Daniel Johnston and Jad Fair
Jad Fair and Daniel Johnston
50 Skidillion Watts Records
"There's one rare and odd style of living/ part only known to the everybody." - Natalie Merchant
Daniel Johnston is from Austin, Texas, and when he's not living in a mental institution, he works at McDonalds. Jad Fair is the lead singer of Half Japanese and he's got a brother named David. Daniel and Jad are both idiot savants and their special talent is planet riding. From these facts alone, then, we can easily discern that this, their first joint project, is ye olde god.
Do you know that Picasso line drawing of the butt, or that other drawing he did of the hand holding the flowers? They look like kiddie drawings, right. And yet their super-duper, right. There are only two ways to draw that well.
Way #1 -Become a total Jedi, master your medium, and then consciously forget all you've learned, tap your inner-grooviness, and let the whole thing flow freely and easily without getting any on the carpet.
Way #2 - Never grow up and be five years old in your brain forever. Obviously Way #2 limits your social options somewhat, but Daniel and Jad don't seem to mind.
The music on this album is so naively simple that it's sublime. The poorly recorded piano chords lingering ever so wrongly onto each other, the harmonious plink of two, four-string acoustic guitars, each one just slightly out of key in its own conspicuous way; ah, petals on a wet black bough. Daniel and Jad are not artsy minimalists who consciously censor themselves. No, they simply possess a healthy lack of musical talent. (And who needs it, anyway?) Mr. Johnston drums like a stoned Penny Little desperately trying to warn the world that the sky is falling down. Mr. Fair plays guitar like today is opposite day. Both of them sing like someone is about to tell them to shut up.
But they won't shut up, because what they have to say needs saying, and it needs to be said by them. There are two ways to say 'I love you' without sounding like a used car salesman.
Way #1 - Learn a lot of metaphorical principles, go live amongst the sap n' critters for a few years, and then compose some smashingly original ode to yr. current beloved without sounding like an undersexed sophomore (good luck).
Way #2 - Say 'I love you' and mean it.
When Daniel Johnston sings "I just feel terrible and I can't ever tell you how I'm ever gonna' get out of this hell, Oh honey, no," you don't have to consult your dictionary to figure out what he's talking about. When Daniel sings, "Somethings got a hold of me," it's pretty obvious from his tone of voice that something has indeed got a hold of him, and furthermore it's probably something big, ugly, and unwilling to let go for at least the remainder of the song.
All of these lines are sung by two men who never quite got around to putting away childish things. Daniel and Jad are method actors playing twelve year-olds trapped in an eternal Christmas pageant from which there is no escape. (Incidentally, Jad plays a lowing cow, Daniel is the wise man with the myrrh.) Extremely low I.Q. levels may be a large contributing factor to the juvenile naivete of this album, but ultimately, who cares why something works, as long as it works? (This question will be on the test.) So the next time you need a break from Yeats' chiastic structures, drop yr. needle on 'When Love Calls' : "Beware of darkness/ beware of evil/ beware my child/ it will soon be over." Or listen to Jad and Daniel's hauntingly clumsy version of 'Happy Talk' : "You've got to have a dream/ Cause if you don't have a dream/ How you gonna have a dream come true?" There's no other way.
Until later, fill yourself with awe, laugh at everything your professor thinks he knows, and rock your face off.