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Daniel Johnston

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United States (1981 – present)

Daniel Johnston (b. January 22, 1961 in Sacramento, California) is a prolific American and artist. He has been classified as an outsider musician.

His songs are typically painfully direct, and often display a disturbing blend of childlike naïvete with darker, “spooky” themes. Johnston’s singing voice is rather high-pitched, and his performances often seem faltering or uncertain; pitchfork writes that Johnston’s recordings range from “spotty to brilliant”. He also draws and paints; he is a cult comic book artist and his illustrations have been featured with most of his albums.

Johnston was born in Sacramento, California and grew up in West Virginia, United States, but now lives in Waller, Texas. Johnston suffers from manic depression, and has had varying luck with different treatments. He has been institutionalized for periods.

In the late 1970s, Johnston began recording his songs on a $59 Sony Boombox, singing and playing either guitar, piano or harmonica. He gave tapes of his music to anyone who would take them. Johnston created the comic book inspired art that usually accompanied his own recordings. His debut recording Songs Of Pain was released in 1981.

His early songs established a number of themes that would persist through Johnston’s career: Unrequited love, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and comic book superheroes, especially Captain America and Jack Kirby’s other works. “Joe”—a partly autobiographical character—has been featured in a number of songs. Johnston has cited The Beatles as a prime influence.

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