Door 23: Daniel Johnston

The impact an artist has on one's personal life is often re-assessed, when the artist unfortunately passes away. Our calendar already featured the recently deceased architect Juliaan Lampens, but also in other arts like important people died, like the the musician David Berman from The Silver Jews. Another significant musician, who died in 2019 was the American singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston.

It is interesting to see how many people Daniel Johnston touched with his music, most of the time simply recorded on tape alone in his house. Born in California in 1961, he grew up in West Virginia. From an early age, he showed an interest in arts, especially drawing and music. After graduating high school and dropping out of colleges, he followed his brother and moved to Austin, Texas.

Here he made a name for himself handing out his recordings on tape, while working at  McDonald's. As Austin's New Sincerity music scene attracted quite some media interest, he was featured in a 1985 episode of the MTV program The Cutting Edge. He recorded his most known album 1990 with producer Mark Kramer in 1988 in New York. During this period his mental illness got in his way and generally deteriorated at the end of the 1980s.

He got known to an even lager public as Kurt Cobain wore a T-Shirt with his design for the album Hi, how are you? at the MTV Awards in 1992. During 1990s his conditions changed constantly, but still produced music to low commercial success.

In the last fifteen years, the interest in his work grew again, especially after Jeff Feuerzeig’s 2005 documentary The Devil And Daniel Johnston, which gives an honest and in-depth look at his life. Still musically active, he also released a comic book in 2012 and died this year in September of a heart attack.