“Johnston’s songs were fragile in a way that could disarm even the most cynical of us. His enthusiastic yip and uncanny knack for soaring choruses was undeniable no matter the fidelity. The music could feel silly and sincere, diaristic and voyeuristic, sometimes even in the space of a single line.”
We lost two totemic Texan weirdos this year with the passing of Roky and Daniel. Both suffered from terrible mental disease and mistreatment (even hero worship from non-treatment) but both men somehow turned such suffering into comforting music. In my many hours with their music growing up in Texas, I certainly didn’t understand the ramifications of such fandom, but the one time I saw Daniel perform, it was evident that it was an uneven relationship in a way that was troubling. But it really took seeing the doc The Devil and Daniel Johnston to realize the true ramifications of his suffering.
The genius of “True Love Will Find You in the End” and “Walking the Cow” deserve all the reverence though and they border on being hymns; it’s not hard to imagine them lasting for generations. I also find sweet comfort in the echo between Roky’s “Starry Eyes” (which I now sing as a lullaby for my daughter each night) and Daniel’s line about “Lucky stars in your eyes.”
Daniel Johnston Was a Hero for the Wounded for Vulture.