"I just sit here and daydream all day, smoke cigarettes and write songs."
It was as late as the beginning of the 90's, when for the first time I listened to Daniel Johnston tapes, which at that time were already seven years old. They were mainly available from a small label, STRESS RECORDS, led by Jeff Tartakov from Austin, Texas (Johnston's musical "home").
To me this music seemed to come from another planet, comparable to nothing I ever heard before.
It was like a shock from a strange world!
It was easy to become friend with Jeff. He was happy about customers from overseas and provided every interested person with information, tapes, singles and also with Johnston's drawings.
This contact was established by friends from Hamburg.
When I was visiting Jeff in 1994, I had a strange experience:
The record shop Sound Exchange was decorated by a huge Johnston graffiti: "Jeremiah, the friendly frog". The whole city of Austin was full of graffiti, on every wall there were pictures and logos, that were constantly painted over, one close beside the other.
But on this huge frog as well as on the rest of the wall, there was no other drawing to be seen.
This frog, I was told, was a relic.
No one would ever dare to desecrate it.
In 1999 Austin looks cleaned. It is hard to find any graffiti, but the frog is still there. But now the record shop gets offers from cleansing firms, which promise a white wall, since they would really like to remove the drawing....
Jeff Tartakov, who was Daniel's manager until the middle of the 90's, was fired, when Atlantic published the CD FUN, which was produced by Paul Leary (Butthole Surfers). Under Tartakov's sensitive and motivating care (Daniel's career was a permanent up and down between greatest euphoria and deepest depression), he worked with Kramer and Shimmy Disc in New York and recorded a song with Moe Tucker, the drummer of Velvet Underground. Mike Watt, Sonic Youth, Half Japanese, Kathy McCarthy and John Zorn idolized him! Kurt Cobain did that as well!
They all discovered his oeuvre: First the tapes from the 80's, then his first records and finally his big production FUN &endash; that was maybe something like his "Sgt. Peppers". His "White Tapes" he already had left behind for a long time. His actual music is new in every respect.
Today Daniel Johnston is still sitting in his parent's garage in a small town near Austin, smoking too much and drinking enormous amounts of Coca-Cola. He still has to take pills in the strangest shapes and colours that should help to control his manic-depressive moods.
He constantly composes this marvelous music.
Recently, together with Jad Fair, the music legend from Maryland and initiator of the unique band Half Japanese, he recorded the album LUCKEY SPERMS (astonishingly this CD is still in search of a label).
Together with a rock band he recorded the wonderful CD REJECTED UNKNOWN, which in the USA was only sold as a limited edition by a small regional label, but it is going to be published by the label WHICH?REC. soon.
Together with DANNY AND THE NIGHTMARES he is playing fast punk rock.
A few months ago he accompanied films by Harry Smith with his music (yes, Harry Smith, whose famous ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLKMUSIC, a collection of American folk music of the 30's and 40's, has already made history for a long time (it is available as a wonderful CD box from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings / Sony).
Actually also Daniel Johnston should be part of this disturbing collection of American music. He as well seems to be one of these forgotten voices of an undiscovered America.)
Right from the beginning I had this incredible desire to see Daniel Johnston playing live. I listened to the live tape of his 90's performance at the world famous SXSW Festival in Austin again and again. From time to time Johnston is touring New York. And from time to time he is performing in Austin.
During my visit at that time in Austin I could not see him play, so I decided to organise a concert in Germany for Daniel Johnston (and also "for myself", of course). But again and again there were confusions, troubles and delays concerning my plans to invite him. And also Daniel's unstable health thwarted this idea. That I could not see him in Geneva in 1998, finally finished me off. Ok! But then:
To Berlin he should come.
To the Volksbühne.
To this theatre and not to a club.
"Wow, it looks like the Royal Albert Hall! Is it a kind of Civil Hall, or what?" Daniel says, when he first sees this huge building in the middle of Berlin.
This night, as the concluding seminar of the 7X-University, a research series of the Volksbühne, Daniel is playing exactly the concert, his audience has always hoped for.
Only guitar and piano. (Daniel Johnston was very delighted with the grand piano. He loved to play it, because at home there is only an ordinary piano.)
Seconds before the concert started, Daniel and his father Bill are standing on the giant backstage of the Volksbühne. Daniel is waiting for his performance.
A huge applause sounds from behind the curtain.
"Are you nervous, Daniel?" Bill asks.
"No, I'm not nervous, Dad!" Daniel says. And then: "Where are you during the concert, Dad?"
"I am right near you, just beside the stage and if anything happens, please call me, ok?"
And there he goes. His whole body is shaking, he is incredibly nervous or excited.
He is singing about his world in the most concrete terms.
"I had a dream."
"Well, we all live on, trying to get the job done."
"I had a welcome mat, but you never came around."
His language gives the impression of being chiselled.
He is playing the piano and the guitar like no other.
Actually, Daniel Johnston ought to be world famous.
"He can't handle the fame, but I don't think he can handle the rejection either." Bill told me later.
"Buy his records!" Detlef Kuhlbrodt wrote enthusiastically after the concert in a Berlin newspaper.
Trust your ears!
Order his tapes!
"These are the resources of the future."
my friend Bernhard Schütz said enthusiastically and fascinated after the concert, referring to Daniel Johnston, whom he just had expressed his deepest admiration in the dressing room, which was surrounded by fans.