BIOGRAPHIES

DANIEL JOHNSTON
REJECTED UNKNOWN

b. 1961, Sacramento, California, USA. A celebrated figure in the US rock underground through his various activities with small-pressing fanzines and cassette-only releases, Daniel Johnston is the ultimate "lo-fi' Syd Barrett. A number of such cassettes were distributed throughout the early 80s. Featuring cheap keyboards and elementary guitar playing, the real attraction was Johnston's plaintivevocals, capable of conveying an alarming level of honesty and emotional depth. His debut, 1980"s Songs Of Pain, revealed how close to the edge of sanity he was - hangovers from his fundamentalist background made themselves known through statements against pre-marital sex and humanity's descent into decadence as Johnston struggled to explain himself, producing both pathos and high comedy. Subsequent efforts proved just as harrowing, particularly the disorientating The What Of Whom. Having moved to Austin, Texas, by 1985 and with Respect, he had become something of a cult figure via his exposure on MTV's Cutting Edge show, but his new-found fame did little to solidify his state of mind. In 1986 and 1988 his problems resulted in incarceration. In 1988 Homestead Records issued his first recordings on vinyl with the re-release of Hi, How Are You. Another powerful statement, Johnston's songwriting had become more acute and focused, combining resignatory romance narratives with spiteful attacks on former employers. It also included the memorable line: "I guess I lean toward the excessive/But that's just the way it is when you're a manic depressive", which gave some indication of the artist's state of mind during its recording. The double set Yip/Jump Music was performed entirely on chord organ, and included eulogies to the Beatles, Danny of Danny And The Juniors and cartoon character Caspar The Ghost in addition to God. Both Retired Boxer and Respect were excellent collections, including typically left-field compositions such as "I'll Do Anything But Break Dance For Ya, Darling" and "Just Like A Widow", as well as a cover version of "Heartbreak Hotel" which managed to sound both offbeat and authentic. Continued Story featured contributions from Bill Anderson and Rick Morgan to acidic songs such as "Ain't No Woman Gonna Make A George Jones Outta Me" and a version of "I Saw Her Standing There". Though his collaboration with Jad Fair was not entirely successful, he subsequently secured a new contract with Kramer's Shimmy-Disc label. Despite guest appearances with Sonic Youth among others, his two albums for the label in the early 90s lacked something of the incisiveness of old. In 1994 former Glass Eye singer K. McCarty recorded an album consisting entirely of Johnston cover versions (Dead Dog's Eyeball), as Johnston's profile continued to rise. This was confirmed when he became an unlikely signing to Atlantic Records in 1994, for whom he recorded a solitary album, Fun, produced by Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers. Following the album's release Johnston was left in contractual limbo by Atlantic. An album was mooted for release on Tim/Kerr Records, but the label's closure meant further delays. In the meantime, Johnston's quirky drawings were exhibited in New York and Berlin. Rejected Unknown was finally released by the Gammon label in 2001.