“The Dream Is Over” for Austin cult-rock icon and autodidact Daniel Johnston — that is, the dream of ever touring again. The 56-year-old, who is renowned for his avant and childlike style, will embark on a nine-date “final tour” in late September. Backing Johnston will be a varying cast of prominent admirers, most notably, Jeff Tweedy in Chicago and Built to Spill on the Pacific Northwest dates.
Conspicuously absent from the present tour lineup is an Austin performance, which Johnston’s manager Tom Gimbel is optimistic about booking. “New dates are still being added,” Gimbel said in an email correspondence, “I'm sure there will be an Austin [show] at some point on the tour.”
After all, the art and music of Daniel Johnston have become, in many ways, the illegitimate avatars of Austin weirdness, relics of a bygone era whose patron saints were slackers and outsiders. No one piece of Johnston’s work better represents this than the self-illustrated cover of his 1983 cassette recording “Hi, How Are You,” which prominently features the now famous drawing of “Jeremiah, the Innocent.”
The image of this cartoon frog garnered cult icon status in the early ‘90s when Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was photographed wearing a screen printed T-shirt featuring the album cover art (he also famously wore the same shirt to the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards). In 1993, the now defunct local record store Sound Exchange commissioned Johnston to immortalize the drawing as a mural on the exterior wall of its location at 21st and Guadalupe streets.
Nearly two-and-a-half decades later, the painting survives, despite near demolition in 2004 when Sound Exchange shuttered and the Mexican food franchise Baja Fresh moved in. Current tenants, Thai, How Are You?, not only embrace the mural as civically sacred but also capitalize on its local notoriety.
Not all of Daniel Johnston’s contributions to Austin are so visible, though. Many live on in the legacy of his music, in the ecstasy of its influence on other musicians, and in the warmth and watchfulness of his fan base. For decades, Johnston has publicly struggled with schizophrenia and manic depression, which has forced his live performance schedule to become increasingly sporadic. The singer’s experiences with mental illness were captured in the acclaimed 2005 Jeff Feuerzeig documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, which will screen as a sort of double feature before each stage performance on the tour.
In recent days, the singer’s physical health has come into focus, as well. According to Gimbel, Daniel has had a rough year that included a few hospital stays and, although Johnston is seemingly better, it is unlikely that he will ever tour beyond this last stint. “Creating art is what Daniel enjoys," said Gimbel, "He'll continue to write and record songs and also continue to be passionate about his drawings and other artwork.”
Johnston’s last release was 2012’s Space Ducks, a soundtrack for his comic book and video game of the same name.
Daniel Johnston's final tour dates:
- September 28: New Orleans at The Joy Theater, with the Preservation All-Stars (Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
- October 4: Philadelphia at Tower Theater , with the Districts and Modern Baseball
- October 7: New York at The Town Hall, with members of Beirut, Gang Gang Dance, and Cibo Mato
- October 20: Chicago at The Vic Theatre , with Jeff Tweedy & Friends
- November 1: Los Angeles on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, with Mike Watt, Ben Lee, Maria Taylor, Guy Blakeslee, and Joey Waronker
- November 2: Los Angeles at The Orpheum Theatre , with Mike Watt, Ben Lee, Maria Taylor, members of Silversun Pickups, and others
- November 7: Boise, Idaho at Egyptian Theatre, with special guest
- November 8: Portland, Oregon at Revolution Hall, with Built to Spill and others
- November 10: Vancouver at Venue Nightclub, with Built to Spill and others