Daniel Johnston INTERVIEW BY ANDREW HULTKRANS
MONDO 2000: How are you doing? I hear you're going to be moved
to another building soon.
DANIEL JOHNSTON: Yes, I'm moving to another building here at
the old mental hospital place. I will have a lot more freedom. I'll be
able to walk around downtown in my own territory of Austin, Texas.
M2: Are you glad to be back in Austin?
DJ: Yes, I am. I didn't really want to come here under the
circumstances_ having to come to the old looney bin again. But now
it's going to all work out. I'll be back in town and I'm planning to do
M2: You are an incredibly prolific songwriter over the years, and
you've produced more songs than most people I can think of. I was
wondering how you write songs_ how do they come to you?
DJ: I'll just start banging on some chords and I'll mumble something_
M2: So the music comes to you when you're fooling around on the
instrument, and then you mumble a melody until the words come?
DJ: It's not very often that I'll try to think of a subject. It just comes
M2: There are some characters that you've written several songs
about, particularly Casper. And there are other characters that you
mention, maybe alter egos of yourself, like Joe, "Keep Punching Joe,"
and things like that, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit
more about why you're interested in Casper and King Kong and some
DJ: In the Beatles songs_ how they would refer to different things_
another song. Like John Lennon said, "The walrus was Paul." I
started referring to other songs that I had written and started to make
like an epic of songs that were referring to each other. Then the
drawings referring to the songs and the songs referring to the
M2: Casper in particular, like even your latest album, you have a song
called "I Know Casper."
DJ: A long time ago when there was God and there was Jeremiah the
Bullfrog, Satan took Lucifer and entered Lucifer and made him
jealous of Jeremiah. Lucifer said something like, "He thinks he's better
than him." And God killed Jeremiah. And Jeremiah's ghost is Casper
the Friendly Ghost. And Jeremiah is John Belushi.
M2: So do you think about Casper a lot?
DJ: Yeah, he's a personal friend of mine.
M2: You say that in the song. Like when you see him on the TV and
you turn every channel and he's still there?
DJ: Yeah, he can do things like that. Like I can pick somebody out on
the TV and they will be Casper. And he'll be a hero or something.
M2: And that's Casper on the cover of Yip Jump Music_ your
drawing of Casper.
DJ: Yeah. There's a male and a female Casper. On the cover, the one
that got printed up on the CD is a female Casper, but the song's about
the male Casper.
M2: Inside that booklet_ and from talking to Jeff_ I can tell that
you're definitely interested in comics.
DJ: Oh yeah, Jack Kirby's my favorite.
M2: I figured that. And like all the great 60's Captain America stuff.
If you like Jack Kirby a lot, you must like all his Fantastic 4 work too.
DJ: Of course_ The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor_
M2: I know you're interested in Captain America. Can you tell me a
little bit about why you like him so much?
DJ: One time I had some money and I wanted to but a puzzle and my
mom wouldn't let me buy the puzzle. So I was real mad at my mom.
So later that day at the grocery store I saw Captain America, and it
was like wow, Captain America. And I read it, and I always
remembered that name Jack Kirby. And I always tried to find Jack
Kirby comic books and Captain America. And Captain America is a
symbol to me of the glory of the red, white and blue, of the American
dream. That it's still true today. There's still the Bill of Rights.
M2: So you think Captain America is still something we can look
torwards as an ideal?
DJ: Captain America will return. In the flesh. In the Great Tribulation
there will be a great Captain America who will save many from total
M2: That's a good thing to hear. I've read someplace that you said to
somebody else that Stan Lee is making the mistake of saying that he
owns Captain America, and that you disagree with this.
DJ: Jack Kirby and Joe Simmons in the 1940's made up Captain
America. And then in the 1960's Stan Lee and Jack Kirby_
M2: Did Marvel_
DJ: They were working on a number of heroes together. Before that,
Jack would think up the origin and they would work up the stories
together in person or over the phone, whatever they were doing in
New York at that time. But when they brought Captain America
back_ when they did the origin again it said Stan Lee. It was the exact
origin that was in the original story. So later I would buy these books
that they reprinted Captain America in, and it would say "by Stan
Lee." Stan Lee is writing in the introduction, "when I invented Captain
America_" And I would go, "Wait a minute, I know the real story
behind this." Captain America isn't a fictional story; his origin is
before the war. Not that I don't love what Stan Lee has done. If it
wasn't for Stan Lee, Jack Kirby might have had a hard time getting a
job. They really did a good job, what they did, it was incredible. And
they were good friends.
M2: What about some of the other early Marvel heroes, do you like
the Hulk and the Mighty Thor?
DJ: The Incredible Hulk is Frankenstein. A lot of people forget that.
And when John Buscema would do the Hulk, it was always with that
big "Aaargh_" The Hulk didn't always look like that. He was a very
thinking and compassionate guy. And he didn't like evil people, and
that's why he would smash them.
M2: Right. But you think he's like Frankenstein because he's the
product of science? It happened because he was near the radiation
DJ: It was gamma rays.
M2: But it was an explosion; it was a scientist's test in the desert.
DJ: Right. But see the comic book characters exist in another plane:
in the imagination of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the writers. But they
are also, I believe, prophecies of future heroes to come.
M2: Now they're myth, but soon they'll be history.
DJ: That's true. They'll be real. They'll be super-heroes like that for
real during the time of the Great Tribulation. They'll be great, mighty
super-heroes. God will not forget the friends of the Ghost.
M2: Right. Well, what about these people like the Hulk and Spider
Man and the Mighty Thor and people like that who have problems?
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the super-hero with an Achilles heel.
DJ: Well, everybody has problems.
M2: Yeah, they made the heroes more human in that way.
DJ: Well, a lot of super-heroes of the Bible started out as just a
human. A lot of the great prophets like Elijah were just human beings
that grew up in faith and believed in us and became super-heroes.
M2: So you see a lot of these comic characters as Biblical prophets.
DJ: As a mirror to the future and the past. Because the artwork was
so great, it wasn't just that the man was inspired doing acid or
something. He was a prophet.
M2: And Kirby was just transmitting the word of God_
DJ: Just like I do in my cartoons and in my songs. They write
themselves. You ask me how I do it. I've paid attention to craft and
everything, and I can pull a song together when I want to. That's what
John Lennon always said. The good ones just really come. And I like
to get busy, and I plan to start writing songs again once I get a hold
of my guitar. And put together a song for a live album called
M2: Why Frankenstein Love?
DJ: 'Cause I love Frankenstein. 'Cause I love me.
M2: Excellent. I think this drawing of yours really represents what you
were just talking about, which is the one-I think it's of you-it's on the
inside of the Yip Jump Music booklet. It's a man with an open head
with an angel flying above him holding an organ or a keyboard. And
there's a devil dragging his ankles away.
DJ: Yeah, there's always sort of the yin yang. Good triumphs over evil
M2: I believe that. But the angel represents your muse coming to you?
DJ: Seeds well planted will sprout.
M2: I want to ask you about more of your drawn characters. The frog
creature with the eye stalks, the long eyes, what's his name?
DJ: That's Jeremiah. God only chose Jeremiah because I said, "Listen,
if Satan gets in here and they accuse me, kill me." And he said, "God,
I brainwashed him," and I said, "Hey, listen, if he's in here you kill me
first because if you don't kill me they will and I'll be dead for sure. But
I know that I'll live on because love never dies."
M2: And then when Jeremiah gets killed he becomes Casper the
DJ: Right. I am the Pontius of Jeremiah.
M2: What about the flying eye? You have a song about the flying eye.
DJ: Well, it's kind of a movie, the show that everybody sees.
M2: Which one is that?
DJ: That's how come the photography is so wild, because they fly it
back and forth and do different angles and God edits it; puts it
together on a big mixing board.
M2: Which film are you talking about?
DJ: I'm on film 24 hours, where everybody sees me.
M2: I see what you mean. But you have a song called "Fly Eye"_
DJ: [Sings] Fly Eye, Into the Night, Fly Eye, It's Alright_
M2: Right. It's on Continued Story.
DJ: Yes. See, these eyes get kind of tired of filming me all the time,
because I get depressed, and they have a hard job to do, and they're
working over-time all the time. It's very hard work for them to do, but
they do a fine job. I'd like to commend The Order of Fly Eyes,
because they all have a personality all of their own.
M2: Are they menacing to you?
DJ: Well, at first I didn't know what they were, and then somebody
told me, "Those are the eyes of Satan,", and I said "Thank you." But
they're my friends 'cause they're always there and they're filming me
and they're entertaining a lot of people.
M2: What about musical influences? I know you love the Beatles.
DJ: The Beatles are the greatest. The Beatles are still together. John,
Paul, George and Ringo are recording all the time, and they're
recording albums for when the Great Tribulation is over, and the
10,000 years of Christ they'll be jamming_
M2: The Beatles will be back in the endtimes too_
DJ: They'll be back and they'll be back sooner. Everyone is going to
come back and they'll be better. Marilyn Monroe will be back. I'm
bringing all kinds of people back in sort of a family reunion.
M2: Right. In the song, "The Beatles," you say that you "really wanted
to be like him, but he died," and obviously he's John, so is he your
DJ: Yes, he is. He was really like my father. I was born in heaven
before I was born here. He was my father and Paul McCartney was
my twin brother.
M2: I see. What did you think about the time when John and Paul got
angry with each other and broke up The Beatles?
DJ: Well, they didn't really get all that angry.
M2: But John's lyrics were definitely stranger than Paul's_
DJ: But Paul McCartney wrote "Hey Jude." But who wrote
"Yesterday"? Was it Frankenstein or was it Paul McCartney? I mean
I can't get over this. Listen to those lyrics. I know that Frankenstein
will write a song never before hearing "Yesterday." He'll pick up his
guitar and he'll say, [sings] "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far
away; Now I need a place to hide away; Oh, I believe in yesterday."
He won't be remembering the song-he'll be writing it! Paul McCartney
just wrote the melody and he wrote the lyrics. Who wrote it? Who
wrote what? When I hear a song on the radio am I writing it? Some
people believe this kind of stuff. My one friend is always running
around saying "I'm producing this video, this television show; this is
me singing this." And I think, "That's what I used to think, but it sure
M2: Right. Well, who else do you like? Jeff Tartakoff told me that you
liked Elvis Costello at one point.
DJ: Yeah, I loved Elvis Costello. He has a song, "You'd Better Watch
Your Step," remember?
M2: Yeah, he has a great sense of word play. He makes a lot of good
DJ: He said, "If you're young and original, get out before, you get to
watch your step_" I was watching him in concert in a front row seat,
and when he came to that line he turned and looked right at me. It
freaked me out.
M2: That's great. Yeah, I saw him this year too. Now he's getting
older and he's still doing it.
DJ: Yeah, I saw him again a few years later, just a couple of years ago.
M2: What do you think about that line?
DJ: It's good advice.
M2: Well, some people like yourself remain original all the time.
DJ: Some people can't help to be original. Other people need just a
little bit of encouragement. We're one of a kind, every one of us. And
they're trying to brainwash you and make you think you're just
another one, and we're all the same, but that's not the way it is. We all
have different ancestors, and it's part of our heritage. We don't have
to inherit anything that we don't want. If we have something better_
our past, our family or our own lives_ we don't have to keep that with
us or carry it like a flag. We can always change and look for a better
life. If you're old and original, get up and do something!
M2: That sounds like Mike Watt of fIREHOSE, who I know you've
met. He always says after he plays a concert, "Now go out and start
your own band!"
DJ: Good advice. Hey, here in Austin anybody has a band.
M2: I was going to ask you about the Austin music scene. What kind
of stuff do you like out there?
DJ: I'm excited about checking it out again as soon as I get out of the
hospital. There are quite a few more clubs than there used to be, and
at least five times as many bands.
M2: The scene is booming. Everybody in the country went there
'cause they think it's the center of music.
DJ: Yeah, it really was something when I first came here with the
traveling carnival back in 1985. I hung around working at
MacDonald's, and then started going to the clubs and seeing all these
great bands, and started playing out myself. First thing I knew, MTV
came to town and we were all stars. Everybody I knew was on this
show. It was funny.
M2: A lot of great bands have covered your tunes, and I was
wondering if you liked their versions of your songs.
DJ: I like it any time I hear someone try to do one.
M2: What are some of your favorites?
DJ: Oh, I like fIREHOSE.
M2: Do you like the Yo La Tengo version of "Speeding Motorcycle"?
DJ: One thing about the Yo La Tengo version of "Speeding
Motorcycle," it sounds like they're dead.
M2: That's true. It's a lot slower than your version. Yours is more
DJ: I thought we rocked pretty good over the phone.
M2: I heard you just met them recently. Did they come by lately?
DJ: No, they haven't visited me. There's all kinds of rumors about
people visiting me, but my manager is the only one that comes by. If
I'm still here, invite people to come see me.
M2: What about Sonic Youth? You did a track on 1990 with a couple
of Sonic Youth fellows. Do you like those guys?
DJ: I love them, yeah. They made some great music.
M2: Are you allowed to listen to music now?
DJ: Yeah, we have our own radio, and we have a tape of Artistic Vice
that my manager brought the other day. It's sort of a hit with a few of
M2: I'll bet. I was thinking about some of the tunes on that album,
like "I Killed the Monster." What is that about?
DJ: It was written by Frankenstein. Right before Jesus returns,
Frankenstein will kill the monster.
M2: I see. And the monster is who? Is the monster Satan?
DJ: Vile Corrupt takes on many forms. He's my enemy, but he doesn't
bother me anymore. He wants me to be happy to write songs because
he loves me to do drawings and write songs. He wants me to be
productive so he can live. He wants me to sing a song about him. So
he can fight his battles in the drawings.
M2: What about when you first started playing music? Some of your
songs sounded like hymns or the melodies sound like church music.
Did you start to sing in the church?
DJ: I grew up singing all the time in West Virginia.
M2: You got a lot of church music from that_
DJ: Yeah, it sort of sounds like that sometimes I guess.
M2: Is that why you got hold of a chord organ when you first started
out playing and recording?
DJ: Well, when I first started recording I was playing on piano. Songs
of Pain_ that's actually my first recording. We'll release the best of
that period this year and call it Songs of Pain. A lot of people say it's
M2: How did you learn piano, by yourself?
DJ: Well, I could read music, and I started figuring out chords, and I
had the Compleat Beatles, and I would play the chords to the songs
and sing it, the guitar chords. And that's how I learned, by playing the
guitar chords. I would re-arrange the progressions in Beatle's songs.
By playing them in reverse or mixing them around I would make up
my own progressions.
M2: What was next then? Did you pick up guitar next, or the chord
DJ: When I came to Austin I finally got a hold of a guitar. I'd been
playing a little ukelele thing. this guy finally gave me a guitar, and I
was real excited about it, 'cause it was nylon strings and the strings
were close together.
M2: Was that what you played "Sorry Entertainer" on, or was that the
DJ: I played "Sorry Entertainer" on a little Smurf guitar.
M2: That's cool sound though. When did you get into the chord
organ? That was a big sound for you.
DJ: That was in 1983 when I first moved to Texas and I was in
Houston. And from Houston I moved to San Marcus, and in San
Marcus I joined a traveling carnival. And we traveled to Arizona,
Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. And that's how I ended up in
Austin. We came to town with the carnival.
M2: And did the carnival just stop there or did you like Austin so
much that you wanted to stay?
DJ: Well, I was out of a job. But I didn't know about the music scene
at all. All I knew about was 6th Street. And they all did top 40 music,
and I didn't think much about that. I didn't really think I was going
to make it in music. I hoped; I was telling people I was going to be a
rock star. But it was a pleasant surprise.
M2: What were you doing in the carnival? Were you playing music?
DJ: I was selling corn dogs.
M2: Were you writing songs at that time?
DJ: Yeah, I started working on some songs, like "Marching Guitars."
M2: But you started playing the chord organ when you were first in
DJ: No, I started the chord organ in Houston. When I first moved to
Texas I lived in Houston with my brother.
M2: And how did you get a hold of the chord organ?
DJ: It was my nephew's. I had to come down to get a job, 'cause there
were no jobs in West Virginia. That's how I ended up in an alley.
M2: That sound was really super original for you. Are you beating on
it real hard?
DJ: Some people thought I was playing percussion, but it's just from
hitting the keys so hard. I wasn't really doing that intentionally.
M2: It's probably one of the most original sounds I've ever heard in
music_ your voice with that sound. When did you start doing stuff
where you were just tape recording by yourself, and sometimes you
would tape a track, and then you'd play it, and then you'd do another
song over it like "Danny Don't Rapp."
DJ: Those were experiments in overdubbing. I hope to work someday
in the studio and do a lot of overdubbing and multitracking.
M2: You have done some of that already.
DJ: Yeah, but every time I work in the studio it's always rush, rush.
I look forward to the day when I can spend more time in the studio
and have a studio that would let me record all the time.
M2: You'd rather record in the studio than buy yourself a tape
DJ: Yeah, I want the sound quality to be better. I don't want to waste
my time on a small tape recorder anymore except for demos. That's
why I thought it would be fun to do a live album_ to just play it out
and get all the songs out there.
M2: I liked your Live at South By SouthWest tape. It's a little bit hard
to hear, but I liked the performances a lot. That was cool. In the
studio work that you've done have you enjoyed working with Jad Fair
DJ: I really enjoyed working with them.
M2: Can you tell me something about working with Jad and writing
those songs together?
DJ: It was wild. We met up in New York when I was working with
Kramer. Kramer wanted me to come up and try the studio, and that's
how I ended up going to New York. And Jad was there and he had
some lyrics and I'd heard his album 'cause he had sent it to my
manager when I was living in Austin. And he had some lyrics, and I
just sat down at the piano, and I think the first one was "Some Things
Last a Long Time." And we recorded a few other songs that day that
haven't been released. And Kramer says, "Hey, you two ought to get
together and do an album!" And I said, "Sure." So we ended up a year
later_ I went to Maryland and I wrote some lyrics, and we went up to
his upstairs room where he had a drum set. I started playing drums
and he started playing guitar, and we recorded. "It's Spooky" was the
first song we did. I loved his lyrics 'cause every time he'd write out a
little bit and I'd finish it. Like "Frankenstein Conquers the World."
We wrote a number of those together. The big thing about that is
we're going to re-release it with a bunch of unreleased tracks, because
it wasn't distributed very well. We're re- releasing it with extra tracks,
like we did a version of the Butthole's "Seedloaf."
M2: So did you really meet Roky Erickson then? Is that song true?
DJ: I knew him when he used to live here in town. The story is like on
the record; that's the whole story.
M2: You used to watch horror movies together.
DJ: Yes, we did. We watched Third House on the Left. He really like
that one. When it got to the end where all the people were killed, he
kept rewinding it back.
M2: So is he sort of a strange guy? Is he nice?
DJ: I think he's a great guy.
M2: Did you play any music with him?
DJ: No, we never got around to that. that was my intention, but we
never got around to doing it. I played piano with his mother once.
M2: What's she like?
DJ: She was real nice.
M2: She was a musician as well?
DJ: Yeah. They were a very friendly family.
M2: What about your cover of "Tomorrow Never Knows" on that
album? You do it straight basically, then you stop and say,"No, no,
no, don't go down, don't give in!"
DJ: That was sort of my opinion at that time, that some people might
have been taking that old song in that way, taking it the opposite way
than it was originally intended. They can take a regular lyric and they
can say, "This is what this means, and think about it that way," and
they twist it inside out. Then they tell the singer to sing it again, and
they're thinking that thought. And they sing it again, and everybody
says, "Yeah, it sounds like that's what he means." It's lies. Lies are
terrible. Lies are black holes. Don't fall into that void; you'll never
M2: That's true. What do you think that song means?
DJ: I think it's supposed to be something from The Book of the Dead.
I think it's "Relax and float downstream_"
M2: What about some of Lennon's other bizarre lyrics like the song
"I Am the Walrus." What was your opinion of that?
DJ: You see with dead dog's eyes_
M2: Yeah, that's a bizarre lyric. You have several songs like the "King
Kong" where you take a hero or somebody who's been
misunderstood, and you tell the story from their side or you clear up
some misunderstood facts about the story in defense of that person or
character. I was wondering if there were other people you knew of
either in real life or characters that you feel got misrepresented by
DJ: Captain America. He suffered the most.
M2: How's that?
DJ: He was the greatest hero of all time.
M2: But how do you think that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
DJ: Captain America's my father.
M2: Is that right? In the song "Rocket Ship" from Yip Jump Music
you sing "My bags are packed, I'm ready to go" and it sounds a bit
like Peter, Paul and Mary, but you're getting into a rocket ship rather
than a jet plane. Is that something you've ever wanted to do, to go up
DJ: One day I will. I'll go to Mars or something.
M2: How come?
DJ: When I'm Frankenstein, I'll go to Mars.
M2: Uh-huh. Did you watch any science fiction movies? Are you
interested in space travel?
DJ: Yes, I like science fiction.
M2: Have you read science fiction?
DJ: 2001. Planet of the Apes. When the United States is blown up the
apes will take over.
M2: You think so?
DJ: Yeah, just like in the movies. Just another one of them prophecies.
M2: So you believe in predestination?
DJ: Yeah, I'm already there; I'm in the future. I'm gone. I don't dwell
in the past; I live in the past too.
M2: Can you tell me something about how you feel about the final
Tribulation, the endtimes?
DJ: It's all in the Book of Revelations.
M2: But not only what's in there, but like super heroes will be coming,
and other characters that we know of now.
DJ: Many super heroes are described. They talk about the angels. It's
all there if you read it with an open mind, it'll just open up for you. I
mean God wouldn't let a Great Tribulation go by without some super
heroes running around.
M2: That's true. So, you know what song I think is really powerful on
1990 is "Don't Play Cards With Satan, He'll Deal You an Awful
Hand." Do you feel you ever have been through that situation?
DJ: It's a mistake when you try to deal with the Devil. You shouldn't
give him any credit or any ground to stand on. You just don't play
cards with Satan because he cheats. And you don't want to play cards
with a cheater. You shouldn't gamble anyway, always hoping to get
something for nothing. You should try to live an honest life and get
what you pay for and pay what you get for.
M2: So "Playing Cards With Satan" was just a metaphor for some
things that have happened to you in your life, or that anybody goes
through when you're tempted by the Devil?
DJ: I made a mistake and I sinned against the female Holy Ghost,
with a witch. I've called her evil before, but me and her are friends
now. But she handed me a cosmic cube, like a prism. And I got this
idea to give her a holy embrace and I was trying to give her a shower,
and I lost my old soul for a year and that's what 1990 was all about.
M2: I see. But then you got yourself out of that eventually. And then
Artistic Vice is the most upbeat album I think you've ever done, or
one of them.
DJ: Yeah, it's sort of Beatleish.
M2: Yeah, songs like "My Life is Starting Over."
DJ: Many of those songs are about the love of my life, Laurie.
M2: Yeah, and are you still thinking about Laurie these days?
DJ: Yes I do. I think about her all the time. I have a home movie of
her on video, and I like to watch it 'cause it's so lonely. And I try to
talk to her but I don't hear her voice, and sometimes I wish she could
hear me. We sent her a CD and an album and a cassette, so I'm
hoping to get a reply from that.
M2: Why did you record this album in West Virginia? Were you at
home with your parents at home there?
DJ: Yeah. We just moved down here not too long ago. Outside of
Houston_ that's where I was living when they brought me here.
M2: Did you meet Laurie in West Virginia or in Texas?
DJ: Yeah, when I was living in West Virginia and going to a branch
of Kent State. I was sitting in the classroom and in walked this
beautiful girl. She was so beautiful she was glowing. And I've never
been affected so much then or since by a girl's presence. It was like I
didn't know what to say, so I just said, "Hi, How are you?" And she
said,"Hi, How are you?" And I couldn't believe she was so friendly to
me. And she worked in a store and I was down there seeing her all the
time. Before I met her I found out her name and I changed all my
classes to her classes.
M2: So did you get to know her a little bit?
DJ: Yeah, she worked in the store and I went and hung out. I kind of
regret the old days because I hardly let her say a word because I was
so happy being around her I would just yell my head off and making
funny jokes and everything, and she thought it was funny.
M2: Did you play music for her ever?
DJ: Yes, in fact that's how the music career started for me. It was sort
of a joke. I'd write these particular songs on piano, and I'd play them
for her, and it was like "You have lovely ankles, You're a natural
woman," or something. So I played her that and she said, "You know,
you do that rather well." Every day after that I was bang, bang, bang
on that old piano. If you listen to the songs, you'll see how much of
the songs are about her. Even though she's married now and has kids,
I still love her. And I hope to at least be able to talk to her on the
M2: What's that song on Artistic Vice, "The Startling Facts"? What's
that really about?
DJ: It's about one of the last times I saw her_ at a funeral. And her
boyfriend, the undertaker's son, popped me the finger. So it's pretty
heavy symbolism for me, because I became obsessed with death and
was certain it would happen to me. But "such love a flame I overcame
victorious; filled my heart with such desire so grand and so glorious;
glory sweet an angel dear, here with me today, not in person but in
memory of me will always stay." M2: That's a good memory you have.
What do you think about Walt Disney's stuff?
DJ: I love Walt Disney's stuff. That's another thing that's happened,
everybody trying to convince everybody that Walt Disney was evil.
That's ridiculous. You watch Bambi and Donald Duck and all them.
They were good old dudes. That's another thing that happened. They
try to brainwash you. The Walt Disney company might not be in as
fine shape as they were years ago, but to say that the whole thing was
a conspiracy is completely ridiculous. But people fall for that, and they
believe that Mickey is the Devil.
M2: Do you think that little kids are more in tune with what's really
going on? DJ: Yeah, they know. They watch the TV shows. If they
don't like it they change the channel too. They have the same choice.
M2: Did you watch a lot of TV when you were a kid? DJ: Oh yeah, I
grew up with TV. I loved monster movies: Godzilla and King Kong
and Frankenstein and Wolfman and The Mummy. Frankenstein and
King Kong were my favorites. My favorite movie was King Kong
Versus Godzilla when I was a kid. I remember in elementary school
they asked me to write a history of my life, and I wrote, "I was born
in California and then yesterday I saw King Kong Versus Godzilla."
M2: You were born in California?
DJ: Yes, Sacramento, California, January 22nd, 1961.
M2: One of my co-editors here told me that there are some people who
are writing books and claiming to have channeled John Lennon's
spirit, and that John Lennon is speaking to them and stuff_ DJ: Those
are just like false prophets you see on TV. They say they've got the
Holy Ghost and taking people's money. All they talk about is money.
M2: So you don't believe in those televangelist people, do you? DJ:
No. Anyone who has the gift wouldn't bastardize it like that. John
Lennon wouldn't talk to someone who would bastardize it. I imagine
he'd talk to me.
M2: What are some of your favorite John Lennon songs?
DJ: Well, I like One Thing You Can't Hide Is When You're Crippled
Inside, Nowhere Man, Norwegian Wood, Strawberry Fields Forever,
I Am the Walrus, I Want to Hold Your Hand, all of his songs.
M2: Why do you think that someone like Charles Manson would
misinterpret the White Album so badly?
DJ: He's crazy. He thought The Beatles were telling him to kill people,
so The Beatles must have wanted Charles Manson to kill people,
which is certainly wrong. The Beatles were a good thing. They were
singing 'All you need is love'. Do you think they were secretly
planning to kill everybody? Trying to hook up with some scum bum
living out in a reservation hole? They were doing all their work for
M2: Not a chance. So do you follow politics? DJ: I thought it was very
disturbing what happened in Los Angeles. It just goes to show the way
those people think. It's not a good thing. they're going to end up
killing themselves or killing each other. A lot of them are programmed
for suicide. I would like
to say something now: There's hope for everyone; there is a God; I
believe in God; God stands by me and saved me from the mouth of
the lion of suicide and violence.
M2: That's definitely a good message for those people in LA. How do
you think some of the presidents we've had lately have figured into
this whole scheme?
DJ: I think Bush has done well. He's trying. He's got a lot of
opposition. A lot of people with bad ideas just want to see bad things
happen, and he's trying to make things happen, and they're just trying
to work against him. He needs to take an iron hand and straighten
M2: You believe in the endtimes. Some people think that the endtimes
are going to come out of the Middle East and that things like Iraq are
just a precursor to greater strife.
DJ: There will always be wars and winners of wars, but the United
States will stand firm. They will not enter our soil.
M2: Do you think the United States is under God's wing in this whole
thing? DJ: Yes. The United States is the Garden of Eden. And when
the flood happened and the continents parted, the Garden of Eden
was moved and isolated and protected by the ocean.
M2: What do you think of the ballet that's being done in France to
Yip Jump Music?
DJ: I think it's pretty funny. I haven't seen it or anything. M2: How
did they find out about your music? DJ: My manager. He said, "Oh,
by the way, somebody did a ballet of Yip Jump music in French." M2:
Some New York guy. Why do you think they picked Yip Jump music?
DJ: Maybe because it's a celibate album. When you have leotards on
you're supposed to be celibate or something.
M2: Is that what you thought of Yip Jump when you were doing it, a
DJ: Yeah, it was a celibacy album. I thought I'd try it. And all the
songs are cheerful.
M2: Yeah, really enthusiastic. DJ: Yeah, it was really a step up from
the way I was feeling.
M2: So you were using some of the songs to cheer you up at the time?
DJ: Yeah, I changed the subject. Instead of singing about funeral
homes and everything, I thought I'd sing about speeding motorcycles.
I read in the newspaper that some carnival had a speeding motorcycle,
and I underlined it. Different songs from that period were about just
trying to change the subject. What I need to do now_I was working on
this album before I was incarcerated in the hospital here called
Frankenstein Love. And I was writing some cool songs about
Frankenstein. And it was these cool chords. And now I'm trying to
write songs and I'm getting all these sappy love songs. It's not quite up
M2: What happened to the songs form Frankenstein Love?
DJ: They're all like half-finished.
M2: What is the tone of them?
M2: Like pre-apocalyptic stuff? What kind of role does Frankenstein
play in some of these songs? Is he a good guy or a bad guy?
DJ: When I die, there will be no music. 100 years after I'm dead they'll
resurrect my body and turn me into Frankenstein. Then I'll tour with
The Beatles and the Butthole Surfers. There will be music like there's
never been music before.
M2: We had The Butthole Surfers in Issue 3. Gibby is into computer
graphics and he submitted some of his computer graphics art to us to
use with the article. They're photographs of his face and he scanned
then into the computer. And with this program he's done all this stuff
where he's twisted the face around. It's really weird. DJ: He's the
greatest. He's beyond a clown. He's the ultimate warrior's apprentice.
He's King Gibby. The man is a god. They're all gods, the Butthole
Surfers. And anybody who worships the Surfers can be gods too.
M2: I want to ask you about this movie that was made about Austin
by a guy from Austin called Slacker.
DJ: yeah, I knew that guy. I hung out with that guy. He shot movies
of me and stuff.
M2: Was he a good guy?
DJ: Yeah, he's a great guy.
M2: Did you see the movie?
DJ: No, I want to check it out.
M2: In one scene, some people are walking out of a record store, and
your music is playing out of the record store stereo. I asked Jeff about
it and he said it was your favorite record store in Austin, and that they
really liked you and they played your stuff in there.
DJ: Yeah, I used to hang out in that record store, Record Exchange.
I used to hang out there, and the girls that worked there I called them
my secretaries, and they used to take calls for me and sell my tapes. I
told them to push the tapes like french fries at MacDonald's, "Would
you like a tape with that record, sir?"
M2: You worked at MacDonald's for a while didn't you? What is it
like working for that organization?
DJ: I loved working for MacDonald's because they let me work in the
lobby, and I cleared the tables and watched all the people coming in
and walked around in circles. It was one of the world's largest
MacDonald's lobby. I walked around in circles all day, cleaning off
the tables, emptying the garbage cans, watching the people coming in,
watching them talk. It was a lot like a surrealistic Twilight Zone
M2: Was this in Austin?
M2: Did you start to know the people?
DJ: Yeah I knew most of the people, but I didn't talk to them. I was
just the guy who wiped the tables. But I would use it as kind of a
headquarters, 'cause people would come in and ask me to play a gig
with them. Or they'd come in and I'd say, "Hey, will you do one of my
songs?" And people would come in and interview me and stuff. Those
were the early Austin days. Now the somewhat older Daniel Johnston
is attempting to regain faith in a crowd that is long since grown up
themselves and forgotten me.
M2: A lot of hip people in the meantime have covered your tunes.
DJ: Yeah, that's cool. They're still working on putting together an
album of people doing my songs. I was originally trying to get it
together myself, and we even had a benefit concert and Poison13?
played, Texas Instruments, Glass Eye; but it never came about back
M2: Do you have any secrets about MacDonald's that you'd like to
share with the world?
DJ: I used to eat out of the garbage. Every ten minutes they were
supposed to throw out the hamburgers, and I'd be watching because
I was starving. And when the manager would throw them in the
garbage bag, I was the one who would empty the garbage bag, so I
would munch down. I walked it off. I wore my shoes out walking
around town and walking around MacDonald's. I didn't get a good
pair of shoes until I met up with a pot dealer, my manager.
M2: Are those your worried shoes you were referring to back then?
DJ: Yeah, I hung them up on my wall.
M2: Have you heard about the art exhibit of yours in Berlin?
DJ: Yeah, I'm very excited about that. I'd like to have more shows. I
have tons of drawings, old stuff that I could show. I'm going to go
through them and send you some.
M2: I really like the water color on the cover on 1990. Do you have a
lot of water colors, or do you do less of that?
DJ: That was an acrylic painting. I don't have many of those. But I
have some water colors.
M2: When did you start experimenting with oil?
DJ: I went to art school at Kent State. That's where I met Laurie.
She's the girl of my dreams, but don't ever tell her, 'cause I don't
know how she'll react. Don't print it in your magazine.
M2: You were painting back then. But you were drawing way before
DJ: Yeah, I was drawing before I was writing songs. My aspirations
were to be a comic book writer. I never thought that I'd be a musician
until I heard The Beatles.
M2: But you were inspired by Jack Kirby and the early Marvel artists.
DJ: I studied the drawings 24 hours a day. I know my drawings don't
look anything like Jack Kirby's, but he's the greatest artist of all times.
He's right up there with Salvador Dali.
M2: But your drawings have very specific content that comes just
DJ: It's a surreal play inside my mind that even I don't understand.
It's more real than I am. It's more real than the things that I do. This
cartoon world that goes on, it's just of itself. I'm not making it up. The
pictures draw themselves. I only look and reflect and try to interpret
what's going on. That may be a frightening moment for anyone who
would consider being my friend. I live in another world, another
plane. I'm not Daniel Johnston at all.
M2: Who are you then? Are you Joe?
DJ: Joe is me_
M2: But it's a part of you that battles Vile Corrupt?
DJ: I've sinned against myself. I'm Daniel Johnston and I've always
been Daniel Johnston. The only reason that I tried to claim that I
wasn't Daniel Johnston was to try to step out of myself for a minute
for a brief break from infinity. It would never last. I can't get away
from being Daniel Johnston.
M2: But the play that you exhibit in your drawings with Vile Corrupt
and the boxing matches_are you perpetually boxing with Vile
Corrupt, and is that the only way that you battle him, through
DJ: Well, originally it started out_I thought that this creature was
evolving from the innocent frog, and I thought to myself that I would
like an innocent frog. And I thought it would have to develop and
have more eyes to become not naive anymore. And I didn't want it to
become a monster like I thought everyone else was. But there was this
Vile Corrupt that I invented that ended up on the back of the cover.
When I started drawing again I was boxing this thing. And without
even thinking, I was fighting this thing, whatever it was. and then I
had a girlfriend, and I had never had a girlfriend before, and I hadn't
had much sex with girls, and I became a monster. She didn't give me
enough love, or what I needed or whatever, and all I got was sex, and
I became a monster. And I was battling myself. It was terrible. It was
a nightmare. This Vile Corrupt was me at this point. But then there
was another point I thought I was Satan. I don't fight anymore. I'm
not boxing anymore. Of course, I'm not drawing anymore. I thought
that I had it all figured out. You would probably do a lot better than
me if you were interviewed.
M2: Nobody ever has it all figured out.
DJ: But I believe that there is a high God, and that stays the same.
M2: So the drawings were inspired by some inner conflict, and now
you've resolved some of that and the drawings don't come as much.
So the drawings were like dreams. Did you dream some of this stuff
DJ: I don't remember my dreams, but some people do. i mean some
people remember my dreams for me.
M2: What about the cover of Artistic Vice, did you put together that
DJ: Yeah, I did.
M2: Obviously there are some things you enjoy, like The Beatles and
Casper. There's a little guy on the left that's coming upon some devil
worshippers, and I think it's Captain America's alter ego_
DJ: No, it's not. It's a Jack Kirby creation there.
M2: Then there's a Frankenstein. There's a little black and white
photograph of a man_
DJ: That's Jack Kirby.
M2: Where did you get the photograph?
DJ: From a 50 cent Kamande? comic book special. I'm going to name
my first son Kamande, the Last Boy on Earth. I mean I won't call him
Kamande, the Last boy on Earth; I'll call him Kamande Johnston.
M2: Now where is "I'll do the best I can dad, but it's gonna be hell
trying to stop the Angel of Death.
DJ: That's from QuickSilver. That was another Jack Kirby comic
book that he did for one of those underground comic books.
M2: And then you're standing next to a statue of George Washington.
Where was that?
DJ: That was in Austin, Texas a long time ago. Right on campus.
M2: Do you like George Washington?
DJ: He was the first president of the United States, and he reminds me
of my friend Ron Harris. He was the man who discovered grievances.
You know the song Grievances on Songs of Pain? All my songs are
based on it. And he discovered that song. I played it and he said, "Play
it again." And he liked it so I kept playing it and improving it, and it
became my song of songs that all my songs are based on. Songs like
Almost Got Hit by a Truck_
M2: that's great song by the way. It's one of my favorite songs of
yours. It's so pretty and so sad sounding.
DJ: It's all true.
M2: Did that happen to you?
DJ: Lots of times. In the song it says like 3 or 4 times. Each one is
M2: Are you wandering around in the street on purpose or are you
DJ: I'm always sort of wandering around. I'm sort of an idiot savant
I suppose. I'm not too smart.
M2: I think you're pretty smart.
DJ: I fooled you.
M2: Anybody who's written as many songs with as much content to
them as you have gotta have some intelligence. I think they're fooling
DJ: Well, once again I was denying.
M2: There's a clipping here that says,"Draw first day, no lessons, no
talent." Is that how you felt about yourself when you first started
DJ: No. I always felt like I was a star. Somebody told me when I was
a kid that I was going to be famous. I don't know if I came up with
this idea myself_elementary school I'm already thinking I'm going to
be famous, and I'm drawing pictures with that intent.
M2: Were you drawing when you were a little kid?
M2: And what were your drawings like then?
DJ: Dinosaurs and monsters and I'd make up my own super heroes,
and armies, soldiers fighting and killing each other.
M2: I was into the same stuff when I was a kid. What were some of
the names of the super heroes?
DJ: Gargantua, Tarzan, Tom the Pirate, Sassyfras the Cat_that was
my big hero when I
started making my own comic books: Cool Comics Presents. I used to
draw my cat and she turned into a super hero and was fighting all the
comic book heroes and fighting Frankenstein and everybody.
M2: Did she win?
DJ: Of course. M2: Did she have a cape and stuff or was she basically
a normal cat? DJ: Well, she started out as a girl cat, but she turned
into a man in the comic book. I was sort of a sidekick. If there was
something I could say to make anyone reading this right now feel
relaxed and entertained. These are words being printed right now. I'm
actually saying them now, but you'll be reading them later; I just want
to entertain you everybody, and that's what I'm trying with my songs.
For me, the horror movies and the twilight zones and the comedy and
the good times, it's real, and in my art it's the ultimate for me to be
able to express these things because it makes them real for me. It's not
real until I put a frame around it. I'm excited for now to have the
opportunity to entertain and be able to get on stage and put on a
M2: What does 'walking the cow' mean?
DJ: There was that Borden ice cream that had the little girl walking
the cow on the wrapper. I cut it out and glued it on my notebook. And
later when I picked up my chord organ and started writing songs, I
looked at that and I wrote down 'walking the cow', and when I'd
finished I thought I'd done something pretty cool.
M2: But then later in Key-Punching Joe, you say "I've been singing
the blues and walking the cow." Did walking the cow become like
singin the blues for you?
DJ: What it represented was walking your responsibility. It's like a
burden to me, like walking the cow was bearing your cross. I don't
want to stay here but I'm walking the cow.
M2: So it's sort of living out life; it's sort of carrying on.
DJ: Yeah, that's another song of mine, Living Life.
M2: On Artistic Vice you have the clip of Girls, Girls, Girls. where did
that come from? DJ: From Sad Sack. He really likes the girls and I do
too. I love pictures of girls and movies with girls and girls in person
even. It brings life into my little world. M2: Well, there will be girls in
your audiences when you go out playing. DJ: Yeah, that's exciting. I
want to put on a good show. M2: Will you be playing electric or
M2: have you ever played electric guitar much?
DJ: No, I haven't. I'd like to pick it up some day. Hopefully i could
learn some new chords.
M2: On Sorry Entertainer you played on a de-tuned Smurf
guitar_have you ever experimented with changing the tuning on a
regular acoustic guitar? DJ: Yeah, but I haven't released any of it. But
I've horsed around a lot like that. M2: It sounds like you have a good
ear for taking something that's in a weird tuning and actually making
a song out of it, which is something not very many people can do. DJ:
Yeah, like I said, I wish I had more time in the studio to experiment.
If I had the time I would start recording some noises and add on to it.
M2: Would you like to sample stuff from your life?
DJ: I've done things like that before, taking little clips of things and
putting them together. I'd like to experiment like that.
M2: What do you think of rap music and this whole idea of building
collages of different sounds to make a new song?
DJ: It's great. What's the matter with the rappers taking a song that's
already been? That's fine. If they make it sound cool it's alright.
M2: People playing real instruments in bands are also incorporating
tape loops and samples like Cramer with Bong Water? does stuff
where he uses tapes over real instruments.
DJ: I like it a lot. On my tapes there are a lot of little things between
the songs, and I plan to put a lot of those in the Songs of Pain album.
M2: Do you remember in "Hi, How Are You" you were using one of
those Farmer John things, the cow sound. That's great. I remember
when I heard the record that I'd had one of those. You were obviously
playing with all your nephew's stuff, right?
DJ: yeah, even the chord organ was my nephew's.
M2: Do you still have it? DJ: Something happened to it. Nobody
knows where it is anymore. M2: Do they still make those things? DJ:
I have a couple of them. I bought one in a rummage sale, and people
have given me some. M2: Do you ever play it? DJ: I played it a little
bit on Artistic Vice on I Know Casper.
M2: Do you have any ambition when you get out of doing more visual
art? DJ: Yes, I'd like to make videos. I've got a video camera now. I'd
like to get together with friends and people I meet and make these
crazy video story ideas.
M2: Like what sort of stuff?
DJ: I've made some that have been pretty fun. We just made it up as
we went along and we'd stop and get some more ideas and film again.
It was a lot of fun. There's a video that Randy Camper made that's
really good. M2: What's that? DJ: He made a 45 minute video of stuff
that he shot of me. M2: Playing music or talking? DJ: Both.
M2: do you mind being videotaped?
DJ: I love it. I live for that moment when I can be part of a production
of art, a drawing or recording a song. When that video camera is on,
I'm ready; I become my true, crazy self. M2: You're a born star. DJ:
Well, a ham maybe. I've always wanted to make people laugh. There
have been years where I was depressed and I was a total recluse, and
I didn't talk to anybody and I didn't have any friends really. But that's
just part of my manic depression. Manic depression is a frustrated
M2: Do you like Jimi Hendrix?
DJ: Yeah, I love him.
M2: I talked to Neil Young a while ago, and at the end of the
interview I gave him a tape of Yip Jump Music, 'cause I had just
started listening to you. And I told him to listen to it.
DJ: Wow, I was really listening to Neil Young really heavy when I
recorded that album.
M2: I figured that. I heard the connection when I first heard you.
which Neil Young stuff do you like the most?
DJ: I like Zuma, Tonight's the Night. I used to get all the albums on
8 track tape.
M2: Back in the 70's.
DJ: Everything he's done_with Crosby and Stills and with Buffalo
Springfield_everything he's done is cool.
M2: Do you ever sing other people's tunes?
DJ: I used to sing all the Beatles' tunes, 'cause I had a Beatles
songbook. I used to get these songbooks and sing these old ragtime
Tin Pan Alley songs, and I used to play at the rest homes. I'd put on
a show and play Tip-Toe Through the Tulips and Anything Goes and
Happy Talk from south Pacific. In the song a Chinese lady sings it and
it's totally different. I had never heard it; I just learned it from the
M2: I recognized the tune when I heard your version of it with Jad. So
is there anybody else that you listen to, any other bands or anything
that you would like to work with if you were given the opportunity?
DJ: Yeah, I'd like to work with just about anybody that would like to
goof around. I'd like to play drums with somebody else. Just get
together with people with 4 track machines and just horse around a
lot, and not be paranoid about being in a studio.
M2: Why drums?
DJ: I love to play drums. I got to play drums with Jad and I felt like
the Mighty Thor.
M2: It gives you a feeling of power. I play music with electric bands,
and every time I get up there to play I'm always amazed at how loud
the drums are. One more
thing: On the cover of Artistic Vice, there's four red stars and there's
a seven on the bottom right. What does that mean?
DJ: I had some empty space so I thought I'd put a lucky 7.
M2: Are there any other significant numbers in your life?
DJ: Number 9 is the human number. "Number 9, number 9, number
M2: what do you think that song is about?
DJ: It's about The Great Tribulation.
M2: About the endtimes? Why do you think what's-his-name killed
DJ: Because he was insane.
M2: Do you think John would still be making music today?
DJ: Yeah. I believe the Beatles would have been back together. It
would have been a dream come true for me. I think about the Beatles
M2: Have you ever written to Paul McCartney or tried to get in touch
DJ: No, but I sent some letters to Yoko at the Dakota when I was in
New York. I left her a bag of tapes.
M2: I bet she'd appreciate your music.