To become a cult figure is a hard and dangerous road, as Daniel Dale Johnston will probably tell you. He has recorded a huge amount of material, had one Festive Fifty entry (Dream Scream, FF 1998 #12, from this album) and has been the subject of films, documentaries and even a rock opera (Speeding Motorcycle). Yet he remains largely a curiosity, due I suspect to the fact that he never seems to stick to one style, instead recording anything that comes to hand, often with low production values, and many songs appear largely improvised. Coupled with his suffering from diabetes and bipolar disorder, it is hardly surprising that fame has to a conspicuous degree eluded him.
He also creates most of the artwork for his albums: in fact, his earliest music was heavily Beatles-inspired (and he is not above covering their songs on occasion) and came with comic books that he drew himself.
When I’m doing a drawing, I get lots of ideas I use them in my songs, even. I do a lot of drawings because that’s where I get most of my spending cash and I just always have to have new records, to get something to satisfy my listening pleasure. [Johnston in In Music We Trust interview]
The songs themselves are often naked confessionals about such themes as unrequited love, sung in alternately high register and fragile, drawn nervousness.
He has been involved in a series of episodes, such as an arrest for defacing the Statue Of Liberty while on tour with Sonic Youth, being committed to a mental hospital, and refusing to sign with Elektra Records on the grounds that one of their bands, Metallica, was controlled by Satan.
Nonetheless, investigate some of his albums (only one being on a major label), and you may discover why this unique figure impressed people as diverse as David Bowie, Beck, The Butthole Surfers, and Kurt Cobain.