Daniel Johnston

Description
Enough is known about the one and only Daniel Johnston that there's no need to hash into any of that here. He is a colossal figure in American cult-pop music and he will stand all tests of time, likely becoming even bigger with every passing year, even if that popularity remains a fringe, but fervent movement of music obsessives and those who have been infatuated with a genius quality that just happens to reside in an over-sized man with serious demons, cartoon characters, true love and Mountain Dew (though he calls for Classic Coca-Cola more these days) on the brain. His music (and he has his first new studio album since 2003 out the first week in October, called "Is And Always Was") is at once puzzling - that it could come out of a man who's been slightly broken in one way or another for quite some time now, operating as best as he can with the help of friends and a patient and loving family - and altogether of the purest strains of the human condition and its existence. He comes to all of his songs from a place that knows no other defining moments than the ones that come from first loves and teenage passions like comic books (but those of Casper The Friendly Ghost and Superman, not necessarily X-Men or The Punisher), drawing, rock and roll music and fast food. He is still a teenager in that shaky soul of his and his songs don't at all feel like they don't fit him anymore or even that he can't wear them. He has not changed other than packing on pounds and seeing his hair turn into a batch of gray. He chain smokes all day long, taking minutes to strike a match between his pinched fingers which cover the folded over booklet. He sits in a lump at a picnic table at Big Orange studio in Austin, where this session was taped - with Brooklyn band Hymns acting as Johnston's backing troupe - mentally curtained off to what's going on around him, seemingly unable to function at too high of a level. Our hour with him showed so many of the bewildering qualities of the man and for the 20 minutes that he played music (Hymns arrived early to soundcheck and ready everything so that Daniel could pop into the studio, plop down on a chair and hit the ground running in front of the microphone as he wasn't playing guitar on this session), we saw the jaw-dropping transformation of an unhealthy guy who shook steadily and didn't look at any of the people around him as they passed, silently and politely gawking, into the savant that he is. He nailed all four songs - one of which he and the band had never once played together - in one take, not missing any steps and only halfway ending one song improperly. It was really something otherworldly, as if you were witnessing someone tap into the intrinsic reserves that can't be explained with words or sentences, just done as if under a blackout. Johnston was ready to perform the session, making his way inside the studio doors, but immediately returned to the outdoors the second he heard that the burgers and fries from Wendy's were there, delaying the taping a good 20 minutes - unable to deny his impulsive nature. He seems to have these moments - of clarity or something like fleeting human transcendence, such as the material in his songs and his ability to perform them - in spite of his normal state of struggling to keep his shit together when the hamburgers arrive. He didn't recognize the members of Hymns when they arrived, even after having toured the East Coast, playing close to 20 shows as his backing band, and when they left, one approached him at the picnic table, where he was back feebly trying to light another cigarette, and said, "Hey, that was fun Daniel," to which Johnston replied, "Oh, thanks. Are you guys in a band too?" He'd already forgotten what had happened. As he left and walked back to his van, with his older brother, his manager and his manager's son, folks on the street were friendly, shouting out, "Hey Daniel!" and he waved and smiled, lost somewhere else, but still getting enough of it.