In art, and sometimes in life, mental instability is often associated with genius. Was van Gogh great because he was mad? Or did his greatness lead to his madness?
Music itself has a long history with rewarding mental illness with the label "brilliant. Roky Erickson and Wesley Willis both garnered a lot of street cred for schizophrenia. In concert it was hard to tell if anyone liked Willis' music or just liked the idea of watching someone certifiable play a broken Casio and screaming "I whupped Batman's ass."
For me, at least, it was the latter. In college I piled into a dingy, underground bar to listen to Willis, even though I never owned or planned to own one of his albums.
Other musicians chemically create their insanity. Brian Wilson stuck to bed because the drugs were working a little too well. Anton Newcombe, leader of the often brilliant but always erratic Brian Jonestown Massacre, put his drug induced insanity on display in the underrated "DiG!"
Daniel Johnston falls somewhere in the middle. The bipolar singer-songwriter/visual artist, often has flashes of inspiration in his oddly beautiful songs. But in his case, the drugs weren't working because he didn't take them. <img src="http://www.atomicbooks.com/43/promoimages/djohnstonhowareyou.jpg" align=right>
On the heels of last year's "The Devil and Daniel Johnston," comes Welcome to my World, a compilation of some of the Austin-based singer's best loved tracks. Included is the song for which he's perhaps best known "Casper the Friendly Ghost."
The song highlights the DIY nature of much his work. Many of his early recordings are just now being rereleased, as the original cassettes aren't available. Opening and closing with sounds from the classic toy that makes animal noises and propelled by a simple accordion playing, the song is a testament to the power of simple, sweet melody.
But Johnston isn't just a novelty act, with the proper instrumentation his songs fly. Just the simple addition of a fiddle to play the response to his call in "Lousy Weekend" gives his melody and clever, funny lyrics a solid foundation. The song, on Johnston highly accessible, major-label debut Fun, is one of many that shows the supreme talent of an unfortunately troubled genius.