johnston fans are Matt Groening, Johnny Depp, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Beck, Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth. In fact, many of those even recorded a tribute album for him. Johnston is also notable enough to have a documentary devoted to him: "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (2005).

Along with writing music, he is also an artist/cartoonist, who designs his own album covers. In a sad literal case of the Mad Artist trope, Johnston has been diagnosed with both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and has been in and out of mental institutions. He suffered many breakdowns. His most memorable one was a literal breakdown in 1990 where he caused his fathers plane to crash. Fortunately, both survived the crash only mildly injured. His 1983 album Hi, How Are You also remained unfinished due to a mental breakdown.

It's tempting to see Daniel as The Woobie for all the hardships he endured. He is also an identifiable loser geek who shares a love for comic books, music and old horror movies, pioneered home-recorded music and spent most of his life in his parents' house, cartooning and recording music, while suffering from unrequited love, loneliness and mental problems. He is a prototype of the Struggling Artist, though on the other hand he did manage to make a career and gain some notability and respect in the Alternative Rock scene. Compared to other Outsider Music he is actually quite a capable musician on piano, guitar and mouth harmonica.

Albums with their own page:

Let me tell you about an artist...

  • Accentuate the Negative: His songs about being unrequited by society or loved ones are quite moving.
  • Alternative Rock: One of the cult musicians in the genre.
  • Annual Title: 1990 was released in 1990.
  • Author Appeal: Comic books, unrequited love, Jesus Christ, The Beatles, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and McDonald's.
  • Buffy Speak: From More Dead Than Alive
    I walked up to this psychological man, I said I got this problem about this coffin.
  • Catch Phrase: Hi, how are you?
  • Careful With That Axe: in "Don't Play Cards With Satan",(1990 version) Daniel, shouts at the top of his lungs for 2 instances of the word "Satan" .
    I heard the voice of SATAN!!!! Crying in the woods...
  • Cradle of Loneliness: Daniel spent most of his life in his parents' house, because he is too mentally unstable to live on his own. Many of his songs deal with loneliness, rejection, lovesickness, breakups,... but at the same time can offer a voice of hope.
  • Cut Short: He recorded most of his early songs on home made cassette recordings. As a result a lot of songs end quite abrupt or with audible cuts. Especially the final track of each album also has an ending Cut Short.
  • Deconstruction: His entire oeuvre is about what it actually means to be a Woobie and a Cloudcuckoolander.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Many songs are about unrequited love.
  • Fading into the Next Song: His early recordings were made on cassette, thus naturally fade into each other.
  • Friendly Ghost: Daniel has a love for the character Casper the Friendly Ghost, whom he refers to often on his album covers and his songs.
  • God-Is-Love Songs: "God".
  • Homage: "The Beatles", "King Kong", "Caspar The Friendly Ghost",...
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: He became extraordinarily influential on lo-fi music because of his Author Appeal.
  • Mad Artist: Sad real-life example. He has both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and has been in and out of mental institutions.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the album 1990, the previously mentioned Don't Play Cards With Satan ends with Daniel screaming "SATAN!!" at the top of his lungs. The next track is the happy and uplifting True Love Will Find You In The End
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: "The Story Of An Artist".
  • New Sound Album: Daniel's earlier albums mainly featured songs that were played on a piano. 1991's Artistic Vice did not feature any piano at all.
    • Most of his albums from 1979-88 (excluding 1985's Continued Story) were recorded on a cassette recorder, since his album 1990, his albums have been professionally produced in studios.
  • Other Cities in Texas: Is strongly associated with the culture of Austin, Texas and has had a strong influence on its "Keep Austin Weird" movement. His "Hi, How Are You?" frog mural remains a landmark of the city.
  • Outsider Music: One of the more well known musicians in the genre.
  • Pep Talk Song: "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances", "Get Yourself Together", "Hey Joe".
  • Rockumentary: The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
  • Trope Maker: Of home-recorded indie music.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: On guitar, Daniel pretty much only plays very basic chords, and a lot of his guitar songs only use the G,C, and D chords. Still, he has an ear for melody and is more capable as a musician than many of his colleagues in the Outsider Music genre.
  • The Tyson Zone: Falls into this as a there's a lot of stories of him escaping mental institutions and the like.
  • Verbal Tic: In interviews, Dan tends to say "you know" a lot.
  • Vocal Evolution: Dan's voice changed a lot over the years. In the early 80s, his singing voice was almost boyish (listen to this recording of "To Go Home" off 1982's The What of Whom, in which he sounds like a 12-year-old, he was 21 during the recording of the song.). By the late 90s, his voice had changed dramatically, probably due to chain smoking.
  • The Unintelligible: Daniel mumbles so much on the track Hot Water, from the 1979 tapes, that it seems like he isn't even singing in English.