Daniel Johnston, Cult Icon of "Outsider Music," RIP
Today, we learned of the passing of the legendary "outsider music" icon and artist, Daniel Johnston. In the Spring 2019 Juxtapoz, our columnist Michael Sieben wrote a story about Johnston that perfectly exemplified how special he was. May he rest in peace.
I moved to Austin, TX, in 1996 to attend the University of Texas at Austin. Directly across the street from campus was a music store called Sound Exchange, and on the wall was (is) a mural by Daniel Johnston. It depicts his iconic Jeremiah the frog, adorned with the saying ““HI, HOW ARE YOU?” (Google “Kurt Cobain Daniel Johnston” if you need a quick pop-culture reference.) I passed the mural every weekday for a number of years, and it never failed to make me smile. In truth, I didn’t know who Daniel Johnston was when I first laid eyes on it, but was soon clued in by my more savvy friends, and I became an instant fan of both his music and visual art output.
Earlier last year, I received an email from Jeff Wheeler, an artist from Texas whose work I have long admired. He stated that he and Daniel were longtime collaborators and asked if I had any interest in exhibiting their work in Austin at The Volcom Garden. Without hesitation I hit him back with an emphatic “YES!” A dialogue began, and shortly thereafter, Jeff asked if I’d like to accompany him to visit Daniel at his home in Waller, TX. Once again, my answer was an unequivocal “YES!”
We met at Daniel’s house on June 15th, 2018, and it was one of the most surreal Fridays of my life. His home is like a museum, filled with comic books, VHS tapes, toys, music ephemera and so much art! It was like wandering through a very carefully curated secondhand store where everything was purchase-worthy. After an hour or so, Daniel’s sister Mojo asked if we’d like to go grab some lunch at one of Daniel’s favorite taquerias and then go thrift-store shopping—two things I probably would have done on my own that day. Lunch was great. We listened to Daniel reminisce about years gone by, and when the check came Mojo informed us that Daniel wanted to buy us lunch. So in addition to meeting the man himself, I can now proudly boast that Daniel Johnston bought me tacos. Thanks, Jeff, Mojo and Daniel for such a wonderful day. I still occasionally pass by that mural next to UT, and now it makes me smile even more. —Michael Sieben
Photo credit: Courtney Sheets
This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue