A belated, corrected Daniel Johnston review
But let's do what we can: here's the correct version, as it was supposed to be read, with Ford-namecheck restored. Call it the "director's cut."
Richards on Richards, April 19th
Never before has buying merch seemed so like a sacrament: people lined up to buy “Hi, How Are You” t-shirts at the sold out Daniel Johnston concert on the 19th like they were gathering to dip their hankies in the blood of a martyred saint. No other designs were on offer, just the froggy little guy with the stalk eyes, available in white, black, and a pale green: I immersed myself in the surge, wondering how many other people really just didn’t much care that Kurt Cobain once wore this design, too?
Daniel offered us something truly lovely that night. An audience member in a porkpie hat, up from LA, told me that it was his third time that he’d seen Daniel since the documentary - The Devil and Daniel Johnston - came out, and that he’d never been more confident. If there were any voyeurs come to watch the fragile singer-songwriter fall apart - a contingent that I suspect made up a very slight percentage of the audience, if any at all - they certainly didn’t get what they came for, because whatever his mental health issues, Daniel knew exactly what he was doing, and did it very, very well.
Through three permutations - solo, accompanied by an acoustic guitarist, and backed by a full pick-up band - including an energetic and happy Ford Pier on one of the guitars - Daniel sang powerfully, passionately, and with - of course - utter sincerity. This didn’t stop him from offering a couple of surprisingly showmanlike “How are you all doing tonights” in between songs, though; when the cheers he received in response threatened to freak him out, he raised a hand, in a clear boundary-drawing gesture, but he didn’t panic, and he didn’t flee the stage early, as he has been known to do. He joked between songs about having a dream where someone was sentenced to death for trying to commit suicide, “and it was me!” (laughter, applause all round); he shared an anecdote about shopping for comic books, because for him - oddly the saddest moment of the night - “Christmas is every day;” and he even offered a couple of prepared one-liners (“My mother makes pancakes that are so flat, they only have one side!”). When he ran out of jokes, he apologized to the audience, and someone called back, “That’s okay - the music is fantastic!”
Songs included an energetic “Speeding Motorcycle,” an upbeat “Casper,” and passionate versions of “Walking the Cow,” “Life in Vain,” “The Beatles,” and many more. There was even a cover, a moving reading of “a song by my friend, John Lennon,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” with Daniel belting out “Hey!” with surprising force. His hands shook, but his voice was strong.
By the time the encores came around - with Daniel inviting us to sing along with him for an unaccompanied “Devil Town” and promising that true love would find us in the end, the audience - rapt, enthusiastic, respectful, come not to gawk but to worship their own somewhat inaccessible, but abundantly sentimental hearts, as reflected back to them in Daniel’s songs - were obviously wholly satisfied. After he’d folded shut his white binder of lyrics and walked off for the final time, the Richards on Richards staff wisely left the lights down for a few minutes, so the singer could hear us chanting his name, applauding, hoping for even more.
It was nice to cheer and know that it really meant something to the person receiving it.
A sweeter night I have not had in years.