Saturday, February 24, 2007


…so, finally got to see the Daniel Johnston documentary…and I have to say I have never seen such a complete (and exhaustingly overly-long) case study of mass hypnosis. I know this is heresy, all the more incongruous coming from a confirmed Shaggs & Henry Darger worshiper…but The Imp-eror Has No Clothes.

This poor guy – obviously F.U.B.A.R. & exploited by his ‘handlers’ & a rock crowd that confuses newgeniusdeathwish with art & psychosis - is nothing more than a hipster version of Anna Nicole Smith leechdom.

This poor guy – with his bent parents, well-meaning but altmusicindustry vampires - all of whom get sucked into DJ’s megalomaniacal maelstrom of self-promotion, artcon & self-destruction.

This poor guy – is not a pretty sight. It is not genius to ineptly bang on an out-of-tune guitar and squeaksing one’s anguish in public. It is psychotic to do this while also having one’s Dead Dog’s Eye on ‘the main chance’. It is not fun to see the crazy guy do The Crazy Guy Spazz Dance. It is amazing that there is so much footage on him (ALL of which seems to have been shoe-horned into this doc), from the crib to the present. It is horrible to see pals of mine at Pier Platters witnessing & enjoying a guy’s meltdown. It reminds me of the ghoulish phenomenon of folks going to see an on-his-last-legs Johnny Thunders gig…not wanting to miss the chance of being there should he finally overdose & check out onstage.

Yes, some of the songs are good. And some of DJ’s art has merit and power, but it is the meritpower of a 12-year-old drawing a nice horsey. I am fortunate to know some REAL musical geniuses (R. Stevie Moore, Patrick Sweany) who do their work on a daily basis, but aren’t nutz enough to get this kind of sicko adulation.


Shame on you, human race.

NP: Deerhoof/”Friend Opportunity”. the real deal!

PEEVE DE JOUR: being stoopid.

JOIES DE JOUR: 45 degrees in Akron, a full social calendar, being in love!


6205 Detroit
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 939-9099

presents SILLY PUTTY = an art installation/mini-golf course. There thru March 4th.



jump rope meets performance art/8pm/Sat Feb. 24th:

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Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 621-2314

cb...where are you?



Blogger Harvey Gold said...

There are those who will argue this with you, assuming your comment here will engage those that would do so.

I've seen the movie, I've heard a bunch of the songs. I'm very reluctant to believe that I possess the credentials to declare anyone a genius. For future reference, I DO claim to possess the wisdom to identify those that are idiots and fools, yours truly topping the list quite often.

I also know that Daniel Johnston is a really interesting character with a really interesting story. I'm not so sure we need more than that.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Soren said...

I think your rant would have been perfectly applicable to Wesley Willis and the people who made a sideshow freak success out of him. Johnston, though, is a genuinely interesting songwriter. Not a genius, sure, but interesting and distinctive. Not because he's crazy, in my opinion, but despite it. I share your distaste for people who enjoy the spectacle of other people's craziness, and I don't think I want to see the documentary. But I'm glad I have Johnston's music.

5:17 PM  
Blogger ncghost said...

I was working at Water Music, on my way home via the Path Train. I passed Pier Platters record store (remember record stores? They were fun) and saw some guy playing guitar, standing on a chair with a small audience of hipsters circling him. I went in and witnessed this obviously very demented individual playing "I Want To Hold Your Hand" on an old broken out-of-tune guitar like he had a gun to his head. Very disturbing. The hipsters seemed to love it. That was my first introduction to Daniel Johnston. Listening more carefully later, he does have some nice songs, and a flair for melody, but it's mostly the outsider art ethos taken to illogical extremes and there is an uncomfortable air of 'The Elephant Man' about the attraction to him.

5:50 PM  
Blogger H. Harvey said...

'Outsider Art.' OK then. I remember living at Kathryn Place and getting really stoned with my roommates and looking for really bad stuff on the TV. The worse it was, the cooler it was, thus the cooler and more superior WE were. Sophomoric idiocy of the young.

But if you're gonna find the Shaggs cute and engaging with their 11 year old world view, out of tune, badly sung, without rhythm, and a tragically awful story on a human level, then yeah, it's really arbitrary to get all over folks for being fascinated here.

In real estate terms "charming" translates as too small and in need of much repair.

Here we've got an impaired guy who at least has some happiness in his life as opposed to ONLY the torment. What's the problem? I rejoiced in the attention he gets. I've known seriously ill people who know nothing but various levels of sadness and despondency from beginning to end, anyone vaguely normal eventually foresaking them.

Is he a genius? Maybe, I don't know. I don't have the time to go through his 12000 2 minute ditties, nor the time to determine my definition of genius as it applies here.But I did have time to watch the movie and it is a fascinating film. And yes, as you go along you find artistic substance in the whole, the body of his work/life.

So what's the difference between the black beret cafe cuteness of covering "Who Are Parents?"( a genuinely neat song, btw)and feeling a real appreciation for this guy and the thousands of hours he's put into trying.

I don't argue that he's not a genius, and I guess I understand that you object on principal to people taking some poor schmuck and elevating him to some sort of sainthood without him carrying any conventional credentials.

But he's not a clueless circus freak. He can actually feel the warmth, feel the appreciation, regardless of how it's defined.

Equally impaired people have simply appeared to have all their faculties, all the riffs, and then choked on their own vomit. I don't see all that much of a difference except this guy stays alive, keeps trying and trying, risking going off meds so he can remember lyrics for a show. He's as much one of us as anybody.

And you should probably resist the urge to consider yourself an outsider because you don't happen to like him. Show the movie and play the songs to enough people and you will never find yourself in the minority on this subject.

One would think the sad and objectionable thing is when all the hipsters abandon him. Happens to everyone, my friend.

2:01 PM  
Blogger CBeezwax said...


some points: we have both known several 'geniuses' who where very capable of shitty behavior, and expected their genius to give them cover. that is operating here with DJ...just because someone is psychotic does not mean that they aren't savvy/manipulative/craven/or just bad.

you know i love excentricity & outsiderness, but there is an unappealing self-awareness that i see. this is a guy who knew to get off his meds before a big performance so that he would be capable of anything, and thus 'give the people what they wanted' = a public meltdown. one distinction between him & The Shaggs IS that self-awareness...sure both 'tried' (and much credit if that were the only criteria for making something great), but as tragic as their story is, theirs is somehow guileless as well. i was intersted in recording/playing a Shaggs song because it was musically challenging to do so...if there is s black beret aspect to this, that's besides the point.

Mary McCarthy's record of DJ songs IS great, as were Glass Eye's...that is not what i am saying. DJ cuts a swath of misery and destruction/DJ IS a cash cow for at least one manager in the movie (and whether or not said manager is sincere/a true-believer/the world's biggest DJ fan is immaterial). there is the appearance in the film of exploitation by him, as well as the hipsters at Pier Platters. maybe what's bugging me is DJ's culpability in his own exploitation...i dunno.

yes there are good songs/good art from DJ. and i know i am in the minority on what else is new?

perhaps we just have different tastes in 'tards.


5:30 PM  
Blogger H. Harvey said...

I understand your point and think it's a fair opinion. Again, let me be clear. I LOVE the Shaggs.

I would still posit that my mentally ill friends are not across the board blind to the fact that they are mentally ill, the illness, while preeminant, not having to be every molecule of them and their consciousness every second. They are not necessarily, in addition to being mentally ill, idiots, or one dimensional characters. And some do what they can to make their way.So there's no reason that someone can't be canny and sick. Whether that's worse than a canny and manipulative mentally
sound' person, I'm not so sure.

And that also means one CAN be mentally ill and also be an unsympathetic character... even an asshole. Oft times that is the standard.

So again, if your main point is what you started out writing, "Daniel Johnston is Not a genius" I'll still not argue that, and while the story is compelling, I won't use his illness and behavior to cast votes FOR genius. if that's what people are doing, well...

I think I just take umbrage with the idea that everyone who digs the movie and the way he has lived his life in the musical world thinks "poor guy." Also the idea that he went off his meds so he could deliver the 'crazy guy goods' assumes something I didn't see in the film. His contention that he needed to in order to remember the songs makes sense to me. Most trouble has occured in my experience when people are feeling so good they figure they're cured now and don't need the meds.
Then, voila!
I figured his is just a variation on that theme. I also had a friend who escaped from a facility because the drugs they were giving him made it impossible for him to focus enough to read. Rational decisions made by irrational people in a relatively impossible world.

All things considered, he's doing
OK, I think. Since I've not seen nor read reason to assume his dad isn't setting up things so that when he and mom pass, Daniel will be taken care of, by volition of his efforts, I'll stay with that assumption.

I'll also concede that I found the idea of people standing in a record store watching a guy meltdown, thinking it's cool, is even more vapid and culturally criminal as yours truly and his white cronies, back in '68, nodding and rolling our eyes to the blues, honestly having no f*cking idea in hell what we were nodding about. Then again, when I first encountered a truly mentally ill person, a very, very bright one like Daniel, having an episode, it instantly took my legs out.

But that was also part of the story, the drama.

So if I'm the only guy who simply found the documenting of some chilling, some charming, some fun, some goofy, some legitimately scary, some audacious behavior and events alternately interesting, stimulating, and disturbing, this the criteria for me finding worth in it all, then that's another story, I guess.

Kudos on writing something that got more reaction that the last 20 postings by our rather large group of posse peeps.


1:41 PM  
Anonymous trouble doll said...

i haven't seen the doc, and my knowledge of his life is superficial at best, but i've seen him play a couple times and i have a few records, and if i could write one song in my life as melancholy and affecting as "some things last a long time" or as joyous and spring-like as "love wheel," i'd be pretty damn happy with myself.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daniel's music is raw and real. I saw him Tuesday at the Orange Peel and he held a large crowd of 700 -800 people rapt. He fronted the band and the whole show like a professional, told a funny, crowd pleasing story between songs, and rocked harder and had 1000 times the personality than the proficient Black Crowes type rock band(?) The first half, acoustic, with a friend helping on acoustic guitar stunned the crowd with extremely economical, soul-shattering, straight-as-an-arrow POP songs. One friend, something of a doubter, afterwards said he was deeply moved and impressed.
Wesley Wilis really didn't have any real depth and some people just ate up the mental angle, i loved "Outburst" but DJ is not just a novelty act. And poor/ mediocre singer just songwriters don't get this much attention from so many significant artists.
His music is raw and childlike, he doesn't hide behind production or arrangements, but it doesn't seem superfluous. It does challenge your mind and make you ask, what is greatness, what is good music, what is good art?

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. The movie dwells too much on mental issues and like Jeff Feurzeig's Half Japanese movie, The Band That Would be King, there is too much emphasis on postulations from Heavy Dudes. I don't think there was a hardly a complete song performance in the whole Half Japanese film, and the music was just fine, leaving me wanting more. I did not want to hear Gerard Cosloy and Penn Jillette pontificate any further.
The Point: Having bi-polar disorder does not make you an artist.

11:43 AM  
Blogger CBeezwax said...

okay, i believe you. but it's the exploitation that makes/made me cringe - either by skeezy handlers or the so-called benign exploitation of an audience whose come to see The Crazy guy implode in public.

maybe he's adjusted his meds so that he can present his art as art. great. good. more power to him.

i - however - still remain not fan.



11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked Tin Huey, bought the album. I liked The Waitresses, too.

11:59 AM  
Blogger CBeezwax said...

thanks! that accounts for 2 of our collective 7 records sold!



12:11 PM  

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