RIP Daniel Johnston, bard of McDonald’s

Photo: Gary Miller (Getty)

Daniel Johnston, the singer, songwriter, and artist died on Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 58. Johnston had developed a cult following for his collection of deeply odd and deeply personal albums that he’d been recording since the 1980s. Shannon Miller and William Hughes at The AV Club describe his work as:

Strange, passionate, and so nakedly emotional that listening to it can feel like an act of aggression on the part of the singer, and an act of voyeurism for the receiver. Devoid of irony, Johnston sang the world the way that 13-year-olds see it.

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Johnston began making his first homemade albums while living in Texas in the 80s. He recorded them on cassette tapes on a Sanyo boombox and before he bought a dubber, he recorded each copy directly onto a blank tape. In 1984, after a period of working in a traveling carnival, he settled in Austin and began working at a McDonald’s as a busser, where, a Spin profile reported, he introduced himself to all the customers and urged them to buy his tapes. He began staging more live performances and other Austin musicians began covering his songs. After he appeared on the MTV show Cutting Edge, he began getting calls from record executives, which he took at the McDonald’s because that was the only place he had reliable access to a phone.

He later paid tribute to McDonald’s in song:

It’s quite possibly the best song ever written about McDonald’s.

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Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.