Daniel Johnston was born January 22, 1961 in Sacramento, California, the fifth child of Mabel and Bill Johnston, younger by 13 years than his oldest sibling. The family moved first to Utah and then to New Cumberland, West Virginia when Daniel was five. Daniel learned to play piano by watching his sister Margy. His brother Dick taught him how to read music. But his earliest interest was in the visual arts. "I started drawing comics when I was about eight," he says. "Sometimes they were based on my cat. I made my cat a superhero. Sometimes I drew about Bible stories, and I loved Godzilla and King Kong. My mom bought me paper all the time." Daniel began a series of comic books he called "Cool Comics Presents," laying down the foundation for his adult work in which, for the most part, good battles evil.
Daniel's bouts with mental illness are well documented, but he now seems to have found the perfect combination of meds and feels better than ever. "It's been almost five years that I've been stable," Daniel says. "It used to hit me like a ton of bricks - manic depression, a terrible feeling, the pain in my brain. But with medication, I've been active and busy and writing and working." All of this is abundantly clear when you consider Daniel's increasingly hectic touring schedule, not to mention the fact that he is currently producing some of his best artwork ever!
Visual art was not only Daniel's original mode of creative expression, but was something that Daniel always imagined he would make a living at. His "cast of characters," including Casper, Jeremiah the innocent frog, Polka-Dot Underwear Guy, Joe the Boxer, Vile Corrupt, Sassy Fras the Cat and a host of monsters, ducks, naked cut-off torsos and superheroes are as essential to understanding Daniel as any other element, and often appear in his songs. Art and music together express Daniel's complete vision, and although every musical release has contained examples of his artwork, he is just beginning to gain widespread recogition as a visual artist.
Over the course of his career, Daniel's songs have been covered by many great artists including Yo La Tengo, Firehose, Mo Tucker, Eddie Vedder, Sparklehorse and Kathy McCarty, who devoted an entire album to covering Daniel's songs called "Dead Dog's Eyeball," which was regarded by many as one of the best albums of the '90s. Daniel has built an ever-growing fan base as he continues to tour the world. Last year, he was personally booked by Daivd Bowie for the Royal Festival Hall's annual Meltdown Festival. Much praise has been bestowed upon Daniel in recent years, including some very strong words from Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons," who calls Daniel "my favorite songwriter." Matt, by the way, is producing this year's much-heralded "All Tomorrow's Parties" music festival at UCLA and has already booked Daniel to appear.
Today, Daniel lives in Waller, Texas, a suburb of Houston, with his mother and father. He is happy and productive, playing piano and drawing every day. He will tell you that he has purged some of those demons that used to plague him. But don't go believing that a happy Daniel means a less creative Daniel. "I'm still crazy enough, believe me," he says with a grin.
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