HOW ARE YOU: Daniel Johnston, Popped Fest, WCL, Sunday Night
BY SIMONE SECCI FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT Popped festival 2008: same graphics, same format, fancier names (Gogol Bordello, Daniel Johnston) and locations such as World Café Live and there was where your favorite Philadelphia-adopted Italian reporter was last night to delight his ears. Sunday night there were two stages, with the upstairs more oriented to a dancier, hip and more uncommitted entertainment and a downstairs where a various bunch of more or less underground rock acts gather the attendance. First on stage Gildon Works offered a really great live show of indie rock guitars and a remarkable Joy Division-oriented rhythmic section. The songs on a long distance have their difficulty getting stuck in your head, due to the debt they pay to an long tradition of similar bands (Appleseed Cast, Motorpsycho). After the break it’s time for the Brooklyn-based guitarist songwriter Pwrfl Power, that plays his guitar like he was an entire ensemble, gently murmuring his small ordinary-life love songs, and then stripping them down in crazy arpeggios, disintegrating them in a million pieces. Needs a little more time to give his best but what I see it’s definitively impressive.
When Tickley Feather gets up on stage my expectations are really high, after all the things I heard about her, expectations that are partly betrayed, meaning that the way she shapes and arrange her super short toy songs is really fascinating but not quite deep and meaningful like the Icelandic musical impressionism of bands like Mum and Trabant,which she really closely remind. O’Death are definitively the first big event of the day. Imagine the Tom Waits of Swordfishtrombones jamming with a SST 80s punk, and you’ll get an idea of what this modern “hometown carnival” people are able to do on stage. Amazing, there are a few people left in the world capable to play music so honestly intense. One of them is for sure Daniel Johnston. Preceded by the appreciable but not revealing show of his backup band The Capitol Years, finally at 10.30 it’s time for this living legend to give to an over-excited crowd what they so patiently were waiting for. It was not just his fragile voice and his pill-bloated body — both showing the signs of what he has gone through — but the determination and love with which he had put together a million instant pop classics in the last two decades, to save us from our blindness and the cynicism of our lives. “Silly Love” he sings, which is exactly what we need. Thanks Daniel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Simone is from Italy, and as such English is his second language. While he doesn’t always use it the ‘right’ way, he usually gets where he wants to go. As a service to our English-speaking readers, we will run his reviews in larger type to simulate talking LOUD…AND…SLOWLY.
[Photo by SIMONE SECCI/Illustration by ALEX FINE]
Interview with Daniel Johnston after the jump…
WIKIPEDIA: Daniel Dale Johnston (b. January 22, 1961) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and artist. Johnston was the subject of the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. He currently lives in a house adjacent to his parents’ home in Waller, Texas.Johnston has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is autistic. His songs are often called “painfully direct,” and tend to display a blend of childlike naïveté with darker, “spooky” themes. MORE
Phawker: Hi. How are you?
Daniel Johnston: Good. I just woke up. And I just found a bunch of comic books I haven’t even looked at yet. I found them in the attic. I’m very excited.
Phawker: So what’s your typical day like these days?
Daniel Johnston: Typical day? I usually wake up around 5:30 in the afternoon from staying up late the night before. I draw pictures a lot. Watch monster movies. Play piano and guitar [at this point his mother begins yelling something unintelligible from downstairs, she will do this every few minutes all through the interview] Last night I watched A Clockwork Orange again. I like The Shining too. One of the best films ever made. King Kong, the 1933 version, is still one of my favorites. And King Kong vs. Godzilla, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Taste the Blood of Dracula with Christopher Lee. Those are some of my favorites.
Phawker: Do you consider yourself famous?
Daniel Johnston: I don’t consider myself famous. But when a girl at the store says, “Hey, it’s that guy from the movie” I like that. I’d rather be known as an artist than a celebrity, anyway. Like Pablo Picasso. I’m not a Hollywood squares type. I’m into art.
Phawker: Do you still talk to Laurie, the love of your life?
Daniel Johnston: I went to the movie premiere in Austin and some guy was like, “Laurie is up on stage!” But it wasn’t Laurie. It was like some rip off trying to be Laurie. But then I heard she was gonna be at the after-party. And she was. I was so happy. I loved her to death. I asked her, “Will you marry me?” I was going crazy. I loved her more than ever before for every second we were together. It turns out she’d been listening to my music this whole time and I had no idea. She’s the most beautiful girl in the whole world. And I was singing to her in my head this whole time. But she should marry Jesus Christ. I couldn’t take care of her. We’re very good friends though. But I lost her phone number.
Phawker: Do you believe in Jesus Christ?
Daniel Johnston: I believe in Jesus Christ, of course.
Phawker: Do you believe in the Devil?
Daniel Johnston: I believe in the devil too much. And that’s the problem. I was really surprised when they named the movie The Devil and Daniel Johnston. I don’t like the association.
Phawker: Was Gibby Haynes the one who gave you the acid that night?
Daniel Johnston: We got the acid elsewhere in town earlier in the night. But when the concert started out, he yelled “Satan, Satan, Satan!” and it freaked me out. I never missed his shows. But this time I freaked out. Everyone turned into zombies. And I wound up in the hospital for five years because of it. Back then it was a struggle just to have a cigarette, cause’ I’d have to get it off somebody at the hospital.
Phawker: And how are you now?
Daniel Johnston: I’ve never been better. I’m working on music and drawing and I’m very excited to tour. The fans and crowds have been really great. And what’s cool about going on tour is my brother lets me go to comic book stress and spend hundreds of dollars. I can’t read the fine print anymore but I just like comic books for the art. You know, Spiderman, Superman. In our new house we have a whole room filled with stuff like movies, comic books, instruments. My inspiration is stuff like Bela Lugosi, Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein. It really does inspire me. I just hear it, walk across the room, and record what I think of it.
Phawker: What are your favorite non musical sounds?
Daniel Johnston: Late at night there are these yahoos who live on our street and they get on their motor bikes at 9:30 or 10:00. And I’ll hear the grumbling way down the road across the fields. It’s hilarious ’cause it’s so loud. It’s like gggrrrrr (makes loud motorcycle-esque noises). I also like the sound of my dog barking. She died this year. She’d always bark as I’d play my music to tell me what she thought about it. And I miss that sound.
[As told to EVA LIAO]