Friday, September 13, 2019

I Can See Daniel, Waving Goodbye

I can think of no more appropriate day than the Friday the 13th full moon to post this tribute to a fallen and heroic warrior, who left us this week at the age of 58.
Reading the multivarious and deserved homages to him and the things he accomplished whilst here, you realize that this person was as rare and as gifted and as impactful, in his own way, as any artist of our lifetimes.
You almost don't know where to begin. Just as a songwriter, he was as honest, as pure and as prolific as anybody, cutting a profile completely his own and on his own terms.
That's just the basic aspect though; the edifice of his achievement goes far, far deeper than just that, essential a tunesmith as he was acknowledged to be throughout his life.
Outside of the music, and the incredible style of artworks he created, you have to begin with his greatest and most difficult human challenges.
It's impossible to quantify how what he accomplished, in spite of how badly he was afflicted, must have set an example for who knows how many lost-feeling sufferers of mental illness. 
In terms of a lifetime spent illustrating that self-expression -- even in the most primitive-seeming ways -- could be a tool for healing and unimaginable success, it becomes undeniable that this guy left a beautiful mark beyond just standing on a stage and singing a song.
Sure, he almost killed two people -- ok, three, himself included -- with his well-documented and legendarily dangerous, over-the-edge antics. 
But they all survived... and so did the countless other people he probably never met, for whom his music, art and attitude helped shine a lighted way out of at least some of the ever-encroaching darkness.
OK, he wrote unbelievably beautiful songs and probably saved or elevated the creative lives of thousands at the margins... but wait!! There's more!!!!
The third pillar of a monument to a mammoth life lived has got to be the way he did it, especially when he began, and how his techniques for home recording and self-distribution form the alpha/omega moment that we now can thank for every Bedroom Pop Youtube sensation and viral video star that ever warbled.
It all started in the early 1980s, when he took the erase-head out of his portable boombox tape recorder, setting into motion a chain of events that led, eventually, to a real and forever alteration in what was acceptable in the sonic aspects of records.
The licence his completely legendary homemade tapes -- they just announced he did 1500 as-yet-unreleased ones! -- provided for the lo-fi recording revolution that was to come is inestimable. And today, that revolution defines a whole sonic territory within music and recording, thereby owing him as large a debt -- as one of its primary pioneers -- as can possibly be quantified.
He passed away on Wednesday in the wee hours, and it's hard not to feel really broken that someone so multifaceted, truthful and necessary -- and who suffered and persevered against such terrible odds to plant his flag in the world -- is gone from us now, and too young. 
That feeling of natural grief will last for a while, but nothing will ever diminish the artistic status and the cultural shelf life of Daniel Johnston, an indescribably unique artist and visionary whom I was lucky enough to pick up on way back in the mid-Eighties, just as he was starting his ascent to the musical Forever Firmament in which he'll now reside for eternity. 
I have adored him since, and cannot imagine a time when I won't, ever.
Daniel Johnston
WFMU-FM Studios
East Orange, New Jersey USA

01 WFMU-FM opening announcement
03 Keep Punching Joe
04 A Lonely Song
05 Daniel takes calls 1
06 Spinning Globe
07 talk and introduction of Yo La Tengo
08 Speeding Motorcycle
09 Casper the Friendly Ghost
10 Whispering Hope
11 talk and goodbye to Yo La Tengo
12 My New Album
13 Devil Town
14 True Love Will Find You In the End
15 Daniel Johnston must be destroyed!
16 interlude 1
17 interview with Jiffy Tartar-sauce
18 interlude 2
19 Daniel takes calls 2
20 Like a Monkey In a Zoo
21 Daniel takes calls 3
22 Fool On the Hill
23 Daniel takes calls 4
24 My Darling Clementine
25 losing Daniel/dead air
26 Tonight In Your Dreams
27 Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In
28 WFMU-FM closing credits announcement

Total time: 52:04

Daniel Johnston - keyboards & vocals
Dale Dudgeon - guitar, percussion & vocals
"Maria" - flute & percussion
unidentified caller - guitar & percussion
Tracks 09-11 feature Yo La Tengo:
Ira Kaplan - guitar
Georgia Hubley - keyboards & percussion
David Schramm - guitar

master off-air capture, from WFMU-FM, of a phoned-in live radio concert 
from the West Virginia psychiatric hospital in which Daniel was then being held;
volume boosted throughout and a couple of dead air spots removed by EN, September 2019
Yes, you read that right: what is IMO the definite Daniel Johnston unreleased artifact was indeed called in to a radio station in New Jersey whilst the man was locked up in a West Virginia mental facility, after the infamous incident in which he attempted to crash the plane in which his pilot father and he were travelling in early 1990.
I'll avoid detailed description, and just say that this hour transmits, in the appropriate lo-fi standard of things, exactly what he was about, and is IMO as representative of this man as anything he ever did. If there's ever a deluxe edition of his beyond-the-beyond 1990 record, this tape oughta be in it.
If you know about the Japanese traditional art of pottery restoration called Kintsugi, you know that the gold that's within us can often be applied not just to fix what's broken inside, but to make what we are even better and more functionally beautiful than before the brokenness.
The City of Austin, Texas -- in which Danny lived on and off throughout his life and was his jumping-off point to what he became -- earlier this year declared his birthday (January 22nd) Hi, How Are You? Day. A day where everyone expresses unsolicited and sincere care and concern for the mental state of their fellow humans.
What more impact can one life have? When they start naming holidays like this one after your records, that's usually a prime indicator that you used your time down here to some sort of lasting, legitimately positive effect.
So farewell, Danny. But not ever goodbye. 
Hop on your speeding motorcycle and ride to the funeral home now, and know that you will never be forgotten as long as our cups need that gold to mend them and make them shine anew. 
And thank you, Daniel Dale Johnston. Forever, plus one day, always.--J. 
1.22.1961 - 9.11.2019
got me a coffin, shiny and black
I'm goin' to the funeral and I'm never comin' back

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