Austin singer, songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston's six-album box set is due on June 22 (via Munster Records). Johnston became the musical and artistic elite's best kept secret in the early '80s; he self-distributed a series of home-recorded songs embellished with crudely drawn, bug-eyed alien creatures. These recordings focused on issues of religion, wickedness and Johnston's relentless infatuation with a female classmate at the art college he attended. They were comprised solely of his squeaky voice accompanied by a whiny organ, out-of-tune piano or a cheap acoustic guitar. He wasn't good in any commercial sense. And his songs, though simultaneously crude, and bizzare, were also witty and heartfelt. Eventual fans included Tom Waits, Kurt Cobain, Sonic Youth and Matt Groening.
A documentary entitled The Devil and Daniel Johnston was released in
2005 and chronicled the singer's rise to prominence as well as his
battle with mental illness. The film demonstrated how a confluence of
factors can converge during the career of the most unlikely artists to
produce something unique and remarkable. People have different names for
this phenomenon. Some call it outsider art, others call it novelty.
After listening to music for years, some of us become bored when even
cutting-edge stuff begins to sound stale and predictable. Ultimately
like degenerate sex-addicts, some are compelled to assuage this
affliction and seek fullfilment in stranger and stranger places. Here is
a short list of some artists who don't always adhere to the standards
of the rock and roll field manual. Perhaps, they all go for an easy
thrill utilizing musical stunt work. Yet they all manage to wow an
audience, if not for their commercial prowess, at least as a result of
the inherent “WTF” factor in their songs.
Currently on tour with Ben-Folds, this girl can wail. And wail she
does– at times like a torch songstress, and at others like an operatic
virtuoso. Here she is doing her version of Britney Spears' “Toxic.”
misogyny is a sin, but Ben Fold's reimagining of the Dr. Dre classic
“Bitches 'Aint Shit,” is sonic wizardry. Dig the “guitarmy.” Who wants
to see this guy produce the rock opera he's supposedly been mulling over
These guys are so strange, yet they've managed to cull a sizeable
and dedicated following. Rumor had it that they produced the album The Pod while
under the influence of the inhalant Scotchgard. While the story appears
to be apocryphal, one can see how the myth is easily perpetuated by
listening to the single “Push th' Little Daisies.”
the strangest group on this list, these guys are an acquired taste. What
ends up winning the uninitiated listener over however is the
train-wreck effect associated with this incredibly esoteric music. It's
horrific, yet somehow one finds it difficult to turn away.