27 February 2010

Ain't No Grave

With very little background information on Daniel Johnston, this film was approached with a light-hearted curiosity and a trust that the copious positive reviews on Netflix weren't misleading. The film is The Devil and Daniel Johnston and covers the life, art, music and insanity of the early 90s folk rock legend and does so in a truly gripping way.

Johnston was the product of a very conservative, Church-of-Christ-attending family. From an early age his family knew he was special. He was constantly drawing, filming, making music and being - above all - a defiant non-conformist. Everyone apparently knew that Daniel wasn't cut out for the "traditional" way of American living, but no one foresaw his rise to musical greatness nor his demise into a dark world of addiction, violence, depression and a life-long struggle to break free of the grip of the devil.

After dropping out of college and heading to Austin, TX, Johnston quickly rose to the status of local music icon. The entire Austin scene - it appeared - was drawn to him musically and personally. And after being featured on MTV in a series of Austin artists, his national fan base grew at a rapid-fire pace. Along with his rise, however, came a quick and easy fall into the world of hallucinogenic drugs and (actual) insanity.

With bands like Sonic Youth and Half Japanese seeking Johnston for musical contributions and Kurt Cobain even sporting his famous "Hi, How Are You?" shirt in nearly every Nirvana photo, Daniel had finally become an indie rock superstar. Yet with all of that in his hands, he quickly became obsessed with saving peoples' souls who were under the heavy hand of Satan, leading Johnston to spend the better part of a decade in and out of mental facilities.

Today, his status as music legend lives on and his story is honestly one of the darkest and yet somehow still inspiring stories of modern music. The documentary is one worth spending time with. It will help put of lot of things - spiritually, personally and musically - into a different perspective for you. And if you've seen the film, I'd love to hear your thoughts.



At 12:41 PM, April 28, 2010 , Blogger AAQ said...

I thought this movie was awesome. I couldn't believe how bizarre a character this guy is/was and seeing how it affected those close to him, how they dealt with his personality, was interesting. I followed this up with Crumb, a film that details the life of another very bizarre character in American sub-culture.


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