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INTERVIEWS: April 2004

This article and the entire issue of BELOW STANDARD magazine can be downloaded at http://www.standardoilrecords.com .

Satan Enchanted:
Daniel Johnston on Comic Books and the Devil
April 2004     Allen Mozek      http://www.standardoilrecords.com/                      OTHER INTERVIEWS

            Daniel Johnstonís music exists somewhere between coming home from school to find a Captain America action figure on the kitchen counter as a reward for getting one-hundred on a spelling test and coming home two weeks later to discover that your older brotherís fed the toy to that rottweiler kept behind a gnarled fence down by the dead end. Or maybe, Daniel Johnston evokes the naÔve and the heart wrenching. He utilizes, not as a premeditated decision but simply as the vocabulary at hand, the idioms and emotions of childhood: Saturday afternoon cartoons, the backs of cereal boxes, hot cocoa after sledding, and staunchly believing that the girl who sits in the back row of your third grade class in front of the map of Europe is the girl you are one day going to marry. Because you had a dream last week where you kissed and it was nice.

            He strives to be an artist equal to his influences, John Lennon or comic book artist Jack Kirby. Despite recurring struggles with depression, Johnston has prevailed, creating a body of work equal to his idols. While he once walked the streets of Austin, TX, passing out demos recorded on a boom box, a new double album can be found in Borders and Barnes & Nobles everywhere, with one disc devoted to popular artists such as Tom Waits, Beck, Bright Eyes and Calvin Johnson covering his songs. Elsewhere, ĎThe Devil and Daniel Johnstoní a 2005 documentary about the man can be seen in independent theaters everywhere. He is an innocent who has not been spared disappointment, but what really matters and why Daniel Johnston matters is because the reverse is also true. What follows is the product of an interview conducted last April.

             Edited by Allen Mozek

           Comics on the school bus

             My cat peed on my first comic book. Then I started to be known for trading comic books in elementary school. I remember giving up free soda for comic books. Kids wanted to trade comic books with me, but they would get caught and I was funny. My bus driver used to go on and on about how I traded comic books. He would drive and talk to me. He wouldnít even look at the road. Turn, look, turn, turn. He would drive like in a video game. He already knew the road. Itís crazy. Everybody brought comic books to school. And then this one friend of mine from an orphanage, he kept giving me comic books. I wondered why all the comics had a crease down the middle. Then, one time we were downtown at noon, the time when you go downtown, and weíd go to the drugstore where they sell comic books. We were watching him buy a piece of candy, and Iíd look and his coat was open; there were about fifty comic books in a crease in his coat. I couldnít believe it! Thatís how he got the comic books and I couldnít believe it. I just wasnít going to go. He just had a knack for taking comic books and then I realized he kept giving me these stolen comic books. It seemed like a nightmare.

             The King of Comics

             Jack Kirby is just my favorite artist because he has a form down for drawing that is so dynamic. Not that I have it figured out, but I like the style so much. I love Jack Kirbyís work. Heís my favorite comic book artist. Itís like the same sort of thing with how I love the Beatles so much, to the point that once I got into the Beatles there was nothing else, just Beatles, Beatlesí solo albums, books about the Beatles; Beatles, Beatles, Beatles. At the same time it was only Jack Kirby. Jack Kirby, the greatest comic book artist of all time, nothing but Jack Kirby. And itís still that way to a certain extent, but I wanted to branch out into other artists and I tried. And I have forever always looked at all the other artists who did the same sort of thing.

            Jack Kirby had me, where was I going to go? When I hear criticism from other people, I just think, ďWell, Iím sorry, you appreciate other art.Ē Itís like someone insulting your grandma. Itís your grandma! ďI love my grandma, why are you talking about my grandma?Ē You love everything, and at the same time you realize certain eras of Jack Kirby arenít as readable, great, super-great art. But you love somebody and then if you love him a lot you collect all his work. There are certain areas, certain degrees of their work where the art is questionable, or bootleg even, or there are areas where things arenít quite up to par. So that sort of thing happens a lot; the critics are always right, they think they have a right to say ďWell, Na Na Na Na NaĒ or some kind of comment.   

People who love an artist are interested in adding to their collection, but quality control is a thing you should be more careful of, I guess. It shouldnít stop anybody from releasing something for people who are hungry for something when they just love someone. When people love somebody, they just want to hear everything, no matter what it is, just like an Elvis record or Iím scared to say, it might even be myself to people. But Iím really trying to make my records entertaining, really nice. I really am trying, but when I get up on the stage, itís such a fluke that Iím really not ready. So, Iím extending myself when Iím up there. Well, Iím messing up these words and everything, but maybe itís the music Iím goofing up. The lyrics are there, but it really is a torment to sing live without being prepared. When I hear great groups playing live and theyíre rich, I think that theyíre ready to do it. Theyíre rich. Theyíre ready. They might even be androids; preprogrammed, recorded robots ready to perform, while the artists are back home picking their noses. But Iím out there and Iím just not ready.

             Feeling like a 99 cent bottle of pop

              Yeah sometimes I feel unprepared for shows, but itís fun too. Iíve been around the world so many times. Itís fun going on tour, and I am touring, doing alright. But I know I could do better if I had money. But I donít get the money; I donít get to keep it. My dad keeps it for me to save. I just donít have the money. I just donít. I canít really behave like a rich person. I canít get quality soda for myself even. Iím buying it at the dollar store. Iím just feeling like a 99-cent bottle of pop through the whole day. And I canít really get going and writing and feeling good, you know? So, I think, I donít know how Iíll get out of it.

           Love for sale/I live for love

             In a certain sense, Iím richer than Iíve ever been, because I sell a lot of my artwork. Iím able to buy supplies at said dollar stores and I do well with certain products, even at real grocery stores, because I have more money than ever. So Iím doing well, but Iím trying to keep up the productivity. I have so many projects. I have over five albums already written. Theyíre not recorded yet, though. Iíd say four and more in the works. To be honest, thereís a possibility theyíll be very good albums. But Iím not allowed to say too much about it. Itís involved with other people who Iíve worked with or plan to work with. Iíve got one album in the can, already finished. It should be released on Gannon Records, the follow-up to ĎFear Yourselfí on Gannon and the next one also, produced by Brian Beattie who I also worked with on ĎRejected Unknowní, and itís finished, and itís called ĎLost and Foundí and itís really great produced. Really great rock ní roll, itís hard, and lots of really great stuff, and itís going to be released in the future. In the meantime we have a tribute album, which Gammon put together with a lot of people doing my songs. I donít really know who they are because Iím not really hip on these pop singers, but people tell me they canít be beat, and MTV people, and it canít be beat.

             Danny and the Nightmares of Commerce

              Iíve worked with Danny and the Nightmares and I still plan on doing that. Itís five years down the line. And we plan to release more four-track albums and things like that. And weíre still planning on making a really real, big label album to this day. Weíve been together for five years and we have a lot of fun, we have a lot of songs.          

            Itís fun to do a show and make a lot of money, so I can buy stuff, and go shopping. So, Iím going to try and get a lot of stuff, because when I go back the money goes to my dad to save it for me. So I donít have any cash at all and I draw a bunch of drawings for the next time I make my spending cash, so I can have some money to buy some cigarettes. My dad is really brilliant at managing my money. I donít have big time money on my hands. Iím not rich. Iím poor. Even though weíre supposed to be paid on some of these shows, Iím not going to have it. I wish I did, if I could. I buy the worst coke. Iíd buy the best drugs. Iíd really do something if I had the money. Iíd be really happy. I would buy high-quality stuff. But things are looking up.

           Channeling Satan

             Writing songs and drawing pictures all involve the same process for me. I just start drawing and it looks like something to me, like an arm. I start drawing a nose and I try not to draw Satan because Iíve drawn him so many times. And every time I draw Satan, I make sure I chop off his head. For a long time, for some reason Satan would come to mind in my head. I really am against him. That kind of thing I thought about, good versus evil, things like that. Iím thinking of trying to be a good person myself.

            Writing a song and drawing a picture are the same kind of thing, except I donít really think about Satan when I play, I just plop. Satan probably materializes more in the drawings. It doesnít really happen in the music for some reason. But, things just happen, the pen and paper. You get the pen, you get the paper, make a line, what are you going to draw next?

            Satan Beheaded

             I donít think Satanís as much responsible for todayís inkblot as people would say so. When your own mind decides what your imagination interprets, you have your own mind, your own decisions. You must realize people make decisions more in art and that Satan likes to confuse. People make up their own minds, and Satan likes to confuse. I think thatís what he does and what he likes. He likes to confuse. People make up their own minds. As far as art goes, itís more the will of good that makes up the minds than evil does. Evil likes to confuse. Satan is decapitated in his art. Thatís all I can do. I hope that everything turns out alright.

             I try to be optimistic. Itís the best I can do, rather than being down in the dumps. I mean, because if you start drawing something Satanic, or something evil, evil, evil, then youíre going to die. Have you ever known someone who died from something like that? Ever heard of anyone from history?

 BOTTOM

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Polka Dot Rag
The What Of Whom

The Beatles

Lost And Found

Speeding Motorcycle
Live with Smutfish in The Netherlands

Casper
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Honey I Sure Miss You
Artistic Vice
   
Dead Dog Laughing In The Cloud
Continued Story
 
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Daniel Johnston backstage in Boston 2009-10-15

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