An exhibit of more than 100 of Daniel Johnston's paintings and drawings opens Friday at Lipscomb University —
the same day he'll be performing live at Third Man Records — and we figured that was as good a time as any to write up a review of 2005's The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
Johnston was an underground sensation in the '80s and became a nationally known darling of the indie rock set in the '90s. If you're among the uninitiated, there is no better primer on the man and his art than the 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, the lovingly crafted film leads viewers from the artist's West Virginia childhood, through his early days as an indie singer-songwriter, and on to relative degrees of success as a performer. Viewers are introduced to Johnston's self-conscious ambition, his unflagging work ethic and his self-sabotaging mental illness. The artist himself says, “It was my fate to become famous and also to be damned,” and his descent into the madness of manic depression and schizophrenia is documented here in harrowing detail.
The collage-like construction of the film connects audio and video footage from Johnston's own experimental home movies to funny, moving and chilling interviews with the artist's family and friends. Audio of Johnston's first performance in Austin is heard, and his taped recitation of the symptoms of “the elated phase of manic depressive psychosis” runs together into a giddy and disturbing blur of words and laughter.
Johnston's visual art is featured throughout, and his evolution from a lover of comic books to a painter in his own right is documented by a succession of the artist's iconic images: flying eyeballs, stalk-eyed frogs, empty-headed men — and of course, the devil himself.
In his gorgeous melancholy masterpiece “The Story of an Artist,” Johnston muses, “The artist walks alone.” Listen to the song below.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston can be found online as well as at Nashville Public Library.
UPDATE, 5 p.m. 2/8: Daniel Johnston will not be performing at Third Man Records, although that date remains on an online listing of his tour dates. We apologize for the confusion.
UPDATE, 3 p.m., 2/9: Huzzah! Johnston is performing Friday at Lipscomb — free!