by Eryn Brothers
I’m wearing a George Jones shirt, looking out the window of my job, trying to compartmentalize my feelings. It’s a beautiful Texas day, the wind cool enough to carry the whisper of hope that autumn brings. I’m trying to remember the first time I heard Daniel Johnston.
Was it getting stoned in my best friend’s car, blasting “Ain’t No Woman Gonna Make a George Jones Outta Me,” at full volume?
Was it coming home from work to find my first real boyfriend had made me a mix with “Tell Me Now,” tucked in between Jesus and Mary Chain and Nick Cave?
Was it when I was packing to move to ATX over a decade ago, watching The Devil and Daniel Johnston, while deciding which belongings were gonna make the trip with me?
Was it me dancing around my room at the co-op I lived in to “My Life is Starting Over Again,” beautifully drunk and young?
Maybe it was all of those moments, all wrapped up in a little eyeball with bat wings, flittering about my existence, looking in and out at the same time. An oroborus of oddities. Of a life.
Daniel Johnston made our world more interesting by letting us into his, until the two worlds blended and became stranger, weirder, more tender. This willingness to inspect his own life forced us to observe our own. His art is a monument to our DIY culture, the heart that thrums possibility against all odds. Our homage to the weirdos that tried and succeeded. A city that gave shelter in a storm.
We all found him in different ways, our mutual firsts different but the same. Some of us played shows with Daniel here, some of us were lucky enough to receive his tapes and art, see him perform. A lot of us were like me, who found him along the way, and moved to his town to try to make it work for us too.
He, alongside Roky Erikson and Blaze Foley, opened our eyes to the pain of mental illness, the suffering that prohibits creative joy and expression. Because of Daniel Johnston’s sheer honesty and concise language, the genius that vulnerability breeds, we were able to develop community organizations like HI HOW ARE YOU Project, HAAM, and the SIMS Foundation to help other lights find their way back to the house.
My best friend texted me that they went to the HI HOW ARE YOU mural on Wednesday. Flowers and cans of Mountain Dew littered the sidewalk. They cried with strangers, gave hugs, mourned our beloved weirdo as the construction of West Campus groaned against the makeshift funeral. My friend walked home listening to their favorite Johnston songs, glad to have gone to say goodbye. I wondered if the mural still looked smeared from the vandalism a couple years back.
Daniel Johnston, wherever you are, our hope for you is as big the world inside your mind: that true love recognizes and finds you in your new world. It’s here in Austin for you too, no matter how different it feels here without you now.
If you work in the music industry in Austin in any capacity and need mental health support, or would like to make a donation to help provide mental health services, please visit the SIMS Foundation
Eryn Brothers is a poet, writer, musician, and all around jerk of all trades. A high school dropout who never graduated from Possum College, Eryn has published comics, essays, and poetry with Venison Mag, LIFE RAFT ZINE, RAWPAW, and the up and coming BIBLE BELT QUEERS. She also is currently working on her own sad bastard indie country that eventually will be public. Eryn can be found idolizing Nick Cave at your local bar and singing Robyn loudly from her bike. Follow her on Spotify for a dose of weird on her friday playlists. They’re a hoot and half a holler. (Which is, surprisingly, how tall she is.) Follow her at @regaldebbie on IG for righteous memes, musical opinions, and weak attempts at yodeling.