The Austonian Spurious Conversations with Daniel Johnston

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“Do yourself a favor, become your own savior.”

  • the man himself

 

 

 

 

A Foreword by

PoetKen Jones

 

I first met Daniel Johnston in the early 1980s. My friends and I used to shop for used vinyl at a record store on the Drag named Sound Exchange. We started noticing this weird guy in a McDonald’s uniform following people around the store, asking if he could give them his tape. He finally annoyed my college girlfriend so much she came over to me one afternoon and said “Please get rid of this guy. He won’t leave me alone.”

Politely I walked over to him and said, “Dude, I’ll take one of your tapes but you have to quit harassing my girlfriend.” He excitedly handed one over to me. It was an original signed “Hi, How Are You!” with the alien frog drawing.

A couple years later, I started reading poetry at a club near UT campus called the Beach Cabaret. I fell into friendships with many of the regulars there, including two bartenders who became the guitarists in my first band Peace Corpse. Daniel used to gig there frequently, standing all alone on stage with just his guitar. It took a lot of guts, as back then, not many of the “hipster” punks liked him or his music. He took a lot of abuse but he persevered and played many times, eventually appearing on the famous MTV episode in 1985 tapes at the Beach Cabaret. And he also appeared on the album of the mid-80s punk festival Woodshock, with a good track called “The Marching Guitars”.

People began to take him and and music more seriously. There was a local promoter Jerry “Dog” Schadle who used to curate these multimedia gigs called “Flying Horse Symposiums”.  He would have some of the major bands of the scene back then such as Scratch Acid and Poison 13 play, as well as let me and others open for the bands reading poetry, often with exotic instrumental backing like bongos, violin, and harmonica. I still have some flyers and cassette tapes from those events, with Daniel and I listed on the bill together.

Dog also published a ‘zine titled Flying Horse where he would publish me, Daniel, Biscuit of the Big Boys, with other poets, visual art, and have interviews and articles with bands. Daniel would sometimes sit with me and Jerry at a table outside while we drank beer. I remember Daniel being a gentle soul with a quiet demeanor, and I never understood why people would be so mean to him.

Many years later in the early 2000s, after all the hoopla with Kurt Cobain wearing Daniel’s T-shirt (I sometimes wonder if Kurt came to Woodshock 86. I have a memory of sitting in the van of a Seattle band called the U-Men, smoking a joint after our set, with a quiet kid in the corner with a shock of blond hair-who knows?), my guitarist Mitch and I were living in Houston and we decided to see Daniel backed by a local band at a club named FitzGerald’s. After his set, Daniel was lurking around the back bar. I said, “We should go say hi.” Mitch said, “I doubt he remembers us”. We walked over and introduced ourselves as regulars at the Beach back in the 80s. He kind of cocked his head, looked at me for a second and said “You’re the poet. I remember you.”. “ That’s right” I laughed. “Daniel. I’m still a poet.” I guess we were all lifers in one way or another.

Hearing about Daniel’s death brought back a flood of memories. The fact he died at the same age as my Father (58), who was going through his last days in that era, only made the news more poignant to me. It also made me more determined than ever to release a book of my own 1980s song lyrics with flyers, press clippings and other memorabilia. Dustin Pickering of Transcendent Zero Press has agreed to publish it and we’re going to include some of those live tapes from back in the day as well. So Daniel lives on in his music, visual art, and his ability to inspire others to continue the legacy of our wild youth in the Austin alternative scene of the 1980s. R.I.P. Daniel Johnston. May your troubled soul find the solace we all deserve.

 

 

 

Red Focks

 

When I was young

I worked at a mcDonalds

I got a little older

& a doctor diagnosed me

with a schizoaffective disorder

& I got a little older &

I started drawing funny pictures on the wall

& I got a little older &

I believe in god

& I believe in the devil &

the devil knows my name.

 

 

 

 

John Drudge

Dan

 

In the thunderous bloom

Of attachment

And the whisk

Of mounting sensation

Where the only

Way out is through

The voices

The noises

And the things

That go crash

Captain America

And spider brains

The rush of discordance

Against the allure of dysfunction

Notes in the night sky

Bending into emptiness

And it’s all just love

Jeremiah’s dark blues

Downloading a dream

Behind the ganglia

Brain pains

On the planet of the dogs

A diaspora of the past

Institutions and dark places

As he breathes toward the light

Pages on fire

 

 

 

 

Marcel Herms

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“I’m a Sorry Entertainer”

 

 

 

 

Mark Hartenbach

in search of daniel johnston   

 

disturbing the difference with panther claws which

mark my words, mike my words. words developed

from black marks, ready-get set-go. shaving salt

block for dull-witted zombies. a call in the middle

of liver & onions saying keith richard’s internal

organs are in transplant poll & aren’t you lucky

because it’s your turn. my marching hairline will

stop retreating & charge forward to ‘street fighting

man’ while shriveled black fruit can pass for a b-3.

brass pipes are running under the choir & up the other

side or cheap chord organ. as i’m going under i hear
something about nocturnal discharge at half price

before the sun goes down. will it still be there when

i come to? dreams generating gravity from jury-

rigged clandestine repairs. ghostly presence is the star

of this show. smoking bone heat wilting in the heat

of tedious recreation. inventing sleep by drilling

boredom & traveling partner’s caress. aggravated

breasts are mulched into concaved multiple disorders.

poison kiss trying to lynch limbs on the sly. enflamed

blind eyes are jostling for a proposition. memorize

the title of this show. it will be one performance only.

flesh pajamas with seahorse sequel designs are

sweetening the pipes.

 

in memory of daniel johnston

 

encyclopedic knowledge of irrational thinking is

unbuttoning yet another dream slowly, seductively,

in what might pass for harmonious seclusion. collective

whopping was allegedly rooting out the problems

& was pulverized. jaded virgin claims to have the

key to unlocking authentic visions. however, body
of evidence suggests otherwise, & screams that

sprawling mounds aren’t for sale. rousing the

dialect with rattling floorboards, attics filled with

bad memories, & shavings from the final death poem

of dancing child. a string quartet for plodding plotlines

competes with columns of this year’s assets. boom of

confidence is frightening off all wildlife except for

buzzing metal birds which could be a spitting image

of tinnitus trying to silence fables like barge of fools

with nosferatu-looking shadows walking the deck
after the moon awakens. tarnishing repentance while

polishing the two-toned satellite which no one

believes in besides myself, yet judge my actions

with every flaming clause. whispering pines are

usually right on the money. but these are desperate
times. plowing ad infinitum for everlasting, not

eclipsed by evil eye. sheer quantity doesn’t feel like

a good bet. painful evidence, though once the so-called

scourge of light, is now viewed with a headless torso

which won’t argue my point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dustin Pickering

In the Basement [daniel johnston d. 2019]

 

unplucked boy of sagacious

spirit source

yr eyes wound with coils

wired to music it lit yr veins

with satisfaction

 

remember the haunted path

where faces bled music

in their ironic stare

 

you are now crossing the threshold

of heaven

seeing golden rocks

across the sea

 

yr mind a monarch

yr heart so much mischief

 

through the square apertures of time

lifts the translucent king

–  graceful as slow motion

–  strong as hypnosis

 

we pause before in the hereafter

strings plucked to raise our tombs

adam’s apple fallen from the neck

g-d lifted through the square apertures of time

 

a harmony lifted

dark descending chords

exprest the sympathies

of a faithless man

 

yr tomb empty as a shriek of a ghost

what love did make you boast

as sick softens the silence shifting

gone gone gone

are yr eyes

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“The Day My Soul Wept His Eyes”

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Borczon

Daniel Johnston

 

Danial Johnston

Was born the ghost

Of a lonely teenager

He died that way

 

It was from him

I learned how to

Ache like that

 

And I taught my daughters

To each ache like that

We share this together

And we know it

 

Like we share crooked teeth

We are real human beings

In a world full of

Body parts

 

We are the few

Real human beings

Who love and feel pain

 

Who sing in public and

Weep behind our outstretched hands

Who dance in supermarkets and

Kiss each other to sleep

 

Thank you

Daniel Johnston

Thank you

 

 

 

 

James Dennis Casey IV

 

The Artist Walks Alone Into the Ether

 

right this way to the museum of love

curated by the devil himself

artistic tragedy on display

recorded by a madman genius

hallucinogenic alien mixtape

 

singing to himself

lullabies of white noise dreams

behind a Red 100 held

between nicotine-stained fingers

 

when god is happy

and the sun is out

don’t forget to say your prayers

put the words on paper

and play the broken notes

 

in the end

if you go back

there’s nothing there

not anymore

 

choose to live

not to die

but Daniel always

chose the darker side and

some things last a long time

 

love comes and love goes

special thanks

to childlike minds

I’ll see you on the other side

 

 

CL Bledsoe

 

Worried Shoes

 

So many cars in the way as

I tried to get home before

the storm hit. I saw one of

the guys downstairs out on

his deck, watching the splatter

begin. He wanted to watch

other people get wet

and remember how it feels.

I could smell water on

the air as I rushed past,

the electric tang on the back

of the tongue. Inside, it’s time

to collapse. The thing about

people is they’re magnets.

No matter how you try to lean,

they’ll pull you in. All of it

is work. The clouds are tired

of bearing all the weight

they’ve been given by the world.

The guy downstairs knows

something I don’t. When they

let it go, we’ll all be healed.

Just a bit. That’s enough for today.

 

 

 

 

Heidi Blakeslee

Two-Headed Monster (for Daniel Johnston)

 

one head was jesus cavaliering through the streets of New York

banking up energy for the next rollercoaster down

 

every single moment of ugly

balanced with an equal measure of splendor

 

you were the real deal,

 

holed up

in a basement studio in your parents’ house in texas

 

you gave yourself over to the music

nonsensical genius poetry titles flowed from you, the other head

like consistent fire, in harmony

 

there was always more to create, more to burn

if you could’ve just gotten that one good thing down

 

then true love might’ve found you

in the end

 

 

 

Kurt Newton

 

TRUE LOVE WILL FIND YOU IN THE END

 

Days went by. Or were they years? Or just moments stretched to infinity?

Once again, Janus let his eyes roam, travelling from floor to wall to ceiling: seamless, circular, the room was one continuous crystalline white circumference in all directions. There were no windows, no doors. There was only the responder, which sat at the center of the room¾a small translucent device as alien and yet comforting as their surroundings¾through which they could “see”.

Mira sat on the floor across from Janus with a handful of crystals she had plucked from the wall scattered before her. “It’s no use is it?” she said, focusing on Janus’s upturned chin.

Janus looked down and closed his eyes. He fought back a moment of vertigo. It always made him dizzy if he examined the walls for too long. “I just don’t understand,” he said finally.

“Maybe it’s not for us to understand.”

“Then why else would we be here?” It was a question they always seemed to come back to, a circular argument like the room itself.

They had both awakened to find themselves in the room. They didn’t know why or for how long; they were just there, alone, abandoned it seemed, in this place that had no name. They had brought with them only their namesakes and fragments of their forgotten personalities. The only other thing they shared, besides their common fate, was a remembrance of some past event or experience neither could relate in specific terms; only that it was real, as real as they were at any given moment.

“Maybe there isn’t a way back.”

“But there has to be.”

Janus had tried many theories, the latest being that they had each somehow been separated from reality and one of the crystals contained the road back, if only they could find it. But, glancing around the room, at the thousands¾if not millions¾of crystals embedded in the walls, that hope now seemed nothing more than a distant glimmer.

Janus snapped out of his temporary fugue. “Try that one there,” he said, pointing to the collection of crystals at Mira’s feet.

“Which one?”

“That one there… the one with the flaw.”

Mira studied each one. “What flaw?”

She looked up and saw that Janus was smiling. Each crystal was as beautiful and perfect as the next.

“They’re all flawed,” Janus said. “Their perfection is their flaw. Any one, I don’t care.”

Mira still looked closely at each one of the crystals before choosing. “Then I choose this one,” she said.

“Why that one?”

“Because it is the most perfect, and therefore the most flawed,” she said, a note of triumph in her voice.

She held the thumbnail-sized jewel and rolled it between her two fingers; reflections sparkled off of its multi-faceted surface. She then got to her knees and lifted the domed lid of the responder and placed the crystal on the stem post inside. “Ready?” she said.

“Ready.”

Mira lowered the lid and they both placed their hands on the smooth surface of the responder. Arcs of light began to radiate from the center spindle and dance on the inner surface of the dome lid. The arcs gathered, coalescing beneath each of their palms.

The images began.

It was suddenly winter. Mira had become Stephanie; Janus: John. Beneath a heavy, white cloud cover they walked along a harbor surrounded by a park-like setting. There were bare trees with wire cages around their trunks, hardwood benches, a concrete walkway, a city skyline¾a mountain of glass and steel cut to precision¾across the harbor. Stephanie had her arm wrapped around John’s waist; John had his around her shoulder. They walked as one against the cold, their breath a white exhalation as they talked.

“Will it ever be the same?” Stephanie asked, her voice imbued with a distant consideration.

“Will what be the same?” John said in return.

“Oh, I don’t know¾you, me¾this beautiful, ugly day. Will it be here tomorrow? Will we be here tomorrow?”

John thought for a moment, the crisp, still air closing back in around them. In the far distance a ferry boat sounded.

As if that was answer enough, John tightened his grip on Stephanie’s shoulder and she leaned her head against his chest, and together they cut a path through the cold winter day ahead…

Mira sat, her eyes still closed, as the images faded. She felt the last of the warmth fade from inside Stephanie’s heart. It was usually like that: brief scenes¾snapshots of a life¾two people in love or in danger of losing love, but together, always together.

A sudden chill ran through her. What if all we’re looking at are memories of past lives? she thought. She remembered one particular image produced by another crystal they had played earlier: the image of a young couple just moments before their world ended, irradiated in a flash of blinding white neon.

“I’m tired,” Janus said.

Mira wrapped her arms around her knees and stared at the empty dome. Janus saw that she was shivering (although the temperature in the room was constant) and inched over beside her to give her some comfort.

“Maybe I’ll have better luck,” he said and reached for the crystals.

“No, I’m tired, too. Let’s leave it for a while, okay?”

“Okay.” Mira looked at him then.

“Janus?”

“What?”

She saw crystals reflected in his eyes, and in that moment she saw herself reflected in every one of them.

“Nothing,” she said. She offered a brief smile.

Janus smiled back. “I know. Me, too.”

He then wrapped his arm around Mira’s shoulder and she leaned her head against his chest, and together they made a place in a world where there once was nothing.

 

THE END

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