by Andrew Frisicano
Daniel Johnston @ BV-SXSW 2009 (more by Leia Jospe)
These days, it's almost taboo to say anything critical about [Daniel] Johnston. This is incredibly patronising. For one thing, it makes any honest evaluation of his work impossible. He might wring out much beauty from his cartoon-like songs, but he is also capable of lewdness (bizarre, crude references to masturbation and orgasms are frequent) and incredible self-pity.For all the valid issue-raising of the above article, it's important to note that not all "patronising" reviews of Johnston are positive. It's just as easy to write an undersupported negative review, like the take on his August 12th Madison, WI, show from 77 Square (writen by someone with a clear distaste for Johnston and his songs)...
Johnston's former manager once issued a press release, begging journalists not to use the word "genius" to describe him, least it detonate the singer's own troubled ego. "I wonder if people go see him hoping to witness a nervous breakdown," Johnston's friend Gretchen Phillips told music historian Irwin Chusid. "Do they perceive him as their equal, or as someone they need to coax along and feel safe? As much as the audience may genuinely love his songs, I sense a lot of condescension. That's always bugged me." ["The myth of Daniel Johnston's genius," Guardian UK]
But to what length are we willing to go to patronize genius? Johnston's guitar-playing is sloppy and halting. He cannot sing, often slipping off-key or warbling weakly. Mostly he hammers away at the lyrics tunelessly, as if just trying to get through it.That gig was one of a just finished string of August dates around the Midwest. The video from that tour's stop in Ann Arbor, MI (below) shows Johnston playing confidently, tunefully, and to massive applause.
It's in the lyrics where his talent glimmers, but they don't always redeem his music as a whole. His words are raw and juvenile, high school poetry that shines with sweaty truth but gets dragged down with naive sentimentality ("No one knows the sorrow of a broken heart").
Johnston has shows scheduled through the fall. He'll be at this year's Austin City Limits Festival on October 2nd (the same city Daniel has spent much time in and that hosted his SXSW set earlier this year). After that, he'll be coming up north for a trip that includes a show at NYC's Highline Ballroom on Wednesday, October 14th. Also on the bill are The Capitol Years, who've played with Johnston as his backing band before, as in the video below. Tickets are on sale now.
Info on a new album is coming soon. In the meantime, IFC caught up with Daniel Johnston at SXSW in a segment titled "Daniel Johnston Goes Shopping." That video, other clips and all tour dates are below...
Daniel Johnston 1 Ann Arbor, Michigan's Blind Pig. Sunday August 16, 2009
Daniel Johnston 2 Ann Arbor, Michigan's Blind Pig. Sunday August 16, 2009
Daniel Johnston & The Capitol Years - Sun Shines Down on Me
Daniel Johnston - 2009 Tour Dates
2009-Sept 3 Portland, Oregon - Wonder Ballroom
2009-Sept 4 Seattle, Washington - Neumos
2009-Sept 5 Vancouver, British Columbia (CANADA) - The Venue
2009-Sept 7 Calgary, Alberta (CANADA) - Knox United Church
2009-Sept 8 Edmonton, Alberta (CANADA) - Meyer Horowitz Theatre
2009-Oct 2 Austin, Texas - Austin City Limits
2009-Oct 13 Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
2009-Oct 14 New York City, New York - Highline Ballroom / Irving Plaza
2009-Oct 15 Boston, MA - Paradise Rock Club
2009-Oct 16 Montreal, Quebec (CANADA) - UK Fed
2009-Oct 17 Toronto, Ontario (CANADA) - Mod Club
2009-Oct 22 San Francisco, California - Regency Ballroom
2009-Oct 23 San Diego, California - Caines
2009-Oct 24 Los Angelos, California - Henry Fonda Theatre
2009-Nov 1 U.K. - Brighton - Concorde
2009-Nov 2 U.K. - London - Union Chapel
2009-Nov 3 U.K. - Manchester - Town Hall
2009-Nov 4 U.K. - Edinburgh - Queens Hall
2009-Nov 5 U.K. - Gateshead - The Sage
2009-Nov 6 U.K. - Leeds - Brudenell Social Club
2009-Nov 7 U.K. - Cardiff - The Gate
2009-Nov 8 U.K. - Bristol - Trinity Arts Center
2009-Nov 11 The Netherlands - Den Bosch - W2