Daniel Johnston’s Kind Legacy

Austin lost an arts icon who leaves behind so much to cherish

By Lauren Jones
Daniel Johnston
"Daniel Johnston at The Intersection" by Paul G CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Daniel Johnston, the beloved songwriter and artist behind the iconic “Hi, How Are You” mural on Guadalupe and 21st streets, died in September at the age of 58 of natural causes. His indie style, coupled with lyrics full of impulse, whimsy and heartbreaking truths, was adored by artists like Death Cab for Cutie and Beck, who both covered his songs. Kurt Cobain was also a fan. The late Nirvana frontman wore “Hi, How Are You” T-shirts and praised Johnston as one of the “greatest” songwriters.

Amid Austin’s prolific music scene, Johnston made a name for himself in the 1980s with self-produced cassettes, including “Hi, How Are You: The Unfinished Album” whose quirky cover art became the mural that went up in 1993. Johnston’s music was unlike anything Austinites had heard before, and he developed an extraordinary cult following. But while he landed a record deal with Atlantic, his only studio album, “Fun,” released in 1994, was not a commercial success.

Johnston’s struggles with mental health — he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder — kept him in and out of psychiatric institutions during his adult life.

"Daniel Johnston and Captain Perfect" by Tracy Lee CC BY-NC 2.0

In addition to a lasting artistic legacy, Johnston’s story remains influential. The Hi, How Are You Project, which was created with the support of Johnston and his family, works to inspire dialogue that focuses on mental wellbeing and eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness. For more information on the organization visit hihowareyou.org.


Read More From the Arts Issue | November 2019


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