If there is one positive thing I have always wondered about people who have mental illness, it’s that we are some of the most creative people you will ever meet. Some of us even have the ability to make art out of this. And even some of us are historical figures because of our art. My theory of this was confirmed when watching on YouTube an interview with the director of the documentary “The Devil And Daniel Johnston”. He was describing the obvious life-long struggle Daniel has with bipolar and schizophrenia, but also acknowledges names such as Vincent van Gogh and Michelangelo. He said that many of their greatest, most historic pieces come from a time when their mental health was at an all time low and they were going crazy inside. He then said this is when the latter painted the Sistine Chapel, which wouldn’t surprise me, and I am sure this director fact checked before putting that out there. One of Daniel’s most celebrated albums is simply called “1990”, which actually was supposed to initially be called “1989” as that’s when the material for it was recorded. This was at the height of Dan’s manic depression and some of the live performances included on the album took place when he purposely was off medication for a few days. He even cries when performing a song on there called “Careless Soul” (his version of the song anyway). Another track called “Don’t Play Cards With Satan” which is a revisited song from an earlier album, he gives the “1990” edition of it an extra oomph by screaming out “SATAN!” during the chorus at the top of his lungs. Everyone I see online praises this album. But truth be told, it is one of the worst cases of something oddly beautiful (it’s surprisingly more polished and easier on the ears than his earlier recordings from his parents’ basement) coming out of someone who was in the most vulnerable stage of their life. Shortly after this album was recorded, Daniel would have a heartbreaking episode where he is flying with his dad in his private plane over a vast number of trees (thankfully it isn’t buildings). Daniel, who is completely out of it mentally and hasn’t taken his medication for an eternity, decides to channel one of his comic book heroes, Casper The Friendly Ghost (he dedicated a song to this legendary character in one of his most famous songs from 1983’s “Yip Jump Music” album, which was actually one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite albums of all time, fun fact). For whatever relation to this character that baffles me, Dan grabs the controls and takes over the cockpit that his dad was of course operating. And the plane comes crashing down when Dan is attempting to fly gracefully out of the plane without a parachute. The plane crashes in the trees but the two, thankfully survive but Dan, while injured, doesn’t notice a thing and thinks what he did was a good thing, while everyone else around him is completely in panic. Anyway, to get back to what I was originally talking about, one more thing the director of the documentary about Dan said in this interview is while many artists and musicians with mental health issues are often celebrated for their most iconic work, living life with bipolar or any type of illness is something he wouldn’t wish on anyone. And honestly, I have to say the same thing. There is nothing “attractive” about what we live with day to day. It’s not something we want to define us, even if one of our top priorities is constantly spreading awareness of mental health and erasing stigma. I personally feel the opposite way about having aspergers/autism, but when it comes to having a mental illness on top of that, especially if you’re male in a world still plagued with “toxic masculinity”, this life is far from an excuse to “be lazy”. Listening to and learning about Daniel’s music career has reminded me of how dark these issues can take us, especially since his younger years I can identify with a lot.
And while this last post in this series seems all over the place, it is just my style. The blog is called “Mentally Speaking”, and I hold nothing back. I write about where my brain takes me in the exact moment of writing, and that right there is pure and raw. Not unstructured or lacking focus. But just like a Dan Johnston tape, many people who are limited to mainstream, polished styles of expression (or simply product) may not understand it fully. But hey, if I had to blog as if I was writing a college paper, I would not be blogging at all and would not be where I am now among passionate mental health advocates on Twitter as a result. Anyway, I really appreciate the person on that said social network who introduced to this “artist” and his “story”. I am a fan.