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Daniel Johnston at Vicar St., Dublin
Gen X race memory and The Devil And Daniel Johnston have ensured a full house at Vicar St, and in the foyer ‘Hi, How Are You?’ frog t-shirts are doing a brisk business in black and white.
Peter Murphy, 26 Jul 2007
Boy, they really came out of the woodwork tonight. Skinny-fit, bearded boys, quirky girls with Betty Page bangs, boggle-eyed veterans last seen down the front at Dinosaur Jr or Butthole Surfers happenings. Freak scene indeed. Gen X race memory and The Devil And Daniel Johnston have ensured a full house at Vicar St, and in the foyer ‘Hi, How Are You?’ frog t-shirts are doing a brisk business in black and white.
Daniel Johnston ambles on at 9.28, Gibson guitar slung over a great belly wagging under a baggy white t-shirt, grey haired bi-polar survivor, outsider artist and all-American superhero from a parallel universe. “No pressure,” mumbles the chap in the seat next to me. “We love you, Daniel,” shouts a girl near the front. And DJ, well, he just strums a rudimentary figure and begins to sing in that harsh, lispy voice, “Mean girls give pleasure/It’s my greatest treasure.” Up in the astral gallery, Yeats and Shakespeare weep.
So it goes: foxhole prayers and elementary school blues that suggest a Dylan for the bewildered, Neil Young in an underground bunker, or Brian Wilson possessed by the spirit of Billy Bobbit. “Hold me like a mother would,” Johnston sings, and if sometimes the meds make his hands shake, or he fluffs the changes and mumbles a line or two, that’s okay, he’s got a heart the size of Texas.
“I had a dream that this guy was sentenced to death for attempting to commit suicide,” he tells us, “And the guy was me. And I was in the courtroom going, ‘No! No!’”
We’ve all been that soldier.
After the intermission he returns with nifty little pick-up band of local pros fresh from three days of intensive back catalogue drill and a nervy but by all accounts successful soundcheck. The mix is idiosyncratic but somehow perfect, like hearing Johnston sing along to the Stooges playing ‘Peter Gunn’ on a tinny transistor. “The macaroni and cheese always seems to please,” he rasps, and this time it’s Dante and Sappho’s turn to eat their hearts out. “I never wanted to be a comedian,” he remarks at one point. “These songs are morbid. They’re horror movies.” Then he finishes with a heartbreaking ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’, and everything goes blurry around the edges. There can be no greater benediction.