Daniel Johnston: An Outsider’s Inspiration

Rock climbing has always had a culture of being ‘against the establishment’. The first climbers in Yosemite had to run from the cops just to climb in the park for god sakes. I think this culture is a large part of what drew me in whenever I began thinking of myself as a climber.

Those on the inside get it. Those on the outside… just don’t.

As I’ve taken more of an interest in music over the last few years, I’ve found myself slowly expanding my interests outside of those artists whom I listen to regularly. One of my recent finds is an artist from Austin, TX by the name of Daniel Johnston.

Daniels’s genre is considered ‘outsider music’ due to its extreme lo-fi nature. He recorded much of his early music on a cassette with only a piano and chord organ in his mother’s basement.

The kicker is, however, as this music was being recorded, Daniel was going through a mental breakdown. Over time, his mental state deteriorated, and that would ultimately lead to him being diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Throughout his life, Daniel moved in and out of mental hospitals. Despite this, He recorded and released dozens of songs, and gained popularity in Austin, and ultimately all over the world.

Despite battling this horrible mental illness, Daniel was able to record some truly incredibly creative songs throughout his life. He spilled out his heart in many of them, and they continue to touch the hearts of others across the world.

From the first song I listened to “Story of an Artist” I was captured. There’s something deeply nostalgic about the lo-fi nature of the recordings. Knowing Daniels history, and hearing his deepest fears, thoughts, loves, and passions connects with me in a way not much else does.

One thing it has made me think an awful lot about… We are all guilty of turning our back on those in our community with mental illness, and other misunderstood groups in society.

It is so important for us to consider those around us who are struggling with things visible and invisible. Daniel’s music is an example of what those who seem like outsiders have to offer the world. Things beyond what those who we consider ‘normal’ may ever even dream of.

I wanted to share this with you all today just in the off chance you’d like to listen to some of Daniel’s music. Consider taking a few minutes to check out a few songs. What do you hear? The ramblings of a crazy person? Or the innermost heart of a human being.

I’d recommend to start:

Story of an Artist

Walking the Cow

Living Life

Pot Head

True Love Will Find You In the End

My Baby Cares For The Dead

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you find or have a favorite Daniel Johnston song!

Casen (Co-writer)

9 Replies to “Daniel Johnston: An Outsider’s Inspiration”

  1. Always loved one of his newer tunes “Mask,” specifically the acoustic rendition he played on the Henry Rollins Show c. 2007.

    Great post! I’d definitely say DJ is outsider/climber music 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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