Daniel Johnston Represents Everything Great About Austin

Daniel_Johnston-6Saturday night, mainstay Austin venue The Mohawk hosted one of the city’s most legendary musicians, Daniel Johnston. Johnston sounded better than I’ve heard him sound in years–more present and less flustered. Undoubtedly, the songwriter has fans more wholly devoted than others, but Johnston’s music has reached an incredibly wide audience, likely without them ever even knowing it, thanks to soundtrack appearances and covers by artists such as Wilco, Yo La Tengo, M Ward, and Tom Waits. More than once, I’ve found myself completely digging a song before discovering that it’s a Daniel Johnston cover.

Daniel_Johnston-3When I moved to Austin in 2001, Waterloo had a display filled with tons of handmade Daniel Johnston tapes, and I bought a slew of them, which I have (stupidly) since lost. I quickly became a fan. I detected something unadulterated and True in his work. He has a way of clearing away the the smog that clouds culture by cutting right to the heart of humanity. Beyond that, the musicality of Johnston’s work often goes unnoticed. Wavering and whining the songs may be, but the chord progressions are spot on. And despite the fact that notes fall unintentionally out of the melody on occasion, the intended melody is impeccable. In that way, Daniel Johnston embodies brilliance in ideas if not execution. Implicitly suggested within this mode of creating art is that ideas triumph over style, and it encourages and empowers creativity and ideas within others. In other words, you don’t have to be a master to have big dreams that are worth something.

Daniel_Johnston-11The most beautiful part of all of this, is that it’s hard to make Daniel Johnston anything but this sort of everyday hero. Even after a movie was made about him, even after millions of “Hi, How Are You?” shirts have been sold, Daniel Johnston is sort of incorruptible as a cultural figure. He’s just too off kilter and singular. Even when joined by Once star and Swell Season frontman Glen Hansard onstage (as happened last Saturday), it doesn’t exactly gloss-up the performance. Daniel Johnston is still Daniel Johnston, even wrapped in pretty paper. And he’ll still be off-putting and inaccessible for those who just don’t get it. But who wants an easily digestible, gel capsule of cultural vitamins anyway? Before “Keep Austin Weird” was adopted by Austin businesses in 2000 to promote local culture, before the city was “The Live Music Capital of the World” beginning in 1993, Daniel Johnston had already created a trove of albums and songs representing the freak spirit of this southern city. We love him for it. And we showed him that love by singing along with big grins on our faces last Saturday.

Dana_Falconberry_082315-2Vetted and accomplished Austin songwriter Dana Falconberry snagged the coveted opening spot. She and her incredibly talented band performed carefully crafted avant-folk songs, including a couple selections that have yet to be released. I’ve been waiting for a new Dana Falconberry album for more than a year now, and something tells me I won’t have to wait much longer. Dig photos from the event below.

All images © Bryan C. Parker & Pop Press International; all rights reserved. Click any image to open set in slideshow viewer.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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