Daniel Johnston live @ (outside) Monster Children, 28.01.10
“Looks like it’s going to rain. Let’s go inside.”
“Might not rain.”
“Let’s stay outside in the courtyard. There’s more room here – and look, here are the beers.”
“It’s going to rain. Let’s go inside.”
“We’re all set up here.”
“Have you seen the line of kids outside? It’s crazy. Let’s stay outside.”
“There will be more atmosphere inside. Also, Daniel’s supposed to be playing an art gallery, not a courtyard.”
So it was the three of us stood, hemmed along one side of Sydney’s Monster Children gallery, sweat dripping from every conceivable pore, no microphone except a clip-on one, Millie blowing sweet gales of sound down her saxophone, Loene wrestling tempests from the guitar, as people asked other people asked other people, “Is this Daniel Johnston? He looks pretty different in real life.” Meanwhile, outside, close on 500 kids queued patiently to get a sight of some fellow who might possibly have looked like an Englishman, might not have, who knows, it’s free and we know this is a happening scene.
One punter was spotted texting a friend, “There’s this weird English guy on stage…”
I performed the piece about giving my mother a Daniel Johnston T-shirt, and the one about being fucked up on alcohol, and one about not being scared of girls (but secretly I was, surrounded by such understanding, smiling female faces), and… Bangs alive, I don’t know. Plenty. Drenched in sweat and tiredness and wondering how much longer I can keep the energy going for.
Shortly after we finished, Joseph (the gallery owner) announced that as there was no room inside Daniel would be performing on the street and please could everyone keep the beers out of sight and not block the road… and Daniel and his guitarist Brett Hartenbach stepped up to the plate, steps slippery, Daniel being passed his lyric book by his brother Dick, maybe taken aback by the strangeness of the scene, maybe not, who knows with Daniel? Two songs, and he reduced several members of his immediately reverential audience to tears. Two songs – ‘Life In Vain’ and ‘Silly Love’ – and he was gone, sloped off around the corner to smoke a cigarette, the magic still lingering for hours, for days afterwards.
Sometimes all you really do need is a massive heart and naked vulnerability. Sometimes, it really isn’t appropriate to do the big band scene or to outstay your welcome. It was, without a doubt, one of the shortest sets I’ve seen Daniel play (if not the shortest). It was also, without a doubt, one of the most moving.
“He can do that, you know,” remarks his brother afterwards. “The magic just happens.”
(Photograph courtesy of Dom Alessio.)