Songwriting Savant: Daniel Johnston Plays Regency Ballroom


The phrase musical legend gets tossed around far too often for most music critics’ comfort, but when it comes to Daniel Johnston the appellation’s perfectly acceptable and understandable. The man is an original, a true-blue all-America outsider artist who made music despite the odds, despite the outright oddness of his vision. The Sacramento-born savant has made more than 30 albums, written jillions of songs, collaborated with artists like Sonic Youth and Sparklehorse, found fans in musicians like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, played to initiates the world over, and was the subject of the ‘05 doc, The Devil and Daniel Johnston.  

At first he was merely a rumor -- the Texan basement songwriter and budding cartoonist obsessed with superheroes and demons who could be found passing out free homemade cassette tapes like Yip/Jump Music and Hi, How Are You? -- dubbed on a cheapo mono boom box -- at Astro World and other unlikely spots in Houston (where he moved to live with his brother) and later San Marcos, Texas. The places and faces may have changed, but Johnston’s bipolar disorder has been a constant -- offset by the fact that fans have continue to rediscover the now-48-year-old artist, who signed to Atlantic Records in the early ‘90s and has exhibited in LA and Berlin and recently at the Whitney Bienniale in NYC. It’s never too late.

Daniel Johnston with Hymns play Thursday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m., at Regency Ballroom, Van Ness and Sutter. SF. $22.50-$25.

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