US - Texas - Full Moon 80 - 04/16/03
"When I was 19, I wanted to be the Beatles"
All of a sudden mild-mannered (wild-mannered?) 42-year-old Daniel Johnston - chief rock
minimalist - is on everybody's lips again. As flavor of the month, or flavor of several months.
Let's say this whole year. Because his latest album Fear Yourself is so fantastic it's
without doubt one of the albums of the year. Yes, already. Daniel Johnston's songs are so
disarmingly charming and desperately heart-warming (sadness is beautiful) they should melt/weaken
the meanest and most primitive of hearts/souls.
Acclaimed by all major magazines as an ace (twisted) pop-smith. Hailed and backed up by all
credible bands and artists - Kurt Cobain, Beck, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Jad Fair, Nina Persson,
Wilco, Matt Groening, yes, even Mr. David Bowie, plus many, many others (a lot of good friends
and helpers) - as the man, as the true original he is. Praising his songs, loving
his songs, covering his songs. Daniel Johnston grew up in Sacramento, California but is now residing
in Houston, Texas. He's still fighting his almost lifelong mental illness troubles, but he seems to
have converted from the home-recorded, on cassette only release plan he had during the 80s, until
MTV slammed him into the limelight. Lyrically he still circle the lost/impossible/broken love themes,
of loneliness, solitude and (candle lighten) darkness. He's so sincere; it's hard not to believe
him while he sings out with his semi-high-pitch, almost cracking voice. And, of course - most important
- irresistible melodies. Simple-styled, but to the core of an effective, 2-3 minute pop song.
There's a long line of highlights on Fear Yourself. Everything neatly arranged, produced
and accompanied by Mark 'Sparklehorse' Linkous. Check the fresh "Mountain Top", or the swirling
"Must". Or the xtraordinary "Forever"; a quiet, piano-driven (closer to 5 mins) beauty. "Fish",
on the other hand is slightly Nirvana-ish (sort of a lighter, poppier "Sliver"). And last but not
least the smashing closing track "Living It For The Moment", on which a wild Daniel sings like
if that's what he's really doing.
So, there's not much to fear after an album like this, Daniel Johnston. What more can I say.
Johnston for president! File together with the Bats, Camper van Beethoven, the Clean, Guided By Voices, Sparklehorse,
Tall Dwarfs, Yo La Tengo. And, yes, The Beatles!
Hey, another fifth Beatle, anyone? From out of the rarities section.
There should be possible to get/find some of his
older albums. Such as 1990 (Shimmy Disc 1990; with Lee & Steve of Sonic Youth, Jad Fair,
plus a go on the Beatles' "Got To Get You Into My Life"), Fun (Atlantic 1994), Rejected
Unknown (Gammon 2001), Yip/Jump Music (Homestead 1995 - a re-release, originally
on his own Stress label 1980), Continued Story (Homestead 1995 - another re-release, 1985
cassette, including another Beatles song; "I Saw Her Standing There"), Hi, How Are You
(Homestead 1995 - re-release, 1983). Also: Jad Fair & Daniel Johnston It's Spooky (Jag
Jaguwar 2001; with songs like "I Met Roky Erickson" and "Casper the Friendly Ghost"). Last but
not least; one song, two cover versions: the lovely "Speeding Motorcycle", done by Yo La Tengo
(7", SOL 1990) and The Pastels (7", Paperhouse Records 1991). Keep an eye open.
Copyright © 2003 Håvard Oppøyen