Top Five Must-See Shows This Weekend in Phoenix
There's no better illustration of the fine line between brilliance and madness than Daniel Johnston. Indeed, the childlike simplicity and directness of his lyrics suggests the two are inseparable at times. A talented cult fave who spent years and years listening to and dissecting the Beatles, Johnston has a gift for melody that even the rudimentary nature of his early-'80s lo-fi tape recordings can't hide. But it's the vulnerability and honesty of the lyrics that are most striking.
Johnston's songs are typically emotionally arrested -- still trapped in the mind of a gawky, sentimental, daydreaming (and frequently lovelorn) youth. He's hoping for Leslie Gore's "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," but in reality is facing his own "Tears Stupid Tears." In his most popular song, he suggests that "True Love Will Find You in the End" if only you keep looking. The temptation is to call him naive, but who wants to come across as jaded? (Indeed, such affectless sincerity is the very heart and soul of Hollywood rom-coms.)
Therein lies a substantial part of Johnston's appeal. He's the pie-eyed boy who wants to believe, and that unabashed earnestness is alluring. It's not that he's immune to cynicism, self-doubt, and self-loathing. But even on "I Hate Myself," he offers to "be right by your side if you want me to," prostrating himself without the embarrassment and abasement many of us would feel. It's quite similar to Jonathan Richman's oft-naifish manner, fueled by perky good spirits and hopefulness as a salve against looming disappointment, only more authentic. (Maybe.) -- Chris Parker
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