I have actually had the oppurtunity to meet Daniel a few times and seen him perform several times this past year. He's a little socially awkward, but he warmly greeted me each time and gladly accepted the Christmas card I made him with many thanks. I'm by no means an expert on the man, but I can share what I know with you here.
A little history:
Dan was born in Sacramento, California in 1961, to his parents Bill and Mabel and four siblings. He learned music by ear and from his family, and it was sort of an obsession of his growing up. He went to college at Kent State for a short while, then moved to Texas to live with his brother Richard in Houston and then his sister in San Marcos. His sister Margy began to think that Daniel was "kinda crazy", and wrote to his parents that she thought he should be hospitalized. In retaliation Daniel left town with a traveling carnival selling hotdogs, and when the carnival closed down in Austin he adopted the city as his hometown.
Here Daniel worked at McDonald's and Pizza Hut, recorded music and did drawings in his spare time. He handed out his tapes adorned with xeroxed copies of his sketches to people on the street, and sold them at a local record store. He called the girls at the record store his secretaries, and told them to offer his tapes to customers like you would offer food at McDonald's--"Would you like a Daniel Johnston tape with that?" Daniel became involved in the Austin music scene, and his tapes were released on the local Stress label. In 1985 he appeared in an MTV Cutting Edge profile of the Austin music scene, which afforded him national recognition.
However, at this time Daniel was doing poorly emotionally. He has extreme ups and downs and would walk around Austin aimlessly for days at a time. He got into hallucinogens and was soon admitted to the Austin State Hospital in 1986. His father picked him up and brought him back to West Virginia (where his parents were living at the time) where Daniel was diagnosed as manic depressive. In 1988 Daniel took a trip to New York--he ended up being admitted to Bellvue Psychiactric Hospital after a much publicized public event gone bad. He left New York and was placed in another West Virginian mental hospital, and eventually managed to regain some stability.
He now lives with his parents in the small town of Waller, Texas, where he works on his art and music. Daniel has art shows where he sells his whimsical drawings, and you can also view and purchase them online at museumoflove.com. He has recently begun touring again (yay!) at least around Texas as far as I know.
Many bands throughout the years have covered his songs, including Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo. He has collaborated with bands such as Jad Fair and Teenage Fanclub and released several joint albums. Many of his songs have appeared on soudtracks to movies and tv shows, such as Kids, Empire Records, and My So-Called Life.
A little speculation.Some interesting facts about Daniel and his music:
Many of his songs (most, in fact) areunrequited love ballads to a girl he met at Kent State. Her name is Lorie Allen, (she is mentioned by name in his songs) and Daniel feels that she is the love of his life. He talks about her freely in interviews as well. They were barely friends in college, but apparantly she was his initial inspiration for him to start writing songs. Apparantly she married an undertaker, which explains why some of his songs are written death and funerals. There are at least a few songs about her on every album or tape he's released, including his most recent LP, Rejected Unknown (hence the title.) Songs about Lorie include You Should Have Been my Wife, Funeral Girl, Impossible Love, Girl of My Dreams...and many, many more.
Daniel's work is heavily influenced by religion. He seems to be obsessed with the ideas of good and evil--he mentions God and Jesus about half as much as he mentions Satan. His lyrics often mention the fights with an evil influence of some sort, and a more distorted project of his called Danny and the Nightmares plays a song that entails Daniel screaming about how he wants to kill Satan. (I witnessed this site at an outdoor show, and during this song the sky darkened and the wind began to blow heavily, knocking down Daniel's music stand and making everything look generally creepy. Seriously.) I read in an interview some things Daniel was saying about religion--he seems to infuse comic book heroes with religious leaders. He did say that "God wouldn't have an apocalypse without cool super heroes," so you can kind of feel what he's about.
He usually only performs live for about twenty minutes. This could be attributed to his extreme stage fright, but is more likely due to the extreme emotional commitment he makes with each performance. Daniels songs are full of emotion and honesty. They have a raw sound because they are an extension of himself (someone who is not all together average). As a result of the delicate nature of the performer, the audience that comes to see him is generally extremely accomodating. Daniel likes responsive audiences and people often sing along, and throughout the show positive feedback radiates to the stage from the family unit of an audience. Daniel Johnston audiences are the best ever.
Daniel was diagnosed with diabetes in 1997. He's also a chain smoker and apparantly a great lover of Pepsi and Mountain Dew (he's downed several in amazingly short periods of time at shows I've been to.) He has a definite weight problem but recently it seems to be improving.
Daniel Johnston loves the Beatles. This man loves the Beatles. He stocks up on bootlegs, rare albums, anything, regardless of the price. Lennon, McCartney, and the Beatles are a major influence on his work--he sings often of the power of undying love and eternal peace.
He doesn't have any teeth. So don't bring him cookies (I tried that.)
All of his early recordings were released on cassette tape (most of them hand-done by him). You can still purchase many of his tapes at museumoflove.com, and he has a few CD releases as well. His most recent release (Rejected Unknown) by Gammon Records is actually a re-release originally published two years earlier either independently or on a different label. The cover is different, but don't be fooled.
One of his old songs called Monkey in a Zoo is probably autobiographical. It's a cute song and very catchy, but if you listen closely to the lyrics you hear what is probably one of the most Daniel-like songs ever. It talks about people's perceptions of him and how he is expected to perform all the time. It sounds cliche, but it's really quite beautiful, because you get a sense of what is going on inside someone that is impossible to see through.
All of the information in this node was assembled by word of mouth, me talking to Daniel, me talking to his road manager, the mini-biography in the sleeve of Rejected Unknown, online interviews that can be found by doing a Yahoo! search for Daniel Johnston, and from museumoflove.com. I'll be happy to clarify or share any other information on him that I have.
Do yourself a favor and check out his music. It's incredibly enduring, and if you get the chance GO see him live. Do it.