Audioburst Search

Let It Roll: The Devil, Daniel Johnston and Documentary Film

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to let it. Roll the PODCAST. About how why popular music happens hosted by Nate Wilcox? Follow the let it roll podcast on twitter at let it roll cast to check out our website at let it roll podcast. Dot Com. Let it roll as a pet. The podcast and you can listen to all the other great Pantheon podcasts at. Www DOT PANTHEON PODCASTS DOT com today? Nate welcomes back. Jeff Footsie the director of the devil and Daniel Johnston to discuss the late singer songwriter. And Austin Texas legend the line between genius and madness the low five movement and the making of one of the all-time great rock documentaries pop in those ear. Buds and enjoy role. I'm your host nate. Wilcox today afraid of the shows returning Jeff. Flake is here to talk about his film. The Devil and Daniel Johnston Jeff. Welcome need how you doing doing well. Great to have you back. Thanks great to be back. Love the show and And so the film has it's been out for what sixteen years now fourteen years and it's taken on a weight. You indie wire named the number one best music documentary the Twenty First Century which given the explosion of music documentaries the twenty first century. Pretty heavy praised. So congratulations. Yea well thank you. I appreciate that it was nice. We've been on a lot of lists Pretty steadily since phone came out but You know keeps coming up Closer to that number one slot and you liked that. Yeah it's good and I want to read a little bit of what they said in the article where they awarded you the number one slot and it says a reminder that true artistry is extremely rare to come by and often impossible to survive deeply soulful uniquely poetic darkly disturbed. The story of songwriter. Gained Johnson is heartbreaking and captivated as they come. I cannot disagree what drew you to Daniel. Johnston what what made it feel like? This was a story that had to be told. You are the person that was going to tell it. Well you know. Many things drew me to Daniel. It was I guess it was around. Eighty four eighty five and You know in the underground he started bubbling up with Cassette tapes on stress records Which was this little Indie label at Austin Texas. And you know the only way to get those things whereas Through fanzine so you know before the Internet we had a pretty thriving fanzine world all around the world Not just here. And there was a great community of people and Everybody was exchanging ideas and writing criticism. You know just sharing their fandom and Daniel really put himself on the radar and he caught my attention. I sent my. I think it was like three dollars attended off to Austin Texas this. Po Box and there was this guy. Jeff Tartikoff is little Jewish guy who I became friends with. We became pen pals. He sent me these tapes and They were handmade. And You Daniels. Very primitive artwork on the cover and then You know you pop them on and you know I was overwhelmed. I mean you're here. Was this this incredible prolific songwriter recording himself in a basement. And he'd written you know so many incredible of love great theme and he also you know recorded himself I should say he recorded his mom yelling at him and he would put that as little snippets between the songs and then he's also incredibly funny and he you know there's an incredible piano player which is unfortunately very overlooked in his story at the moment but yeah incredible piano player and then sometimes it was in primitive guitar playing so I I became fascinated him because he was He was kind of mythical he certainly income too. I was living in Jersey at the time. So he didn't tour and that made you want even more but You know he. He created this incredible universe of his town and his life was very autobiographical and You know he'd fallen in love with this girl in Laurie and she married a local undertaker. You know at that point in time we believe in my friends. Believe that he'd made it all up. We didn't even know where he was real or if he undertaker real but anyway he'd written you know about a hundred songs about her and I I became you know. I guess the word would be obsessed and I started collecting Articles about him and keeping a file on him. 'cause I I loved Not only music and art. But I'd really loved his story and it's a compelling story and unique one since the theme of the show is how popular music happens. I want to talk a little bit about something that the critic Robert Briscoe coin and called Semi Popular Music which is something that's been a fascination of critics and fans for a long time which is music doesn't ever break through to the mainstream and yet impacts the mainstream impacts the greater culture to me. Daniel is like sort of a definitive semi popular artists. And somebody and especially thanks to your film like when you go on Youtube now and you look up Daniels on almost. Every video has several hundred thousand views and so his impact has sort of been like a time. Delayed bomb that that's just keeps going off and keeps reaching more and more people because it's such a personal connection it's not made for you. Jeremiah's you know it's not garth brooks or something that's just going to rock the House for thirty thousand people at a time but it seems to reach people in a really powerful way and the underground you reference in the eighties as as a topic. We've had on the show multiple times and Daniel talk a little bit. How he slipped into the Austin scene. Just as that scene was getting national attention from MTV. Well yeah I mean once again back then it was very. It was two things going on. There was there was like a corporate capitalist structure Had in price still does have a stranglehold on popular culture. And that's just the way it is so you know. Outside of that There was a thriving independent underground scene. You know the the world which I don't like Didn't exist and people operating in those margins. There was not really giant aspiration to be a part of that popular culture. You rarely happened so it was like in a vacuum and it was very very regional and at various points in time certain cities kind of dominated so You know as point New York dominated with punk. Which sort of came out of Cleveland you know. And then San Francisco had his own seen. La had its own see. Then it moves to Asan's Georgia certain point and You know that spawned a little bit later on like the incredible elephant. Six collective scene that was amazing and You know back to Austin they have a thing going on Austin was happening at at at the time. And you know it's also totally exaggerated a quote unquote. Mtv came to town. So let's just put that into context so there with MTV no doubt about it and They also had a little show on. Mtv called the cutting edge which aired. Once okay I should say the Austin episode aired once so it wasn't like Daniel was in heavy rotation on MTV it just it sounds that way now but it. It just didn't happen so if you happen to have caught the cutting edge that one night and caught the episode. There was a snippet of Daniel Johnston which was great. But the world didn't get exposed to Daniel from MTV just didn't happen But it made him noise in Austin which was great in Austin had this Local pride at the time of having a lot of great singer Songwriter Guitar slingers. Daniel was sort of a flying and he pissed off everybody because he won I think that's songwriter. And Best Folk Artists in the Austin Chronicle back when they used to be a thriving independent media scene in every city arts paper which poses just anymore. So but yeah yeah. You'll meet a lot of noise. It was great but you know once again. He didn't he. Didn't you know like like there's easy? Top quota didn't go nationwide at that point. You know yeah he but the thing that's fascinating to me about. That is that. Daniel is often seen as a naive artists and yet repeatedly throughout his career. And you have to call the career. He sees the initiative and to me as much as you know any rock hero John Lennon and Ray Davis. Whoever Neil Young Daniel saw has opportunities and seized it and getting in front of the MTV cameras and stealing the show and he did steal that show. That was kind of as a kid in the Texas panhandle who was getting the Austin Chronicle mail to vice big brother You know I made my way to Amarillo to see that show and it was deal and Daniel definitely yeah. That was my first exposure. Daniel Johnston and the thing about Austin as an awesome night. I can say this. It's a pretty parochial town and getting that validation from MTV really mean the chronicle had already adopted Daniel but but that really put the Cherry on top as far as the city adopting him and and there was. None of the Austin scene at the time was built around bands like the true believers without one hundred veto and Zeitgeist. That later became the reverse. Glass I with Kathy McCarthy and these bans that that thought they might have a chance at MTV and then they kind of the biggest band in town to the extent that they were here but they were from here was about whole surfers. Who were sort of pariahs to the chronicle because it was clear they were never going to be accepted on. Mtv although ironically they ultimately did but but so daniels canonise is something that I've always found fascinating you know like reading discussions. I was reading an IRA robbins of trouser. Press reviews of Daniel's work prepare for the show. And you know there's a little bit of hand wringing about Oh you know is mental health and is this. Is this right to you. Know had qualms questions about this line ization of Daniel Johnson. Somebody who's obviously struggling with mental illness and to me you know that's sort of a recurring theme on the show. Talk about so many casualties who share their musical gifts with the world and then paid us. Enormous price and and Daniel did pay a higher price in a lot of people in his his mental faculties. Were more extreme than a lot of other artists. But I don't really see. Daniel is different than other artists. You know I mean he's obviously a powerful songwriter and like you say a gifted pianist and then his visual art only improved over the decades. And so now he's to me. Don Van vliet Captain Before. It's the only other rock artists. I know of WHO's had a successful art career is Daniel Johnson. Maybe John Lennon sketches. But then he's John Lennon so and so I'm just fascinated daniel sort of this multi-talented figure and yet and a lot of ways he's not functional enough to Ha- to be seen as a careerist and so I don't know I just find that team fascinating to do struggle with that at all that you feel like am I harming Daniel by bringing more attention to more. How much do you feel like you had to protect Daniel? Oh I mean not at all. I didn't think about it from moment. Daniel you know as I came to know because I was privy to. You know an insane amount of audio. Diaries and written diaries and things like that. And also you know became friends with Jeff. Tarnow Danny was the puppet master of his own career. He was very much driven like Gillen leads driven when he invaded Greenwich village in the sixties and hit the folk scene. There was a lot of talented artists. I mean we can replace you know the rivers or Zeitgeist or Kathy McCarty or any of those bands with Dave in rock or other folk artists in the village. But you know just like Gillan was better so as Daniel. You know And he was not shy about a he. He was not that artist hiding in the garage. You know painting crying songs and asking people hey you know. What do you think He knew he was great. He had the goods. He was prolific. He had this incredible body of work and then he was driven to come up with a unique way. You know outside of mainstream culture forget the MTV moment. 'cause I was just a great moment. But he really came up with his own Version of disseminating his art and getting it out into the world and it was very unique. So what did he do? We take cassettes. And he worked at McDonalds and put them you know usually a hip musician in town or cute girl and he would put that in your hamburger. French fries sack next thing. You know you gotta tape handmade tape. It's like getting a little little love letter and you pop it in and I fell my God. That's good that so that really worked. That's spread real fast. In according to people he would stand on the drag and handed out almost like a guy with a sandwich board so he did that. And then the same thing with the art you know this guy put out thousands of pieces of art and got them all the people around the world who had this art over the years and how do they get it. Well you know he would trade them Though the comic bookstore people come in and buy them and he was already a little mythical character and people picked up the real cheap. And it's got out there and spread. You didn't wait for the galleries to show up for the museum. He just put it out there. So that was Kinda brilliant and He knew how to promote you know. He would make a great handmade posters about shows and promote those kind of things and then of course you know. Wmu In hoboken. I give more credit to for really breaking Daniel on more of a national level Yeah no doubt. He conquered Austin but that body of work he did really was before he got Austin. It really was recorded in west. Virginia you know he made he made a name Austin and then. Fm YOU IN hoboken New Jersey New York broke it wide and gain. You'll didn't credible promos for that. He did a one hour radio broadcast that you know I've called it. You know the equal if not better than Orson. Welles is a war of the worlds. It's incredible and really a radio drama. Dvd I highly recommend anybody. Who hasn't what's all the bonus tracks on DVD to do it it's it's incredible radio and Wfan new blog the whole hours up and boy. What an entertaining. How radio 'CAUSE DANIELS DOING He's doing this persona that. I call Mister Showbiz you know. You really get him in overdrive promoting his own career and he's doing multiple voices and characters and overdubbed on his cassettes. And it's really something so anyway for anyone listening to this I recommend to go to the FM you blog and check it out so highly. And I want to jump in and get a play a song snippets. Who can hear some Daniel on? We're going to hear I Dan is primarily a songwriter. He's a great performer. But his songs also have this transfer ability and make great cover version. So we're GONNA do pairings where we do Danes original cover of it and this This one I one is rocket ship by Daniel Johnson. And then we'll hear Kathy McCarty version on a trip and that was Daniel Johnson's version of rocket ship. And Kathy McCarthy's cover version of that song and talk about Kathy with a little bit and and to me it's like just a classic rock and roll story. The Way Daniel comes to town makes a name for himself and swoops up one of the biggest stars of the scene Kathy McCarthy and they even given the uniqueness of Daniel Johnson's lifestyle briefly item. Yeah well you know at the time was You know the hot Austin Band. Daniel admired them joan on them and she she She dogging back. She was probably one of the first people to get those tapes and she fell in love with The artist I before she realized that what the person she was dealing with Was definitely difficult. What's so That stories well told in the film. I think the the better story is what happens with Gang does best friend in the film. And real life of course Dave thornberry The poet from West Virginia who steals art buddy and I love how ultimately Daniel Couldn't have Kathy. But then his best friend ends up marrying chaffey and they're still together in Austin right now so I think that's a beautiful love story Says a lot about Daniel and his unrequited love theme and also. Cathy goes on to record a full album of Daniel songs. The first person to do that in Nineteen Ninety Four. And you know like she says in the movie she thinks that's her best work and the and the thing she'll be remembered for it and you know in the nineties. I think That album did overshadow daniels work because he was in and out of mental institutions and had a pretty bad deal with Atlantic records that kind of buried him for a while. And and for me. I know playing Kathy McCarthy's version Was a great way to explain Daniel. That people like you play these songs and this is a really good album and then you tell them about Dan rather than seventy times trying to play him. Daniel for people that just weren't prepared for the Lo fi sound and that's another thing. I wanted to talk a little bit about is is Daniel's place in what became known as the Lo fi movement. Yeah well there's there's two conversations to be had I mean the whole the cover version thing is kind of amazing because though I personally prefer my Dana Johnston raw and real and I really enjoy listening to stress cassettes more than the covers. It's amazing how many covers have been recorded and like you know in cafes literally next Friday night Or on world you know. Young people are covering Daniel Justin right now and we're talking tens of thousands so this is a real phenomenon that's been going on not just died recently. It's been going on for a long time and when you see so. Many great artists moved by Daniel whether it was Sonic boom of spacemen. Three or Jason Spacemen. Three and spiritualized covering him and things like that that really they zoned in on You know certain tracks like true level. Find you in the end Those are just so universal great. They're they're becoming very much like woody. Guthrie songs like it's part of the great American songbook and that would really I think moves me definitely. Introduces people you know. I think Nick Cave is recently. It's been covering Daniel. The list is endless But there's not hundreds and hundreds of people around the world and cafes Friday night to my knowledge covering Nick Cave interesting okay. So you know. We're trying to tell you. I think it's great these. Are you know often? Great Artists Acknowledging another great artist and then lovely and it keeps spreading. But you know Daniels now. Finally taken his proper place in that rare Mount Rushmore of super great artists that I've always said he was He belonged in. Which of course is you know. He's right up there with dealing writer. He's right up there with Brian Wilson. He's right up there with Lou Reed you know and people was insane for saying these things back. Then you know. But that's what I felt so It took an independent voice and independent film to to to make that message and put it out there certainly really so magazine times at the time was never going to tell you that and You know it was treated very much like Fulton's folly. When we were making the film some people thought we were absolutely insane for spending one million dollars on Daniel Johnston and I'm glad that I did so. Yes we are too and yeah. It's it's interesting. The aversion to people to Daniel send people have just because of the way. The stress cassettes were originally presented its low recorded on. Cassette. It's Lo fi quality his. He's fairly erratic singer The performances vary wildly in quality. In you know especially back in the day when we would trade tapes around town because Dan would record these things sometimes and you would have the same cassette and you thought you had the same because of that and then you'd hear somebody else play it and you'd be like that's not the one that's not the that's not done in the new year and you're like holy crap. He did this whole thing over which is something that hasn't been done by recording artists. Since the day of you know Edison and and yeah and anyway it's it's just been a fast anything to me to see the different reactions to Daniel based on how it's presented and it's amazing. How much having documentary. That's obviously a great film overwhelmed those objections and so you know thank you for bringing Daniel to so many people and but the Lo fi like. He came along at a time when Lo fi was just beginning to be a thing where where there were few artists Jandak and a few other people that were recording things at home and putting him out on cassette. And you had also a string of sort of barack artists who had burned out like syd Barrett and and skip spence of moby grape and rock Ericsson and then their recordings took on kind of this naive our quality in a way people didn't know how much in control of his abilities and Daniel kind of was on the absolute cutting edge of that and then fair who collaborated with them. And who've you've also documented in in another great film that people probably haven't seen but it's on DVD. You can still get the band who would be king highly recommended. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between Daniel and Jad fair and the Daniels able to plug himself into this nationwide network of underground artists? Sure I mean we wanted to touch on the low fighting just briefly so I don't know I think is interesting in know it became a tag. You know and people need tags. You know you know genres and things like that. I don't think the mediums ever the message so laws but whatever. If that's what got him some ink that was fine but he he was a real innovator because you know unlike springsteen who latched on early to the task him for track set in made Nebraska. You Know Day of top that Daniel went further gained took just a standard cassette recorder. But he was an incredible innovator with it because he did over dubbing. You know which you don't necessarily or you're not really able to do dubbing with two independent cassette decks so he picked up a lot of room ambience and things like that and it's obviously He had one tiny microphone to plug in. And it didn't get in the way at all of of those field recordings in in many ways he was sort of like a modern day. Self documenting like Alan Lomax. You know recording like Robert Johnson who stood in a corner and made with mono like a false stereo using the ninety degrees at the walls. I don't know if you're aware of that or not. So yes so. Daniel did his own thing and it had its own ambiance and an aesthetic And you know Ba- like you mentioned those tapes were dubbed. So you're getting you know. Second sometimes third generation Dale Johnston and he definitely was yet. I I used to say you had to squeeze your years through. Hess to hear his incredible piano playing in the incredible motion songwriter. But that was part of the fun. You know Now you know a lot of those masters have been better than they're up there up on all the streaming sites and you don't have as much of that problem and I think those tapes are pretty Goddamn listenable. I always thought they were but I. I remember what you're saying doesn't really tapes listening on my cassette deck. How it was a little challenging you know and then it became a movement. Although to this day I can't even though the artist who's like remembered from the Lo fi movement. I I certainly wouldn't put Genentech in that category. I'm if you've spent The gender had a real real recruiter in his album. Sounds amazing to me you know. Yeah so I don't know but Once again it became part of the the Mavericks Self. You know promoting myth of Daniel Johnston. That he wasn't going to wait for a record company to sign him and promote him and have him. You know all that I mean he did have a manager but you know it was nothing to get in the way between you and him and getting his message and his music and his art into your hands into your eyes and ears you know and I thought that was amazing. So yeah absolutely. Isn't it's become artists. Ariel Pink in the twentieth century and so many of the Soundcloud rappers. And and doing it yourself. Bedroom Artistry Technology's advanced to the point where there's a very thin line between professional studio recording. And what you're doing in your bedroom and Daniels example. I think as inspired a lot of people and going on the like the they were Daniel on his career and you know he he had this little breakthrough Austin with MTV and immediately as a breakdown like he starts hanging out with with the butthole surfers and anybody in town at the time. I remember when the the compilation album that the butthole surfers put out that had Daniel on it I can remember we were scared of the butthole surfers. They had this reputation and their music was heavy and dark and intense and everybody took acid to shows. And I can remember you know. Seeing the biggest scariest guide ever seen The first time I went to butthole surfers show going. Oh it was too scary for me to go backstage. The backstage or so scary. I had to leave. And so I'm like terrified of these people. And then here's the Djelic naive figure. Daniel Johnston start shading with giving a company and it really scared me. And and and it and it quickly. I don't know that you can blame gave me but I mean Daniel. Taking acid at about whole surfers show clearly was not good for Daniel. I know my own experience to manic. Depression LSD is terrible for me and that seems to be sort of a recurring cycle of Daniel that every time. He has a big breakthrough. Then there's a mental breakdown that follows his trip to New York where he plays. Cbgb's and he's hanging out with Steve Shelley and he's recording with Kramer and recording with half a sonic youth. And then next thing you know. He's assaulting Steve Shelley and and this this pattern recurs all throughout. And how much do you feel like? What do you make that connection that recurring pattern in Daniel's life of of success and then massive self sabotage well I mean once again he falls pretty clearly into this Tortured artists category. There's in the film. I referenced this book I'd Read Kay Redfield Jamison book called touched with fire and the chronicle all the great poets and painters and musicians and artists throughout history. And just you know not all but a massive amount suffered from at time. It was called Mac depression. And that's a Daniel had so you know according to the book you know they're they're great works of art there. Sistine Chapel's whatever you WANNA call it you know. They were painted during the he's manic high phases and then there were these incredible lows where there was a lot of self medication. Going on depending on whatever century you were in what was available and that's And then you get a lot of suicides and things like that. They're so daniel fit into that. And that's just the way it was He also chronicle did better than any of them and he. That was his other great subject outside of the unrequited love. I mean you have someone's like I lost my mind. You know and he did all the paintings about that and he had A. He had breakdowns actually in highschool where Everything was gone and he still. He built himself back up and he chronicled all that people don't remember that period they only remember the butthole surfers period with the acid because he was more public point but yeah he was doing a lot of drugs he He wrote he wrote songs you know. He called them. Happy smokes you'd loved weed and acid definitely went. The best thing I to this day. I I don't blame give. I don't even know if you'd be gave them acid because he was messing around with a few people back then but whatever happened happened you know. He was in adult and he experimented and it wasn't the right thing but yeah he had a lot of bed phases where he was harmful to other people and harmful to himself and that's when he became multiple times institutionalize and it was tragic and sad. You know and as a friendly one whether an artist or someone who's on an artist it's horrible. But he did that. But at the same time you know it became a subject for him in his autobiographical writing in his music and art to write about and that it's very moving and oftentimes when he recovered was incredibly heroic to see how much he had to say because he'd been there you know and he was able to tell came back to tell about it. So you know I find that. Whole Journey. The up the downs to be you know just a fascinating ride on this artist career it absolutely makes for compelling viewing in the film and let's one of those gyms that he brought back from the other side. This is true. Love find you in the end and will. I hear Dan Johnson's version and then we'll hear a little bit of Wilko's version. You true love will find you the end. You'll find bad just to with your friend. Don't be sad you will was you wo- covering Daniel Johnson's love find you in the end preceded by Daniels version and that is another song. That's been the entry point to Daniel for a lot of people because wilco is a artists that isn't Jain Norma's but has a really strong colt and it's the power of it and like you say to me. Daniels version is so untouchable and yet it seems to be just this call. Artists can't resist taking a stab at it. Because everybody thinks I can sing a little better than that I can do it. And somehow it's approachable despite being such powerful art in a way that most of his contemporaries have not like I think Daniels very unique in that that he's one the few artists of his generation who has been widely covered and his songs have become standards. And that you know in this governor this project where we're talking. I'm going to be talking to Irving Berlin biographer in a couple of weeks and it's I'm sure there are people will just laugh out loud if I compare Daniels on center Irving Berlin but to me. They're very much part of the same. Pantheon of great American songwriters. And it's been inspiring to see Daniels acceptance growing and growing and it was also very difficult for me to pick songs for this. I'll ultimately ended up picking the songs that meant the most to me but the song I'm walking the cow which was The first song on the first Daniel Johnson. I got the homestead record before I got the cassettes and that was the first song on. Hi How are you and that was covered by Pearl Jam and it was very difficult not to pick that. So what of the covers of Daniel? Which ones do you think about the most impact domestic you? Well you know for me personally. You know once you gotta go back to the earliest people who really found him. I that resonating to me. That was You Know Peter. Sonic boom of spacemen. Three I think his yes. Two versions of true level. Find in the end. They're amazing later on Jason his ex partner from spacemen. Three Jason Spaceman. He also covered it. Conspiracy ended up covering about four or five songs. And they're all wonderful so those those resonate more to me you know. I was never a Pearl Jam. Fan You know it's great that it exposed the annual so in there are obviously Pearl. Jam stands out there But that wasn't my trip I wasn't even aware Wilco did that song. It's it's amazing to me that people keep doing it But yeah once again. The original version was recorded by Kramer. And that's on the nineteen ninety and that was in my opinion the other masterpiece outside of the stress cassettes. You know it's the only time has ever been truly great in the studio environment. In those phones became the core to the Devil Day. Johnston You know the theme of the film is One of his other Most part of this things lasts a long time which people forget you mentioned Jad fair before. We should probably talk about him Jad road. Something's US long time. That was a half Japanese. Saw Daniel Change The music in came up with a very simple piano melody and then sang it beautifully. And now it's you know. Of course put the word hit in parentheses for quotes. And it's probably the other big some people now now of Daniel but there's so many others you know to be discovered covered many many already have and talking about Heaven Jad Fair Jad Fair's an iconic classic artists who you know made an ideology of rejecting learning to play you know he created his own thing and every time he his work did become a little bit more polished. But what it's to me. It's so unique. Another unique aspect of the Daniel Johnson story is that he's successfully collaborates with somebody like that fair. Which you're always putting together. The all-star Kambas favorite musicians and so rarely do they click. What what what do you think about those two? That allowed them to be good collaborators together. I literally just handed in. These liner notes for the reissue of the album. Is the album that came out was called. Jad Fair and Daniel Johnston It's been retitled Over the years as it's Spooky. And it's fantastic. Jed The producer of it You know a little context. Basically when Daniel was on the rise Jad was the king of the underground everyone looked to Jab Jab. You know he emerged right at the same time as Patti Smith. I self released. Thanks jazz really coming out of the PUNK era but he was self releasing self recording and At the time you know him and his brother David didn't know how to play their instruments and they didn't let that get in the way and then they found other musicians in the evolved the eventually record this masterpiece true to life which really put Jad Japanese on top of the world but he you know. He gained a huge amount of respect. You know from people like Princeton son used before sonic like us we're popular Jabar's is like the one everyone worshiped in the underground and it was a small world. So Daniels found out about Jad and it was a of similarities. Cause Jad he wrote Particularly this one album is solo album called everyone knew but me He wrote a suite of unrequited love songs about a girl in eighty and Daniel really latched onto that so he really wanted to meet Jadan. Jad also fell in love with. Hi How are you so by the time they get to meet New York during that crazy trip with Sonic Youth. You know they hit it off. And then Jed invited Daniel to collaborate and you know I I compare it to Like doing and Johnny cash and their Nashville sessions. You know it's just an incredible record and Anyway joyful noise is putting that out in April and I just wrote like the war. And peace of wine or notes on Jab was the man and You know if Daniels the greatest songwriter of generation of unrequited love. Someone's I would argue that. Jad was the best writer of love songs you know. He wrote Miracles happen every day. Which you know if you and I talked about it enough and people listen to this. Podcast could catch on just like true level. Find you in the end. I think everybody loves a good love Song. You know I think Jad did so But Yeah Jazz. Also once again he. He's the CO writer of. Something's lasts a long time and I think people need to be reminded that that that the collaboration and we'll hear that's the last thing I'm going to pick because My daughter's favorite song slanted del. Rey's cover of that so I'm kind of giving that away early but we'll get there but Daniels Daniels doing these things. Despite his illness and despite recurring stints and mental homes are recurrent has to go back to live with his parents. He continues to make these moves. There's a trip to New York. Then another trip to Maryland record with Jad fair and meanwhile the this whole time Jeff Tarter Cov in Edge Jeff Daniels first manager. The first manager is named blanket on Daniel assaulted Randy Randy Camper and so randy definitely paid a big price for having tried to help Daniel and then Jeff you know like Houthi McCarthy's movie that this is kind of the real tragedy of the Daniel Johnson stories that the jeff works for almost a decade like seven eight years putting out the tapes endlessly promoting Daniel songs to the band's covers barking with record labels. And right on the verge. You know this Nirvana Habits. And there's this sudden you know. Suddenly the the capitalist culture smells money and and it's been building for a long time they've been waves of getting bigger and bigger coming out of the underground but finally Nirvana break so big. Even the stupidest record executive can't ignore it and Kurt cobain's going around wearing the hi. How are you t shirt that journalist Everett true gave Daniel? I made gift to Cockbain and Tartikoff's riff on the t shirt and people want to know about the t shirt. People want to talk to the t-shirt people want to have. The T shirt is so classic and really gets to the kind of paradoxes. That kind of fame I mean. Cockbain was a sensitive artist great talent and he genuinely loved animals. Music was making a political statement and it was part of what Kobe did. I mean. It wasn't just Daniel that he promoted he also put the meat puppets on MTV unplugged and really worked very hard to promote what he saw as his elders in the scene only people comparable to Kobe. Brian Jones of the rolling stones at Merle Haggard. He's obsessively saying hey. Have you heard about this guy? And and yet the people that are watching cobain and have learned about Nirvana on MTV a disconnect between that Daniel Johnston there's many adrift between the Lippincott but Tartikoff capitalizes on. This negotiates is what he says. Is You know the best deal ever with Elektra. Records but Atlantic records is also interested and then gets right to the edge and then Daniel fires them. What what's your take away from that. In the end no good deed goes unpunished. Well it was once again. Tragic and sad but there's also a lot of humor in the whole thing as well but That broke my heart. you know you. Let's touch on cobaine for a brief moment. You know. Let's give him a little credit for having incredible taste. You know in his diaries that have been published. He has lists and right there on that list of favorite artists which are pretty diverse. You know his Daniel Johnston and Jad fair of half Japanese. He also had jad fair and half Japanese opened the in Utero tour enough. You're aware of that which I attended so he was a real booster. You know. He loves fast-lane. Do you love the meat? Puppets he was you know he was. He was great at sharing his love. K records you know and be happening things like that. So that was great And it was a real boon for Daniel. Daniel of course doesn't even know von Chris Subpoenas. He was not well when that all went down. He was in the mental hospital. So that just tells you about his state of mind you know. He wasn't tuned to the radio. He didn't know what that new radio format even was you know wasn't about if he had access to music. It was one hundred percent Beatles. Beatles bootlegs you know Beatles Solo albums. That's what he was listening to you. I promise you that So anyway when that you know Antonio got fired obviously you know how to make the film at that point. But I still been tracking this story really closely for years. And it broke my heart and I'm a huge fan of Woody Allen Film Broadway Danny Rose and I just saw the house I was like. Oh my God you know Daniel who at that point? In Time Warner wait was very much like Nick Apollo Forte the after. Bro Jamie rose and then Tartikoff uncannily this little Jewish guy from Texas you know at the classes and and the Schmo Zola. He looks so much like woody and the character. Danny rose. And that's what happened. You Know Nick. Apollo Forte see the brighter shinier manager. Who could maybe make more opportunities for many fires gaining rose who loved him and loved his parakeet. Axons balloon folders more than anybody. I mean we all wish we had a manager like Broadway Danny rose and that's what tartikoff really was and I was very moved by that so I sorta filed in my brain for the future that someday I'll be able to make a scene. Make a riff on that and then Kathy McCarty join me on that and we made a fantastic scene. I love it. It breaks my heart And then we would he You know who's a big Fan of documentaries You know I got the phone call. One day I was actually at home. Depot phone rang and I've been waiting for permission because I didn't know what I would do. If I've seen got killed you know. And he gave permission and it was great so that it's like a minute of Daniel rose in the film cut to gang. Johnston story told one hundred percent. You know sincerely but with tongue in cheek by Kathy McCarty. She has a great sense of humor. I like to think I do too so we have a lot of fun with you. Know but it's it it. It was tragic Daniel thrown overboard. I'm assuming tartikoff report then do you feel like it. Was you know because Atlantic made a pretty good faith effort they got Paul leary of the butthole surfers to produce an album? I don't think you can blame Paul or Atlantic for any failings In I like phone. I think it's a really good record. If you like. Daniel Johnson definitely check it out. I don't think it's one of his absolute masterpieces. But it's definitely got some great songs on it and I think the production on it Is Excellent and very sympathetic. But you know like you point out in the movie sells fifty eight hundred records one of the sign records in the catalog. Do what made any difference that he'd been on the electrical with the deal that up? You know it was a long term deal and have always guarantees to protect or do you think that was just another day was just another indie artists who asserted shoot up and spat out by the big conglomerates in that period. Well listen it's all subjective but I do not like fun and been like identity. I don't like it now but I also believe it was created by at least Paul with the best of intentions. Daniel doesn't play any instruments on the ALP. They pull them in the musician's do we know that. Yeah I think Yeah Neil singing. Is You know all over the place on that record. All the songs great absolutely and I've always pointed people to distress cassette versions of those exact same songs. So if you are you can stream it. Now it's a lot easier if you listened to Frankenstein love you get better versions of all those great songs. And if you listen to live at South by South West. All both stress cassettes. You'll get the other batch of those songs. They all ended up on fun much much. Better superior versions of Daniel playing. And then even on Frankenstein love which I really at. A love is the Daniel Place to Texas shows. That was the extent of the tour. And the only you'll get to hear him playing Fender Rhodes piano and it's incredible when you talk about walking the cow for instance or hey joe when you hear it. Even outside of the court organ he's famous for and you hear it on Fender Rhodes. Wow that's really something so That's my two cents on fun But I guess you know you sort of touched upon this. It's like people at that time. Were like how? How DO WE CLEAN UP? Daniel Johnston and make employable the masses. I think that was the thinking behind some of the misguided in our people at Atlantic. You've buffet you know. They had the best of intentions on paper. It made sense but it didn't make sense to me personally because once again I want my art Brut to still be Bruce to say it And I still and I think now over time once again. We're seeing all these people now covering Dan when it's not just because of Wilco and Pearl Jam. They are going back to those original things and I think people have always been thirsty for something. They didn't even know they were thirsty. Four this authentic real emotional you know bloodletting or or you know talk like all. The incredible humor need wonderful comic. Turns OF PHRASE. Edina has known as long as I think. That's cutting through right now. People are finally discovering that there's something else out there and when they get it when you know maybe it's the Internet I don't know but it all sudden you know making them listen to this and making them show them these cafes covering Daniel Right now. They're just doing it until young people which is great and let's keep our final song. This is we've discussed already. Something's lasts a long time words by Jad. Fair music rewritten by Daniel Johnson. We'll hold Daniel Johnston's version and then we'll hear Lana del Rey's version which I didn't even know existed. My daughter. Enjoy listening to Lana del Rey. So I'm searching on Youtube for songs and I come across this and It immediately became her favorite. Lanta del Rey song and so that was a way I could introduce my five year old daughter Daniel Johnston so this is Daniel. Johnston I doing. Some things lasts a long time and inland Dell. Alright on my on my the arm. Aw the extreme phone call has now landed array covering jad fair Daniel Johnson. Something's lasts a long time preceded by Daniels version and so the movie comes out and is a big success. What happened to Daniel after the movie? What's the rest of the story? Well you know Henry Rosenthal my producer who Who paid for the film We had a goal. You know we we. Didn't we worry what's going to happen to Daniel? Elderly parents die really end up homeless. Who would take care of this guy so you know? That was one of the goals of the film like to. Hopefully you know. Put down on the map and maybe Money would come in. And that's what happened You know instantly. The Whitney Biennial Put his art in which was unheard of at the time you know. People are blown away. We galleries on the world sort of showing his art. And it's sort of going for larger sums And then he started touring the world and he was greeted all over the world. I mean you know. The guys like literally touring an Africa. South America Mexico. You know all over Europe Japan and he's greeted the way he's supposed to be greeted. It's like when When Pharaoh Sanders shows up you know our great American jazz artists there with the love and respect that you you know. I always imagined for him. You know and particularly the French you know of course always loved The velvet underground. You know the French get you know the French Love Child. They get it. You know Daniels that stature. And then he made a lot of money and all kinds of crazy. Licensing deals came in and you know apple sort of using his music to sell computers T-shirts sneakers is even now a bestselling go welcome. Mat with the hi. How are you frog as which kind of genius. I have to say It never ends He's a juggernaut. You know The soundtrack to Hollywood movie where the wild things are. You know you've got caring. Oh from the area yes singing on that as the lead Song Opening Song for that movie things like that so yeah. Daniel ended up in pretty good shape financially. Which is great and they he was able to buy a house or should as parents built them an identical house in their backyard and then he had his own studio and then the last time I saw him was incredible he came to the Hollywood bowl and he was the opening. Act FOR A double bill with neutral milk hotel and other artists The Band I love and they sold out the ball. You know neighbor significant for Daniel. Who's the world's biggest needle fan? Of course the Beatles played the Hollywood bowl and have that album there and when he you know played he was in very bad shape he had a walker and he was bent over pretty much like ninety degrees. And you know he shaking like a leaf at the microphone. He wasn't able to play guitar anymore and he was backed by some pickup band. Which is what he'd been doing pretty much Chuck Berry Bo Diddley style. But you know these kids all knew his songs in the backed him and then the very end you know. He's saying True Level. Find you in the end and wow There's a great old movie called pride of the Yankees about Lou Gehrig's last visited Yankee Stadium and it's like a famous movie that makes people cry and I gotTa tell you it was not a dry and how this guy got a standing ovation at the Hollywood bowl as he walked off hobbled off and it was unbelievable and Next to me with some you know young couple College age and the girl like nudging her boyfriend and I overheard her and she's like you know. This is on my bucket list. She was like shaking. She saw Daniel Johnston Day was like that. That big And the end of the story is really nice. I go backstage. Which is the only way I saw Daniel over the years and You know he said to me that he'd watched the film countless times and I appreciate any sank and he said to me you know now Jeff on a half a millionaire so I felt pretty good about that. Yeah that's quite an accomplishment and another thing watching the bonus material and a DVD. When Daniel I the film and Response to you he's really emphasizing the humor and how much he appreciates that you kept the humor and and that you know this is a heavy story. As about great art and madness and great suffering you know and you can see like the scene when his father's crying and recounting his near death. Experience gives Daniel tried to crash their plane and did force him to crash land. You know. So it's it's this happy film but it's never it's never heavy it's always light. It's always funny. How hard you have to work to keep that balance and merges there and it was easy to bring out or did you really have to find yourself. Put in thumb on the scales to keep it humorous. Well it was like two things going on. I mean I I brought it up before when we were talking You know anyone who's missed the humor and Daniel is just missed Daniel. All right I mean it's it's in the songs it's incredible. The guys brought so many great laughs in so many smiles to my face and I just turned my seventeen year old son onto him recently. You know drive around the car. And he's hearing the stuff for the first time and he's absolutely cracking up. Because Gale's truly funny you know and so with the Beatles they were funny and that's something that's not lost some bread over the years. I don't know why but you know but it hope it comes back so I always love gained humor in him and I talked about it. We had a you know a lot of times riffing on all kinds of you know. We're pretty much the same age and you know. Even though he was in West Virginia he was a pop culture junkie. And you know I. I found drawings that he did of Woody Allen you know he was totally aware of all kinds of things so You know I felt like the film is a tragedy. But it's the comic and tragic masks and humor such a big part of the story and I love humor and I wanted to flex those muscles on the film as well and we disorder collaborated and just found it found its way and obviously the heavy stuff is heavy but yeah. There's a lot of lightness around it. You know when he died there was a memorial screening in San Fran and I flew up and watch the price of the first time in easily over a decade with producer. Henry Rosenthal and We were. We had such a good time. We we were laughing our asses off we just daniel just makes us smile so It was it was fun for me to see how it how it held up and that you know listening to an audience You know laugh at all the mark spots we think reporting so well okay. The film is a delight. And and I I would call it a masterpiece in custody masterpiece and the guest. Jeff I see. The film is the devil and Daniel Johnson. Jeff thanks so much for coming on the show and hope to have you back again Mant thank you so much man. Such a pleasure. The shows shows great love You know how how wide your topic spread. I mean screaming Jay Hawkins that was something else. Well thank you thanks. I learned about opera and electronic dance music at the same time. Now so good thanks thanks. Bye-bye follow the letter role. Podcast on twitter at let it roll. Cast and check out our website at let it roll. Podcasts DOT COM nate. We'll be back next week with Gary Giddens author of the definitive bing crosby biographies a pocketful of dreams and swinging on a star to discuss the biggest star arguably greatest pop singer of the nineteen thirties and forties and his beginnings as nineteen twenties. Jazz Hero. Let it roll as the Pentium. Podcast and you can listen to all the other. Great Pantheon podcasts at. Www DOT pantheon podcasts dot com the devil and Daniel? Johnston is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Voodoo Youtube and Google play movies. Please support the show by ordering it on. Dvd via the link on our website. Let it roll. Podcast DOT COM.

Coming up next