Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Keep On Rockin' In The Psych Ward!

If you haven't already, you should definitely watch the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. I know, it has been out forever and I meant to post about it over a year ago, but many people I talk to still don't even know about it. Most people don't even know who Daniel Johnston is, save for maybe recognizing that he is the crazy guy whose hand-drawn "Hi, How Are You?" frog t-shirt was one of Kurt Cobain's favorite articles of clothing.

His obscurity is not too surprising since Daniel spent lots of time in mental hospitals or in a basement somewhere recording on a four-track, or you know, grabbing the controls and crashing the small plane which his father was piloting because he had the sudden urge to fly like Casper the Friendly Ghost, his early comic book hero. (Don't worry- they make it!)

This documentary is more compelling than most, largely due to the fact that Daniel documented most of his life on film and in song, doing much of the film maker's work for them. It is not just people being interviewed about Daniel but lots of actual video of him, which gives much more insight into his descent into the strange mental illness that prevented him from functioning "normally," much less becoming the rock star he dreamed of being. He has a (dare I say!) Forrest Gump-like ability to insinuate himself into different situations: He gets on MTV's cameras to promote his home made tape when they are covering the Austin music scene; he meets Sonic Youth, who want to promote him... until he has a violent freak-out; he takes a bus to record with Jad Fair; he's backstage at a Butthole Surfers show.

This is less a story of a man who exists in his own inner world, but more so a man who constructed a whole inner universe so he would have a suitable place to reside. It is also the story of his aging parents who are left with the mundane tasks of being sure that bills are paid, and the fears of what will happen to their son when they are gone. It is equally the story of Daniel's unrequited love for Laura, a girl he barely knew, but who inspired many of his sad songs.

You will find Daniel's naivete charming, his imagination inspiring. How can you not love that this guy who sounds somewhat like Alvin from the chipmunks but describes his voice as "closer to Johnny Cash than anybody."
And if none of what I've said so far has convinced you to watch this film, then this will: there is actual footage of Daniel- on LSD and in a serious mania- backstage at Butthole Surfers show, talking about Satan with the band members. Brilliant!

Here's a trailer for the documentary:


Q said...

I want to see this.

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