“He burst from the busboy’s closet near the kitchen, maneuvered his way through the crowd as though he were late, and stepped behind the microphone. Then he began playing, so nervous he looked like he was about to cry. He was thin and waifish, in his early twenties, and strummed his small guitar awkwardly. It was out of tune, which made it sound like a cracked ukulele. His voice cracked too as he sang that first wistful melody:
When I was out in San Marcos, a year ago today / They probably would have put me in a home.
Hmmm, I thought, strangely garbled syntax, a hint of being damaged.
The wildest summer, that I ever knew / I had a flat tire down memory lane...
Now that was a great line. By the time he got to the chorus, I was hooked: I live my broken dreams.
He jumped into the second song, which was about Casper the Friendly Ghost and seemed to be an allegory about Jesus, or maybe it was just about the cartoon. “This is a joke,” a woman in front of me said to her friend. “Right?”
It was 85, a club called the Beach near the University of Texas at Austin, Daniel Johnston was opening for a local band. I had heard about him, this kid who was handing out homemade tapes w/ strange cartoons on the covers to anyone who would take them, telling people that he had had a nervous breakdown+ that he was going to be famous. Well, everyone in the Austin music scene in 85 thought he or she was going to be famous. It wasn’t long after that show, only the third of his career, that Daniel would get the fame he wanted so desperately wanted. MTV, big shows in front of adoring fans, a major-label deal, his artwork hung in galleries in London+Berlin. He would become an underground hero, his songs covered by dozens of fringe indie bands and musicians with names like Wimp Factor 14+Weird Paul Petroskey but also by some of the biggest bands in alternative rock, such as Yo La Tengo, Pearl Jam, Death Cab for Cutie, Sparklehorse. The musicians were attracted to the songs themselves, wide-eyed ballads like “True Love Will Find You in the End,” vows of hope in the face of despair like “Living Life,” and desperate songs of fear like “Don’t Play Cards With Satan.” 𝔻aniel 𝕁ohnston 💡🖤🌹🔪