“You can’t go back / To the time before / ‘Cos if you go back / There’s nothing there anymore”

This is a hard one to capture. So I’m just gonna jump in. As the main subject of this post would say, I am a writer, but I’d better write fast…

What I’m watching: Hi, How Are You Daniel Johnston (Short Film – 2015)

Yesterday I wrapped recording on what will be the second-to-last track on the album (I recently started recording out of order). Which, as I explained it to DP yesterday, is a song about momentarily surrendering to nostalgia. I told him on a walk that I felt the song needed to end in an audio clip of some sort, but I wasn’t sure what.

I typed “quote about nostalgia” into YouTube and almost immediately came up with a Mad Men clip: the scene from the episode called “The Wheel” where Don uses romanticized slides of his own past to pitch an ad for a Kodak projector. And there it was.

I’ve been aware of Daniel Johnston since first hearing (and tearing up to) Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith’s cover of “Worried Shoes” on William and Mary college radio over ten years ago. But despite my penchant for outsider art, I never really delved in. After seeing Built to Spill’s album of Johnston covers at a record store this past weekend, I was reminded and decided to go deeper.

A search quickly brought me across Hi, How Are You… and I saved it to watch later. Queued it up tonight after DP went to bed, which is the time reserved for generally irresponsible eating, drinking, and, if I’m lucky, obscure media imbibing, on work nights.

After some reservation about the opening animated sequence, which I feared might start to wear on me as a gimmick of sorts, I gave myself over to the whole venture and was soon assailed by that word again: “Nostalgia”. And I got the sweet old chill of serendipity – the uncanny feeling one is right where one is supposed to be, taking in what one is supposed to take in, at that moment.

It was striking: Watching Daniel conversing with his past self. Advising him to give up on That Girl. Conceding that there may never be true love, exactly… or happiness, exactly… but there is Technicolor reminiscence, and there is art, there is writing, there is creation. Telling him to do and to make and not to fear madness.

Essentially, that it’s going to be OK, and at the same time, not.

My searches also revealed that Daniel Johnston died less than a year ago. I didn’t hear about it at the time. To be honest, it feels like certain other cases – Syd Barrett comes to mind – where they live so hard or so raw that you assume they’d already be gone, so you don’t check, and then news of the anti-climax finally comes.

At the end of the film he is sitting in the extreme solitude many fear, in the cavern of his personal archive. It’s poignant, a bit worrisome, maybe, but mainly it just is what it is. A gorgeous song comes on, and I think it sounds like Lana Del Rey but better. As the credits roll I am pleased to find it is Lana, in exceedingly good form, singing Johnston’s own “Some Things Last A Long Time”, and that she has a production credit as well. More reinforcement for this weirdo musical extended family among which I have the stones to count myself.

Photo Credit: Nick Wagner, MBO / Associated Press

Speaking of beloved weirdos, outsider art, and family, a BandCamp artist I follow, Dandy (Haidan Hammond) put out another EP and I listened to that tonight as well. This one seems entirely fueled by awkward interactions with family members, which is an amazing concept if you ask me. Trying to muster the energy to write a review of one of this kid’s releases sooner rather than later.

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