I guess it must’ve been around 1994. Marie Javins had been telling me about this guy she knew from her Texas days, who seemed to spend a lot of time in and out of the nuthatch, and may possibly have been institutionalised for pushing an old lady through a window while attempting to exorcise her. Details are hazy. And she put together a mixtape of this guy’s music, which she’d collected from him over the years.
What I love about the search for new music is hearing that which you never heard before. Most things sound a bit like something else. Only every couple of years, if you’re very lucky, do you turn up something that is really seriously unlike anything you heard before.
And so I played the tape of recordings by Daniel Johnston. And have been fascinated ever since.
The really odd thing about Johnston is the classic pop structure underlying his stuff. Check out M Ward’s arrangement of Johnston’s "To Go Home" sometime. And it’s not hard to pick out the old blues figures in "Don’t Play Cards With Satan." This version isn’t as deranged as the one on that tape — by three and a half minutes in he was giving it a throat-shredding shriek — but it’s close. Watching him sing it, though, is probably harder, in an odd way.