Daniel Johnston: The First 50 Years

SXSW panels

Ballroom Dancing
Photo by Gary Miller

Daniel Johnston: The First 50 Years

Austin Convention Center, Wednesday, March 16

Like O. Henry before him, Daniel Johnston and his Austin tenure have become the stuff of legend. Although Wednesday's panel was advertised as a half-century retrospective, Johnston's Austin years dominated the discourse. Rebuffing the notion that Johnston's mental illness fueled his songwriting prowess, Chronicle Editor Louis Black explained that the young McDonald's employee was merely considered eccentric in the context of mid-1980s Austin music. "We didn't know he was crazy when we fell in love with his music," Black asserted. Johnston's high school art buddy David Thornberry and his brother Dick Johnston both noted a turn for the worse around Christmas 1986. "I remember looking him in the face and thinking, 'I don't even know if this is Daniel,'" his older brother recalled with emotion. Even so, it wasn't long before the hand-duped cassettes that Waterloo Records owner John Kunz called "William Blake meets Kmart Blue Light Special" spread beyond Austin, enchanting budding alt-icons like Kurt Cobain. These days, Johnston's "Hi, How Are You" mural at 21st and Guadalupe is closing in on official landmark status, so the warm greeting for the man himself was no surprise. After two songs on an out-of-tune guitar, Johnston made a hasty exit and began signing autographs.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Thursday Interview
Thursday Interview

Nina Hernandez, March 20, 2015

Thursday Showcases
Thursday Showcases
International hip-hop, or domestic, Modern Outsider sounds?

March 20, 2015

More Music Reviews
Friday ACL Fest 2018 Record Reviews
Curtis Roush
Cosmic Campfire Music (Record Review)

Thomas Fawcett, Oct. 12, 2018

Saturday ACL Fest 2018 Record Reviews
Trampled by Turtles
Life Is Good on the Open Road (Record Review)

Doug Freeman, Oct. 12, 2018

More by Greg Beets
Friday ACL Fest 2018 Record Reviews
David Byrne
American Utopia (Record Review)

Oct. 5, 2018

Sunday ACL Fest 2018 Record Reviews
Neighbor Lady
Maybe Later (Record Review)

Oct. 5, 2018


Daniel Johnston

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle