I’ve just now found out that the Vincent Van Gogh of underground rock & roll, the late great Daniel Johnston, has died, apparently of a heart attack.
The man had been a grotesque physical and mental wreck for decades, and yet it somehow still seems very sudden and unexpected.
He first came to public attention in the early 1990s, at the height of grunge, and in the middle of all that whining, self-pitying and mumbling angst, Johnston stood out as the real deal, a genuinely schizophrenic, regularly institutionalized tortured poet struggling to cope with the voices in his head whilst also writing the most beautiful, wide-eyed, open-hearted, painfully honest songs perhaps ever penned, and drawing endless pictures of an Hieronymus Bosch-like hellscape, peopled with superheroes and impossible creatures of his own invention.
The musical well - along with his singing voice - dried up in his final couple of decades, most likely because of all the very heavy medication and just plain old physical deterioration, but the songs he recorded at home in anonymity throughout the 80s are now rightfully treasured among those who know as scratchy classics comparable to all the great, mysterious blues recordings from the 1920s and 30s: unique historical recordings of an authentic American artistic voice.
There’s a lot to his story, too much to try go into here, but his music has been a touchstone of truth in my life, and it means a great deal to me that he existed and made what he made. No-one ever sung truer.
So rest in peace, Daniel, and thank you.