Daniel Johnston, one of my favorite musicians and artists, has passed away

One of the most genuinely talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure to have known, the visionary artist and musician Daniel Johnston, passed away today at the age of 58. Here, for those of you who might not be aware of Johnson’s work, is the song Story of an Artist, from his self-released 1982 recording Don’t Be Scared. The song, which was used by Apple to great effect in a 2018 ad campaign, begins with the following phrase, which I’m finding incredibly poignant today. “Listen up and I’ll tell a story about an artist growing old,” Johnston sings. “Some would try for fame and glory; others aren’t so bold.”

There’s quite a bit that I could say about Daniel, the struggles that he endured, and how fucking much his painfully honest and absurdly brilliant music has meant to me over the years. I think, however, that I’ll just take the night off, find my very old, well-worn cassette of 1983’s Yip Jump Music, head out to the porch with a drink, and listen to it in the rain.

Goodbye, Daniel. And thank you for everything… Rest in peace.

update: It’s not one of my better interviews, but, here, from Crimewave USA issue 14, is my first real attempt at a discussion with Daniel. It seems like yesterday. It’s hard to be believe it’s been almost 20 years.

[Part: 1, 2, 3, 4]

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  1. Posted September 11, 2019 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    If you haven’t seen it yet, the documentary about Daniel, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, is pretty good.

  2. Posted September 11, 2019 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Somewhere around here, I have an interview I did with Daniel about a decade or so ago. It’s not one of my better interviews, as I didn’t get the sense that Daniel was really in the mood to talk when I called him, but, if I can find it, I’ll scan it and post it here.

  3. Anonymatt
    Posted September 11, 2019 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m listening to “1990” right now on the subway.

  4. Bob
    Posted September 12, 2019 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    There’s so much to say about his art and music and people always focus on his visual style, the words, his mental illness. What rarely gets mentioned are his incredible melodies. He just had a natural, effortless ability to sing amazing hooks. Like McCartney or something. Great artist.

  5. Rex
    Posted September 12, 2019 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    thanks for sharing this mark.

    I highly suggest the double disk set “The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered”.
    It is a disk of covers that points out the genius of his songwriting. The second disk is him doing all of the songs himself.

    you can listen on spotify:

  6. Jean Henry
    Posted September 12, 2019 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I texted this to my kid. I send her a song a day. This was yesterday’s.

    Daniel Johnston crossed over today. He was a true original. I felt everything he sang in my bones. He sold these cassette tapes on the streets of Austin and people would copy and share and well before the internet he became a DIY viral sensation– at least among kids like us. I said ’crossed over’ because he was Southern and they say that there and because he never felt entirely of this world. He was his own thing. We were lucky to share time on earth with him.


  7. Jim Cherewick
    Posted September 12, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Great interview with DJ, Mark.

    You should listen to my friend Mark. He goes by Herman on stage. Big Daniel Johnston vibes. Here are some demos of him that I recorded in my apartment.



  8. iRobert
    Posted September 12, 2019 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    I liked his performance pieces. The time his father invited him to go flying and he yanked the key from the ignition to throw it out the window, sending the plane plummeting toward the ground, was my favorite.

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