photo by Todd V. Wolfson
An Austin musician known for his intimate, homemade recordings died this morning at his home outside Houston, according to a statement from his family. Daniel Johnston was 58.
“He was always, everywhere, warmly received and he at least knew he was well loved,” his older brother Dick Johnston said. “Health issues have plagued us for years, but I’m glad for the time we had.”
The city of Austin recognizes January 22, Johnston’s birthday, as “Hi, How Are You Day” to encourage discussion around mental health issues. The name comes from the famous mural by Johnston on Guadalupe Street titled “Jeremiah the Innocent,” which has been vandalized and restored a number of times.
“He showed up here in Austin in the mid-80’s handing out his homemade cassettes, at a time when nobody was doing anything like that,” KUTX Music Editor Jeff McCord said.
“They were very much homegrown projects and very awkward singing and playing, but beneath them were these amazing songs,” he said.
Johnston gained a measure of fame thanks to other local bands covering his songs, and his national profile was raised when Nirvana lead signer Kurt Cobain wore a “Hi, How Are You?” t-shirt at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.
In this clip from 2005, M.Ward talks to KUTX about how he discovered Daniel Johnston’s music while in high school and the immediate connection he felt with the Austinite’s outsider perspective.
Mates of State cover one of Daniel Johnston’s most loved songs, “Portrait of An Artist,” during a taping for Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child.