“I believe in God, and I certainly believe in the devil. There’s certainly a devil, and he knows my name.”—Daniel Johnston.
Daniel Johnston, a singer-songwriter and visual artist who is often described as the pioneer of the lo-fi outsider sub-genre to popular music, is a tormented yet deeply inspired creative soul.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Johnston spent large periods of his life in psychiatric institutions and, in many instances, the musician found a way to channel his inner demons through the creative form of his songwriting.
Having recorded music alone in his bedroom for the majority of his career, Johnston began experimenting in the late 1970s while using a $59 Sanyo monaural boombox and never looked back. Born and raised in California, Johnston packed his bags and moved to Austin, Texas, where he would begin to focus heavily on his music and started to gain a cult following.
Balancing his time work and home life, Johnston would work full time at a McDonalds in Texas and return to his apartment to read comics and record music in his home studio. As he battled against depression, he found an innate ability to connect with audiences with his pure, honest and childlike creations. Johnston once said: “I’ve got something to live for, because I always wanted to be an artist; I always wanted to be famous.”
By 1985 he had self-released nine studio albums and, despite not being commercially well known, his locals shows in Texas usually resulted in sell out crowds. Catching the attention of MTW, Johnston was booked to perform in a 1985 episode of their program The Cutting Edge, a television show with triumphed performers from Austin’s ‘New Sincerity’ music scene.
Entering the stage to rapturous applause, a fresh-faced and wonderfully awkward Johnston smiles to the camera and launches into a rendition of ‘I Live My Broken Dreams’ with the aid his guitar. Frequent glances into the camera offer a glimpse into the sincerity in his eyes, a view of a man with troubles far beyond his own control.
Buoyed by encouragement from the crowd—as his voice appears to crack emotionally—Johnston rolls through his first major television performance with the same honesty as he has done for the entirety of his life.
Enjoy the performance, below.