True Love Will Find You in the End: Remembering Daniel Johnston

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.

When a celebrity dies, we mourn their life in juxtaposition to moments in our own. It’s the only way we know them. Daniel Johnston, for us in Austin, Texas, is different. Daniel sang our insecurities when he sang “Devil Town.” He inspected love for us when he wrote “Laurie.” He expressed the frustration of being alone, of being dedicated to his talents with the beautiful “Story of an Artist.” Daniel gave these odd beasts of the soul the lullabies they needed. He gave credence to our secret visions and harmonized with our deepest fears, the things that make our hearts go bump in the night.

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.

We are in strange times, my friends. It’s a tough road with terrible legislation, dangerous emotional terrain, and hopelessness at every turn. It’s been hard. I think we want simple things. I think Daniel Johnston wanted simple things, and used his brilliant way of communicating his pure heart through the steep roads of his mind to tell us as much. “True Love Will Find You In the End,” is one of his most popular songs for a reason: hope against all hope is one of the most wild and weird creatures, and it lived in Daniel’s mind, no matter the circumstance. It’s this concept that makes me want to work harder, listen to people, support my friends who are trying to build a new shelter for the storm. I hope this new Austin is as sweet, and special as the one we knew with Daniel.

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.

Still in my George Jones shirt, I walked home under the almost full moon. Artistic Vice blasting in my headphones, I watched one of the last summer bats dimly flying under the street lights. It was another moment, another first, in the oroborus of a life, of a lifetime, of a history. A now collective sorrow that our city has lost another one of our voices and odd beasts.

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.