Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Me and Daniel Johnston



I finally got around to watching "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" last night, the documentary about singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston, who has been a darling of the underground music scene for the last 20 years. Johnston, a gifted songwriter plagued with chronic mental illness, has often been compared to other troubled geniuses like Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett. While I was not familiar with all the details of Johnston's personal story and his music, I had been exposed to some of his songs over the years, mostly through covers by other artists (Boston's own Mary Lou Lord's cover of "Speeding Motorcycle" and fIREHOSE's rendition of "Walking the Cow"). The documentary does a decent job of presenting Johnston's art (mostly music, with some drawings and paintings), but it mostly seemed to focus on the larger issue of Johnston's struggle with mental illness over the years, and the tragic effect it had on him, his family, friends, and artistic peers. It's a depressing movie, but I appreciated its honest portrayal of the debilitating and often terrifying effects of severe manic depression. There seems to be a certain coolness associated with being a mentally ill artist, at least from some fans' point of view, and I've always been annoyed by that attitude. By the end of the movie, I was left with a deep sense of sorrow for Johnston's tragic story, as much as I was intrigued and curious to find out more about his body of work. His music, at its best, is truly brilliant, but it came at such a high personal price! I found myself wishing that he had grown up healthy, even if that would have meant being less successful artistically.

1 comment:

Perdu said...

Right on, Pain. There is nothing glamorous about mental illness. It's just like any other damned affliction, i.e. a pain in the keister.