Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Daniel Johnston, the devil, and being talented

I finally saw 'The Devil and Daniel Johnston', the documentary about the singer-songwriter's rise to fame, as well as his struggles with manic depression. It's fascinating to see how debilitating mental illness can be, yet how the love of art and self-expression can persevere.

I'm fully convinced that there's a certain amount of obsession that anyone who's talented requires, some internal motivation to keep working and create.  My friend, an artist at Dolphin & Condor, once wrote about how she works on projects constantly.  She explains, "my lifestyle of creating something everyday does not make me special. I do it because I have to. I do it because otherwise I can't sleep."

Malcom Gladwell, of The Tipping Point (2000),Blink (2005), Outliers (2008), and What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009), believes that exceptional talent simply comes from lots of practice, not necessarily some innate ability.  (I first heard him on Radiolab, explaining the secret of success.)

I feel like my younger years were spent obsessed with getting A's in my classes.  Maybe that's why I've spent so much time in school.  It's easy to tell that Daniel Johnston, even at a young age, was truly obsessed with making art and music.  I wish I could be a fraction of the musician he was.  I can almost play three chords on the guitar, but can never get myself to practice.  Instead I plod away in my research lab, listening to a lot of other people's music.

Probably my favorite song of his:

One of my favorite Yo La Tengo songs is actually a Daniel Johnston song:

I really hope they make a dramatic movie about Daniel's life one day.  And if so, can Sam Rockwell please play him?

(That's a young Daniel on the left and Sam on the right.  They look so similar! You think?  Besides, Sam Rockwell is awesome!  He'd be so good in this!)

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