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Essential Albums: Daniel Johnston- 1990

Quick Artist Bio: Daniel Johnston is one of the premier singer-songwriters you can listen to, but this comes at the expense of being one of the most unstable artists to have ever released music. Johnston’s music isn’t particularly complex, it’s usually either unaccompanied or with an acoustic guitar he can’t play very well, but he creates a lo-fi folk sound that’s helped define the indie folk genre. This sound can be heard especially in his homemade cassette releases that he used to begin his career in the Austin music scene. A defining aspect of Johnston’s life has been his struggle with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia which have lead him into mental institutions and arrests multiple times while he avoided medication for live shows or song writing.

The recording sessions for 1990 actually took place in 1988 and were never able to be completed fully because of Johnston’s mental problems and instability in New York City. The album had to be pieced together by adding in home and live recordings to create a finished product capable of being released while friends tried to force Johnston to return home for his own sake. Once this did happen, Johnston immediately broke into the house of an elderly woman who jumped out of a second story window to escape and broke both of her ankles upon hitting the ground. Johnston would later claim that he was possessed by demons during the incident, and two years later his mental instability would show itself again when he removed the key from a two-person plane his father was piloting mid flight and threw it out the window. This time Johnston believed that he was Casper the friendly ghost, a thought that occurred for him often during his manic episodes, and a thought that nearly killed them. Fortunately Johnston’s father was trained for emergency scenarios like this and was able to successfully crash the plane in a field of trees immediately below them in a way that neither was injured badly, but Johnston was readmitted to a mental hospital because of it. Johnston is a cursed man who’s struggles are sad and worrisome, but the songs that he creates are remarkably relatable for what he’s been through, and 1990 is a collection of some of his finest work from an impressive musical career.
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