Meeting Daniel Johnston

The Comedy Store, Manchester
Monday 21st May 2007

Before the gig I was taken Daniel's dressing room, pretty quickly I noticed that he was really quiet compared to the supports who were also in the room, they were all having a good time and Daniel was just sat, hunched, chain smoking and drinking coke, he didn't even lift his head.

Daniel JohnstonAfter the supports left to go on stage I said hello to him and said that his brother said I could take some photos and he just went "uh-huh", didn't look up, I asked him how ATP went and he said "uh-huh", I asked if he minded me taking some photos and he said "uh-huh", not once lifting his head. I gave him a set of comic badges I'd bought for him with "pow" and "zapp" and stuff on them, he said he really liked them and right away just zoned out again. I snapped one pic of his reflection in the mirror and left him to his thoughts.

Daniel JohnstonI spoke to his brother upstairs who said he was ok during soundcheck but had just gone out of it. He said that he ended up playing both days at ATP and an outdoor show as well and that he'd had a really good time. He said he'd probably be in better spirits after the gig so I decided to leave him to it until then.

During the gig he was on top form, he was joking, smiling and seemed really happy. I went backstage right after the gig and he was sat back in his chair same as earlier smoking and drinking coke again, he was pretty untalkative to the supports (who played with him on most of the set), then he went outside for a smoke and was out there a good 10mins, he came back in, hunched into his chair and continued smoking.

Badly Drawn Boy (Daniel had no idea who he was) came in to the dressing room, I can't remember why but daniel said he wanted to get on a major label again and record in the big studios, and that he wanted to be famous, within the next 10 mins BDB bragged about being "the most famous musician from Manchester", being "a millionaire", recording a big budget video in london the next day and (laughably) said "I'm the best songwriter I know". He was 'joking' about all this stuff of course but he very obviously believed what he was saying! A very insensitive choice of things to talk about if you ask me. Daniel seemed to sit silently for AGES before answering people at times, there was this great example where BDB asked him if he wanted to release an EP on his label, there must have been a 30sec pause before Daniel looked up, really animated, and went into this big thing about how in movies and comics you can do things that would be dangerous in real life and thats why he likes them so much, then he just slumped down again. BDB was all Daniel Johnston"I play shows and I say my fave musicians are Bobby Conn, Wesley Willis and Daniel Johnston and nobody knows who they are" obviously pulling out the most obscure dudes he knew to appear cool, so I said to him "but you're a big Springsteen fan, people have heard of him". Daniel said he was a big fan too and that he'd seen him 3 times, BDB of course was better than that, he'd seen him 30 times and actually played with him 5 weeks ago. He was such a twit! His girlfriend made him leave and on the way out the door he went "ahhhhh" like he'd just met a disabled child in a hospital. That really annoyed me cause Daniel very probably heard.

By this point I thought Daniel had had enough hassle for one night so i asked him to do me a drawing and right away he came alive, he asked me what I'd been up to, I said that I'd just been working to which he replied "working is a real drag, I havent worked since 1986, I used to work in Mcdonalds" he gave me my drawing and right away zoned out again. I packed up my gear and said that I liked his full band, studio recorded albums and the direction he was moving in but all I got was "uh-huh" so I said my goodbyes and went on my merry way...

It was not the great meeting with a musical genius that I was hoping for BUT it was certainly a really intimate peak into his life and something I will never forget.

MP3: Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Your Griviences from Yip/Jump Music

Buy Daniel Johnston albums on Amazon, the Boxing Duck! gets a percentage of whatever you spend so get your hands in your pockets!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this up and share it. I really enjoyed reading it. Th picture of Daniel in the mirror is great.

Oh and thank you for the Will Oldham & David Berman share, can't wait to listen to it.

scrilla g said...

Wow, I didn't know that BDB was such a jerk. I liked "hour of the bewilderbeast" or whatever it's called, but jeez. waddadouche

Anonymous said...

Great post - shame about BDB, but he's not a big deal outside of his little big universe. Yeah, anyway, great post - makes me want to have another go at Yip Jump

Anonymous said...

yeah BDB - i saw him at coachella a few years back and all he did was moan moan moan about how they had moved his set forward and he wasnt headlining any more. no one cared though. he is a real sad jerko. i do feel a bit sad about daniel. what a guy. its a shame his depression is so debilitating.