Daniel Johnston is a singer song-writer and artist from Austin Texas. He’s been a huge cult figure since the 80’s and had a dalliance with something close to fame in the early 90’s when Kurt Cobain wore one of his shirts on a big time music magazine.
I don’t honestly know the history well enough, but it seems in retrospect that Daniel might have been a precursor to the digital age of music sharing. In the 80’s he would make tapes and albums and give them out to just about anyone. These tapes got passed from person to person, often ending up in different parts of the country or other nations just through hand to hand contact, like some kind of musical virus. Lacking the equipment or resources to mass print copies of his music, when Daniel ran out of albums and someone asked for one, he would go home and re-play the entire album to record it, just so he could give the person a tape. He also did the drawings for his album art.
One of Daniel’s albums is called “Hi, How Are You?” and has a drawing of a frog, as if it is asking you. This is the image Kurt Cobain was wearing. There’s something about this phrase and Daniel’s life that feels very poignant to me: there’s an openness to Daniel’s process of sharing, and to that question, that makes me really happy.
Daniel is Bi-polar, and spent a lot of time in the 80’s and 90’s, suffering a great deal because he was mis diagnosed or mis-medicated. He once flew in a small plan with his father and almost crashed them. Both were lucky to survive. He’s now found a much more even keel and by most reports is doing well, if living quietly in a small Texas town.
There was a point in my life when Daniel Johnston scared the hell out of me because I thought I was too similar. That something was wrong with me that couldn’t be fixed and that I could end up in pretty bad shape. (It hasn’t helped that a few people have compared me to him!). Ultimately though I’m starting to be ok with that and I’m starting to be ok with myself. I love his work because there’s a really simple beauty to it that I hope to match with certain things I do. There’s one song of his, probably his most well known (because every single person on earth has done a cover version of it) that never let’s go of my heart and honestly it’s hard not to cry whenever I hear it. There’s a simplicity and directness to it, and openness, a “Hi How are You?” about it.
The song is called “True Love Will Find You In the End.” It's been covered by all kinds of folks from Beck to Wilco. And you can hear Daniel’s version here.
I named this blog “Hi How are You” because I hope my work can have the same effect that Daniel’s work has on me. I hope it can be direct, honest, I hope it can be passed from one person to another like an old tape.
You can check out more info about Daniel and his work here.
Or see a documentary about his life (which I recommend) called “The Devil and Daniel Johnston”: