Daniel Johnston is the epitome of a tortured artist. Discovered on MTV’s 1985 special filmed in Austin, TX, “The Cutting Edge”, Johnston was thrust into the spotlight while still working at McDonald’s. Local record stores started selling his homemade tapes that featured themes related to Casper The Friendly Ghost, his unrequited love and muse, Laurie and his fear of Satan. These intensely personal releases are Songs Of Pain, Yip Jump Music, Don’t Be Scared, and Hi, How Are You?
While on tour with Sonic Youth in 1987 and experiencing his first wave of success, Daniel was arrested after painting the “Jesus Fish” on the inside of the Statue Of Liberty. After being released, Daniel continued to be haunted by demons over the next few years and was admitted to a mental hospital. While in the hospital, Daniel asked his manager to seek out an endorsement deal in which Daniel could work with Mountain Dew and Yoko Ono to proclaim his love of Mountain Dew. Nothing came of this and Daniel continued his treatment and was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder.
Daniel was deemed well enough to play the 1990 SXSW Music Festival in Austin. After his show, Daniel and his parents boarded a small private plane that was owned by Daniel’s father, a WWII fighter pilot. While airborne, Daniel began displaying alarming and disturbing signs that his mania had returned. A physically large man, Daniel overpowered his father and attempted to crash the plane. Daniel was successful in crashing the plane, fortunately all on board survived.
In 1994, Daniel released his first major label release, “Fun”. After a very disappointing showing on the charts (it only sold 6000 copies), Daniel was dropped by his record label, Atlantic. Daniel continues to tour and record with various bands to this day. He has gotten his demons under control with a strict medication diet and is generally a little more reserved these days. In 2005, Jeff Feuerzeig directed an excellent biopic documentary about Daniel, The Devil And Daniel Johnston, which exposed his music and story to a wider audience.
Daniel’s artwork has also gained him some acclaim and a following. Featuring themes mirrored in his music, his artwork is displayed in avant-garde galleries across the country. In 1992, Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt adorned with one of Daniel’s drawings to the MTV Music Awards. This was yet another chance meeting that Daniel had with the public and the t-shirt garnered much interest.
After being discovered on MTV’s Cutting Edge in 1985, Daniel was bound for stardom. That is until he started acting and behaving in a manic way, trying to exorcise his demons. He was arrested for drawing Jesus fish on the Statue Of Liberty and intentionally crashed his father’s aircraft after the South By Southwest music festival. Daniel was commited to a “rest home” and diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a schizophrenic. Daniel has it mostly under control these days, with the help of his meds and some really understanding parents.