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Author Topic: Genius or fruitcake  (Read 24967 times)
andya
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« on: January 11, 2007, 07:01:15 PM »

Last night saw the DJ documentary having never heard of him before. I've done my time with the whole manic depression thing and been more manic than most manic people and lived to tell the tale. Despite sympathising with Daniel I really can't see the whole genius thing. Yeah it's different, but he can't sing for toffee, can't play guitar and his lyrics though at times inspired aren't all that. So why dont I get it, a person who hs more in comon with him than 99.99% of the population. You're all celebrating madness, not genius.
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« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2007, 07:34:44 PM »

Well, you said it best...

"So I don't get it..." No harm in that. There's alot of stuff I don't get either, believe me. People like what they like for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes they couldn't even tell you WHY they like something. But I can be pretty certain nobody who is really into Daniel Johnston's music is "celebrating madness," or enjoying his pain. Especially having seen in the film what everyone involved in Daniel's life, including Daniel, has gone through.

I personally began to collect his music (and art) because it gave me hope, as an artist, as a poet...as someone with a vision, to continue believing in that creative vision, no matter what. It struck a chord with me, and my own mythology, and my own experiences, and it didn't sound like anything else I had ever heard, anywhere.

Now, everytime I get "stuck" for inspiration, I can put on a CD and listen, and come away from the experience with a positive attitude about my own work and worth. Daniel has been able to live his dream, retain his values and creative vision and produce a body of work that is literally known and respected world wide. Not too many artists you can say that about who are still alive or not jaded beyond belief. And he continues to explore new creative outlets within the framework of that vision, as in Danny and the Nightmares for example.

Daniel inspires me. That's enough. So does a walk in the woods. So does reading William Blake, another artist many contemporaries considered mad rather than genius. For you to judge everyone here as celebrating his pain somehow for our own amusement is way off.

So you "don't see the genius thing." So what? It's not a pre-requisite. I'm sure there's alot of stuff you do like, and is great, and you don't have to defend it to anybody. We (and I am taking the liberty of speaking collectively here) just happen to like it. That's all, you know. I'm glad you saw the film, and I wish you well with your own struggles for wellness.
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« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2007, 08:46:57 PM »

Daniel's music is the most honest music I've ever heard.  There is no pretense, no synthetic/electronic manipulation, no hiding in cryptic vague-ness.  He can break my heart with song, while never even resorting to a minor chord, and yet I don't feel any ironic distance between him and his lyrics.  Believe me, as a songwriter myself I am always impressed.  But I've always liked singer/songwriters best, and I know a lot of people don't care who wrote the song - they'd rather hear Patsy Kline sing "Crazy" instead of Willy Nelson because she can really sing, and that's fine.  Discovered Covered was made for that kind of audience, and I hope that they would agree Daniel's songwriting talent is undeniable.
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« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2007, 10:20:13 PM »

Henry and Poon said it better than I could, but here's something else...the doc is good for learning about Daniel's life story, but if you want to get a good glimpse of the music, you won't really. Find "Somethings last a long time" from 1990 (or Welcome to my World, if you're so inclined....it's in better sound quality). Listen to that and your tune will likely change. It is in the dvd, but it's not really too audible with all the talking....listen for the moderate tempo piano riff that pops up from time to time. A friend of mine who didn't get his music turned around after she heard that song.
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« Reply #4 on: January 12, 2007, 03:15:44 AM »

Thanks everyone for their replies. I have no problem with me not getting it when others do. Genius and madness go hand in hand but it doesn't follow that someone who is mad is a genius and vice-versa. I would respect anyone who disagrees with me and I hope my comments most of all weren't taken as disrespectful to Daniel. I related without even a second thought to every second of his pain as depicted in the documentary. In a way I feel he is to an extent being exploited though he does everything very much of his own free will. I can't really explain it well but that was my overriding feeling and I don't mean he is being intentionally exploited.

He clearly spends much of his time extremely ill and in particular suffers from severe religious mania. Having been there myself it's what he is not telling people that is more worrying and I'm guessing it's much more deep rooted than most might think. I fortunately after 15 years of struggle have come to terms with manic depression or as much as it is possble to do so. Of the people that suffer from it and treat it very few really understand it well and most conventional wisdom on it's effective treatment still stems from the days of Freud and his contemparies who in my humble opinion were all mad as box of frogs.

What's painful is that although he appears to lead a fulfilled life to a large extent I'm sure he could lead a much better life. He has international recognition for his work though I don't think that necessarily equates to recognition for him as a person. I'm sure he is aware of that and I'm sure he would find that both patronising and humiliating. I know he would give up all his success to just be able to come home to a loving family of his own and be a regular guy. His art would suffer if it was possible to find the elusive mix of therapy in it's many forms that woud work for him, and he might indeed disappear into obscurity. We would lose a creative, raw and extremely honest talent, but he potentially could benefit beyond belief.

So in celebrating his work and "creative genius" we are all in a way encouraging him to remain ill and to that extent he is being exploited. Just my thoughts folks and I hope as this post develops I manage to explain myself better than I have so far.
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« Reply #5 on: January 12, 2007, 08:21:24 AM »

Well said, andya. You clarified for me what your "overiding feeling" is, upon seeing the film, and I understand your point better. I helped bring a small art exhibit of his work and the film for 7 showings to an art theatre here in Wilmington, Delaware. I sat through each screening for a Q&A session, and by the 7th viewing, alot of MY ghosts were emerging from a toxic-religious upbringing and the creative/compulsive dance. I have to admit, I took a break from listening for awhile, just to distance myself.

I too distinguish between the art and the artist, and understand your empathies and concerns for Daniel to "lead a much better life." It's somewhat like that old Van Gogh on meds question. If certain medications, which are now used in the treatment of symptoms Vincent Van Gogh exhibited, were available and administered to him back then, would the world have a "Van Gogh," (as in the painter, not the man.) Then that opens up another issue of what is normal, what is cultural, what is art...

I just destroyed around 500 pieces of my own art. My mother passed away 2 days ago after a long illness, and in preparation, my brother and I had to empty out her home and put it up for sale. Anyway, most of my art from around 1976 into the mid- 80's was there. In looking at all the stacks of paintings, drawings, pastels, sculptures, etc., 2 things came to mind: 1) This stuff no longer defines me, I should destroy it; and 2) Man, my family really messed me up!á Heavy Christian symbolism and martyrdom, violence with repressed sexuality (I was only 14 in 1976...), abuse in every definition of the word was apparent in those images from a life ago.

I was raised in an uber-Catholic household with a crucifix on every wall and a Virgin Mary statue on every table. Now, I can see the universal "Dead King" and "Goddess" mythic connection to all that, of course, but at the time, in that sheltered "afraid of the world" family environment, there was no seperation between those rituals and beliefs and "reality." It's taken me years to work out for myself my own faith and my own beliefs, but looking back at all those pictures, I saw clearly where many of my issues came from.


((Out of this comes a side idea: I think it is very healthy and psychologically wise to gather up a bunch of your stuff every 7 or 10 years and throw it on a big pile and burn it.))


So, I guess the point of all this is that I see your point. There are no easy solutions, and we're only fans because this man's music and art move us.


Another side:

I know many of you have sent me emails with your prayers for my mom. Thank you. She died Wednesday, January 10th after a 5 month struggle with a very aggressive cancer. My brother and his family were with her when she died, (my wife and I got held up on the Pa. turnpike and missed her passing by an hour, but we were with her all the way). Tomorrow is her funeral, and as a family, we have no regrets about this last half-year. She was done, and she knew it was time for her to go. It doesn't make it any easier, but dying that way is no way to live.

I listened to Daniel tapes in the car every 2 hour ride up and back to be with her, just like I did when my dad was going through a similiar thing 7 years ago. That music not only comforted me, but somehow made me smile. For that alone I am grateful.
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« Reply #6 on: January 12, 2007, 12:06:51 PM »

Henry,

 I'm sorry to hear about that. I'll keep you and your family in my prayers.
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« Reply #7 on: January 12, 2007, 05:47:55 PM »

My condolences Henry.  Everyone on the forum wishes only good things for you and yours.
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andya
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« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2007, 12:05:33 AM »

Henry thanks for taking the time to reply particularly at what is a very difficult time for you. I can only offer my condolences and the only real consolation that I know of at times of grief that time is the best healer. I'm sure you will get through this and I can't begin to imagine how difficult the process of clearing out your mum's house must have been though you have suggested that part of that was a healing process mixed in with all the grief.

Religion didn't feature in my household and I thank my parents for not forcing a belief system on me.  It was very much part of my education though and I too have my own belief system which I formed at a fairly young age. In my mid twenties I had a period of religious mania as part of a period of quite serious mania. I can kinda look back and laugh at it now though it's embarrassing when you come down from a high and realise you were quite simply nuts. An alarming amount of people have thought they were/are the second coming of Christ and if you look at the world today and the need for a figure like Jesus it's actually not so surprising. But it is the ultimate delusion to believe that you are what many people believe to be the ultimate mortal and therefore the most embarrassing one to get over. Being unreal about how much money you have or getting laid lots is so much easier to get over. Anyway I could go on as religion and it's affects are very much part of this
debate, but for now I will say that religion both fascinates and appalls me. I believe Jesus was mortal and a really cool guy and the Church has done a pretty good job of perverting a very simple message.

Anyway back to my overriding perhaps even overwhelming feeling about celebrating Daniels life. I am definitely an exponent of opening up the debate on all forms of mental illness and have always been very open about my experiences with others. In
the early days my open stance was in many ways an apology and a chance to explain to people that I wasn't really mad at all. Whatever the reasons behind it though it has over the years opened up a world to me that very few get to see. Mental illness is much more common than many would begin to imagine albeit in fairly mild forms. I couldn't begin to count the amount of times someone in a quiet moment has confessed to me that they have seen a psychiatrist and I'm the first person they have ever told. Spending a total of 6 months on an acute psychiatric ward leaves you fairly unshockable and something I would recommend to anybody as a life experience though I don't recommend how you need to be to get there!

However entering the debate about mental illness comes with a responsibility that all reasonable people must face.  I believe the documentary was in many ways informative and in that sense can't fail to help others but unfortunately on balance was an extremely irresponsible. Discussing the link between creativity and manic depression is a good thing anything that removes stigma from our world has to be welcomed. The most important point of all is that Daniel has been at times through his life extremely mentally ill. OK he's the one in a million that made it onto MTV and isn't that great. Well no actually I don't think it is. Many people will take that part of the documentary's message in isolation and it will create havoc in some people's lives. 

The hardest thing of all mental illness is accepting as an individual that you actually are ill. It may be almost immediately obvious when someone has their first full blown episode. The person affected may see it right away within the confines of the lack of insight manic depression produces. However it takes a lot longer to accept. Unfortunatley the way many illnesses are treated don't help that acceptance process and I hope these types of debate go a long way to changing that. However swimming against the tide when someone is acutely mentally ill is potentially disastrous. Depending on the condition and it's severity the person could be dangerous to either themselves or others. Let's not forget the lady that jumped out of the 2nd storey window and how close Daniel came to being a murder suspect.

So is it OK to celebrate his life and work. Yes of course it is but it comes with a huge responsibility. Tell all your friends about the success created by Daniel and all the people around him and how refreshing that is. In his case how his life now is may be the best it's going to get for him and all those who care for him. We all of course hope it will get better and who wouldn't want him to find the type of love and trust only a partner can provide.

However telling people that you heard of this guy who's plainly at times as mad as a box of frogs, made it onto MTV, became a succesful singer/songwriter/artist and in so doing defied all the odds is dangerous. Think about all the people at this very moment in time that are stuggling to accept an illness and in turn the treatment that goes with it. That treatment may even be considered barbaric by some, myself included. But it is a necessity when someone is acutely ill. Changing the world is not a priority in an acute phase, dealing with the acute phase is the priority. Healthcare professionals, families and friends are struggling to offer people help right now who are desperately in need of treatment help right and don't want to accept it.

So what if their inpiration is Daniel and they don't want to accept treatment because they believe they're going to make it onto MTV too. What happens when as a result of their continued condition they go out and do something bad. Daniel is one in a million and the documentary doesn't provide a balanced view. Could anyone honestly say to themselves that in celebrating Daniels work in the way it could be perceived by many people not armed with sufficient knowledge of mental illness thay haven't contributed to the next Kurt Cobain. Maybe another old lady somewhere in the world is jumping out of a window right now but will bypass the fracture clinic and go straight to the mortuary. It is happening right now because people won't accept treatment.

The documentary may have won enormous critical acclaim but I think it's irresponsible. It leaves too much for the viewer to decide. That's fine if the viewer is informed but the majority won't be and could only be taken seriously if it clearly spells out the risks associated with Daniel's chosen path. His way won't work for the vast majority of people and I strongly believe the documentary will cause untold harm in many people's lives.

I have also read a lot in a very short time about how inpirational people find his music and I don't doubt that. We've all taken a piece of the guy for ourselves but haven't really considered the real cost to Daniel of his creativity. He creates beautiful inpirational work when he is suffering at a level most people couldn't even begin to comprehend. It's not hard to see that in that state he may be enormously attractive to women, don't they just love having a headcase for a friend, but he's got almost no chance of any romantic involvement. Tell him his music is crap and the guy might have half a chance of getting laid!

So in celebrating his work I stick by my original proposition that we are celebrating madness and not really helping Daniel and many others at all. His story needs to be told and can potentially benefit so many, I'm just not happy with the way it has been told so far.
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« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2007, 02:03:41 AM »

So in celebrating his work and "creative genius" we are all in a way encouraging him to remain ill and to that extent he is being exploited. Just my thoughts folks and I hope as this post develops I manage to explain myself better than I have so far.

I hope you do. And I hope I do, too, because just saying "no, you're wrong" isn't all that helpful, either. Suffice to say that:

 a) Daniel finds great joy and fulfillment in his creativity, that

 b) he may be *nervous* about performing but by no means would he prefer
     *not* being a songwriter/musician/performer, and that

 c) I know him well enough to make the call with close to 90% accuracy as to
     whether his more extreme words and actions at any given time are a put-on or
     authentic psychic anguish.

  - Not Daniel Johnston
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« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2007, 02:37:39 AM »

I have to admit to struggling when writing about Daniel himself. I don't know him or his circumstances and despite having had simlar experiences feel very presumptious in commenting on his life in any way. I hope no-one takes offence as a result of my thoughts and regarding Daniel I am more than happy to accept that I could be completely and utterly wrong and even offensive to some.

I allow myself to have my highs by not taking medication that I could potentially benefit from, but at the moment I am not taking too much of a risk in doing so. I am lucky to have a very good support network around me and live a good life currently without medication. However if I ever felt my wellbeing threatened I wouldn't hesitate to seek help and if medication was part of that I wouldn't hesitate to take it.

I wouldn't want in any way to take away from Daniel the joy he gets from his creativity and I hope I haven't come across that way. I feel as passionately about this subject as anybody and  my real concern is that I don't think some people will grasp Daniel's unique personality and that what has worked for him is unlikely to work for others.

My beef is with the makers of the documentary, I think Daniel's life and work are completely worthy of celebration. I do feel though that they missed an opportunity to help others more in focussing largely on Daniel's specific circumstances and not putting it all in a wider perhaps more responsible context.

So if anyone is offended by my views on Daniel I apologise though I have only used my opinions to try and illustrate my point about the responsibility we all have when dealing with mental health issues. We have to bear in mind our words are read by all sorts of people and the effect they can have.

Without knowing Daniel I have the utmost respect for him and I'm sure he has pondered all the issues I have highlighted at some stage in his life. Most of all if he were to read this I really hope he wouldn't be offended or anybody who is close to him. I could fully understand why someone might be if my motives were misinterpreted, but I have been thinking about this whole "Daniel and the Devil" thing for 2 days solid now and felt the need to express myself.
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« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2007, 07:42:15 AM »

I don't think that we (as fans of Daniel's) are celebrating his madness, or that our support for him is somehow unhealthy.

Artists (and musicians and, ahem, writers) are, by their nature, outside the "norm," and I haven't met one of them who hasn't had a demon or two of their own to battle. Are we supporting alcoholism when we listen to Hank Williams, or LSD use when we listen to Syd Barrett (not to mention Brian Wilson...)? No. Those conditions were undeniably part of what made those artists what they were, and played a part in the creation of their music, but I don't think any of us are celebrating the conditions that went into "making" Daniel what he is, I think we're celebrating the end result - that fantastic music.

Henry said it well, and I agree, I find Daniel's music inspirational, more than anything else. Far from celebrating madness, I think we're celebrating Daniel's triumph over madness, and his ability to maintain a productive, creative life in spite of his problems. Hopefully he knows this, and finds joy in it.

Anyway, thank you for bringing this up, andya. I hope you have a chance to listen to some of Daniel's records (not enough music is really played in the documentary for a newcomer to "get it").
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andya
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« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2007, 09:20:11 AM »

I've thought a lot about what I have said over the last couple of days and with help from comments people have made I have to a large extent changed my view. I think you are right in sayingá that you are celebrating Daniel's triumph over madness and my life to a large extent echoes that. I've had some amazing manic moments that unless you've had them I can't begin to describe but they all come at a cost.

I've got to the core of what has been bugging me and I'd like to thank the users of this forum for allowing me to express my views. Not everyone who suffers from mental illness has the massive support network and international recognition that Daniel has. That above anything else will have fuelled his resolve to triumph over adversity and though I can't speak for Daniel I will bet my life that I'm right on at least this point. It all has to come from within but can't happen without the help of others.

I went into hospital on 2 occassions in a hell of a mess and the staff on both occasions were amazed at the speed of my recovery. It's only possible because I was almost overwhelmed at times with support and despite it being my darkest hour in many ways I felt the luckiest man alive. I used to feel incredibly guilty when the visitors area was neally full with just my friends to see someone sat in a corner who hadn't seen anyone for days or weeks sometimes. They are the ones that struggle to get well as it can't be done on your own.á á

It's those people I am trying to defend. Daniel is one in a million and I wouldn't want them to try and follow the same path as him when a more conventional approach would be their best option. If he inspires people that is awesome and I don't think there's anyone alive who could want that more than me. My beef is with the makers of the programme because I think it could have achieved so much more for so many people who are suffering today. 2 hours was enough time to get over Daniel's life storyá and message in full with ample time spare to provide the balance I think it lacked. If they had only at the very end just said "don't try it quite like this at home folks" it would have been an improvement.
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If I could write words
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« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2007, 02:11:29 PM »

Just reread all this thread with the advantage of a couple of glasses of calming down juice, some Nirvana and the freedom of thought that the weekend brings. Yet again I've introduced myself to the world wearing a pair of hobnail boots. I stand by most of what I said but won't comment any further on emotive issues until I've found out more about Daniel's life. Suffice to say I am hooked. 
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If I could write words
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If I could speak words of water,
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« Reply #14 on: January 13, 2007, 04:05:28 PM »

"So in celebrating his work and "creative genius" we are all in a way encouraging him to remain ill".

That's absolutely not true. That would be like saying that I desire to pollute the environment and destroy the ozone layer because I drive a car. No one is at fault for Daniel's condition, and I understand that it has greatly improved over the years.

As far as genius vs madness, who knows? My personal enjoyment of his music comes from his honesty and especially his ability to express simple things, their effect on people, and thus, causes me to re examine the simple things - and usually I discover that I did not understand their import and had dismissed them when I shouldn't have. He has helped me rediscover that part of how I perceive life. We all have had the same frustrations in life, love, friends, etc that Daniel has, but he knows just the right way to sum it all up.

Furthermore, my strongest argument towards his "genius" would be his "O. Henry" - esque ability to lead you down a path, then give it a little twist at the end, or often throughout the song. Examples of this are: In  "Some things last a Long Time", at the end of the song, he says "lifetime" instead of longtime. I got such chills the first time I heard it, because it really changed the gravity of the song, and I knew he was an iceberg 90% hidden. Another example is "Casper the Friendly Ghost" - It's not just some goofy song about a ghost, but a superlative commentary on appreciation, self-worth, and cynicism - the hero isn't a hero till he dies.

There is a deep simplicity to his music. His wordplay is fascinating  ("Smiling through his own personal hell", "Flat tire down memory lane" "The sun don't shine in your tv" and so on). I will say that his music should be approached in context - i.e., see the documentary...

I try to not get into the "Dylan was better than Leonard Cohen", "Shakespeare was better than Tolstoy" type of arguments, because there is really no point. A person's opinion is their own, but I try to stand up for Daniel Johnston and my opinion of him. He changed my life, and I was at a place where that could happen. Others' life experience is of course different. I guess people have an innate tendency to classify and rate and quantify everything and put it in a black and white context (and everyone wants to point to their favorite as the winner and say "SEE! That's my guy!!"). Certainly that is easier, but not really fair when it comes to artistic pursuits, imo.

Well that's all. I guess the best thing to do is listen to the music, and if it doesn't work for you, there's plenty more out there!
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