“I had a dream that this guy was sentenced to death for trying to commit suicide. I was in the back screaming, no! No!” is what Daniel Johnston nervously exclaimed, distracting us from a difficulty ensuing with the piano he was set to play. He quickly shuffled away from the instrument and went back to his mic stand where his lyric book lay open, gawking up at him with a light shone on it’s face.
This is where Johnston would stay throughout his nine song set, light stand blocking his face as he clutched his microphone shakily, lurching in and out of visual frame. This is a normality in his most recent performances as his battles with mental stability continue, as well as the affects of those heavy medications that come hand in hand with such disabilities. Whether you got a clear look at him behind his little set up didn’t matter, because Daniel Johnston was all around us. Walls stood displaying the legend’s art, fans clad in signature “Hi, how are you?” T shirts acted as moving art pieces themselves. We were, for that short night, a part of Daniel Johnston’s world. As spectators, we were as closely immersed in all the fragments of Johnston’s mind as we ever could be.
Surrounded by his art as he howled in his raw and uninhibited voice, I (along with others) felt as if I knew him more even then when I spoke with him earlier that day for our interview. Even though the setlist was short, singing along to those classic songs, it seemed we all lived his lifetimes with him. For those words he sings are without restraint, they are emotionally and narratively free to be just what they are. Daniel Johnston doesn’t write, or perform for that matter, songs that lie. There is an honesty in his work that is unmatched, and he carries that sincerity on stage with him.
Throughout the set, many yelled out praises like “YOU ARE INSPIRATION” and “THANK YOU, WE LOVE YOU” to which Daniel courteously responded with many thanks in return. But looking at the fans around me, huddled at the front of the stage, their faces told the story more than words could. The admiration in their eyes burned bright as they kept them glued to Johnston the entire time, clutching themselves or their partners, many on the verge of tears. Upon asking a number of concert goers if they did indeed cry, they all admitted yes. And who’s to blame them? Everyone at that show knew the impact that Daniel Johnston’s music has on the listener, and no one was ashamed to show that. This concert was one to remember. It was an experience that Miami will probably never get again. It was terribly heartbreaking, hugely inspiring, and beautifully true.