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Mid-Week Beat: Happy Birthday to Daniel Johnston

Film >

chapterone2Most people know singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston from the 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston but this one-of-a-kind musician was influencing underground musicians well before the celebrated documentary came out.

Johnston became initially known within the Austin, Texas music scene in the early to mid 1980s. He recorded all his material on a $59 Sanyo monaural boombox, singing and playing piano, guitar and chord organ. He would hand out his cassettes to pretty much everyone he met and eventually gained attention from the press, developing a large and devoted fan base through his quirky, yet heartfelt, compositions.

Johnston self-released his cassette-only releases for almost a decade before he actually entered a real recording studio in 1988 to record 1990. However, it’s these early, lo-fi recordings that he’s best known for and which contain some of his best-loved songs like “Speeding Motorcycle” and “True Love Will Find You In The End.”

These early recordings have earned him a reputation as a seminal artist in the so-called “lo-fi” and “outsider” genres, but Johnston’s method of recording was more based out of necessity than a desire to achieve any sort of artistic aesthetic. It goes without saying though, that Johnston’s primitive recording techniques did give his songs a certain vulnerability that is often hard to achieve in a “professional” recording studio. The songs were recorded “as-is” complete with out-of-tune guitars, instrumental flubs and background noise! The definition of D.I.Y.!

Johnston has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and manic depression. His struggles with mental illness are well-documented in the film, but his music remains some of the most compelling and personal of any singer/songwriter around today. His songs have been covered by the likes of Tom Waits, Beck, TV on the Radio, Bright Eyes, Calvin Johnson, Death Cab for Cutie, Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips and, since the release of the documentary, Johnston has embarked on multiple world tours, has had his music featured in commercials and feature films and he makes occasional television appearances. His graphic artwork has also been recognized with gallery exhibits in London, New York and Sacramento.

Today is Johnston’s 53rd birthday and we want to wish him a very happy birthday. In honor of Johnston and singer/songwriters that dare to tread outside of the “sensitive guy with guitar” stereotype, we feature four events that fans of Johnston are sure to enjoy: one a documentary, one a fictional film of a struggling folk songwriter and two live performances. Enjoy!

TONIGHT! Wednesday, January 22 I The Punk SingerHuntington, New York

Feminism, punk music, and rare archival footage slam together in this blazing history of riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre), featuring interviews including Joan Jett and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz. Director Sini Anderson will appear at this screening in person via Skype!

In 1990s Olympia, Washington, feminist activist Kathleen Hanna was the very girl she sang about- strong, self-confident, and a natural leader. A spoken word poet turned musician, she spearheaded the so-called “Riot grrrl” movement, igniting a revolution with feminist politics and DIY ‘zines that confronted sexism in the media representation of women. But Hanna, the famously outspoken icon that many looked to as a voice of third wave feminism stopped performing in 2005. This feature-length directorial debut from Sini Anderson (co-founder and Artistic Director of Sister Spit) creates a biographical documentary using 20 years of archival footage. Interviews with Hanna, Le Tigre’s Johanna Fateman and JD Samson, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Joan Jett, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, Tavi Gevinson, Hanna’s husband (and Beastie Boy) Adam Horovitz, among others, bring an intimacy to the film and to this vital, influential artist.

Saturday, January 25 I George EnsleGanado, Texas

Folks, during the first set this Saturday night, George Ensle will be performing songs from his amazing album, Small Town Sundown. Now, if you haven’t yet heard this masterpiece, please come this Saturday night, because this will be an evening you get to relive the sweet moments of your youth. Small Town Sundown is defined as “a movie in song” which translates to George painting a lyrical canvas that will transport you back to days where life in the small town was a true adventure in life itself. Prepare yourself for an emotional roller coaster ride, because every emotion will be called upon throughout this show; you will laugh, cry, and occasionally have your breath taken away by Ensle’s perfectly crafted words and masterful delivery. Whether you are from a small town or not, you will take delight in this evening … guaranteed!

Saturday, January 25 I Christian McNeill & Sea MonstersCambridge, Massachusetts

A show featuring one of the best live acts this (or any other city) has to offer. Sea Monsters have built a reputation by playing music for the right reasons. Lead by roots-punk rocker Christian McNeill and using his songs for ammunition, the  band consistently features the best singer/songwriters and players to grace the music community in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in March 2007, the collective spans multiple generations, always convening on stage to share ideas and serve the songsa potent batch that fuses fiery emotion and lasting hooks over a thick backdrop. It’s like the E Street Band hopped up on funk scriptures, or Otis Redding spending time with The Who.

Starts Friday, January 31 I INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS at Crescent TheaterMobile, Alabama

The newest film by the Coen Brothers follows a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Llewyn Davis is at a crossroads. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles – some of them of his own making. Living at the mercy of both friends and strangers, scaring up what work he can find, Llewyn’s misadventures take him from the basket houses of the village to an empty Chicago club – on an odyssey to audition for music mogul Bud Grossman – and back again.

** WARNING! This trailer contains language that may be offensive to some viewers. Discretion is advised. **

Daniel Johnston biographical information courtesy of Wikipedia.