Alternativ - American singer, songwriter, musician, and artist
Daniel Johnston was born in 1961 and grew up listening to the Beatles, Queen, and Elvis Costello. According to his family-run website (www.hihowareyou.com), Johnstons song writing started early. When I was a kid, probably nine, I used to bang around on the piano, making up horror movie themes, he says. When I got a bit older, Id be mowing my lawn and Id make up songs and sing them. No one could hear me cause of the lawn mower.
As a teenager, Johnston began recording songs on cassettes and attending art classes (in addition to writing music, Johnston is also a visual artist and many of his sketches have made it onto the covers of his albums). Despite difficult bouts with mental illness, Johnston continued to record his cassettes, including the now much-loved Yip/Jump Music, and Hi, How Are You? Although the recording quality was lo-fi to say the least, Johnstons songs overflowed with honesty and emotions captured right on the surface.
Eventually settling in Austin, Johnstons cult status exploded when he was featured on an MTV special about the citys music scene in the mid 1980s. As interest in him grew, the independent Homestead label reissued many of his homemade cassettes on CD. At the same time well-known artists including Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo began to talk up the artist, at times including covers of his songs on their albums. Nirvanas Kurt Cobain became known for wearing Daniel Johnston T-shirts.
After signing to Atlantic Records, Johnstons popularity grew as his music appeared in film and TV soundtracks including Kids and My So-Called Life. In 1994 he recorded the album Fun for Atlantic Records.
In 2001, Johnstons first record in seven years was released on Gammon Records. Returning to the type of earnest songwriting that made him famous, Rejected Unknown was selected by Mojo for its 1000 Ultimate CD Guide in the winter of 2002.
Now in his mid 40s and living with family in Waller, Texas, Johnston continues to draw and write music. In September of 2004 Gammon released the benefit album The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered, a recording of 18 of some of Johnstons best songs covered by such recording artists as Tom Waits, Beck, Eels, Bright Eyes, TV on the Radio, Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse and the Flaming Lips.
This year, an exhibition of Johnstons artwork was featured at New Yorks prestigious Whitney Bienniale.