His songs have been recorded by the Dead Milkmen, Yo La Tengo, Pearl Jam, Beck, and Tom Waits. Kurt Cobain was often photographed wearing one of his Hi, How Are You t-shirts. David Byrne sang his praises, Bill T. Jones choreographed a ballet to his music, and Matt Groening said he was his favorite songwriter. According to Bowie, “Daniel Johnston is an American treasure.”
When I first opened the cassette there were no titles on the insert or cassette itself, just stick figures drawn in assorted contortions and obscene poses. I put the cassette in my tape deck and pressed play. A low slow voice growled, “Oh My God!” to a caveman-like stomp of drums and bass that almost blew up my speakers. A high-pitched, hard wavering guitar weaved a line of notes as I strained to hear what else the voice was saying; something like, “What do you know about reality? I AM REALITY! What do you know about death? I AM DEATH!” This song, the first track from the album Hairway To Steven, went on for twelve minutes. I was nineteen years old, and that was the first Butthole Surfers I ever bought.
An interview with Matt Wolfe, whose essay “Ride Along with the Cow Police” appears in the Oxford American’s Spring 2016 issue.
“I spoke with more than one rancher who was genuinely perplexed that cattle rustling wasn’t still a hanging crime. This level of enmity seemed pretty typical.”
A conversation with Manuel Gonzales.
“Magical and fantastical is what I grew up on—that and horror and the science-fictional and the soap operatic worlds of comic books—and to me it feels like a natural mode of telling a story. You learn about a character by watching him or her run the gauntlet of some horror show or run through some lengthy, fraught journey filled with monsters and magic and pitfalls.”
A conversation with Ben Stroud.
“Lots of people don’t like the idea of white guilt, for a whole variety of reasons. But I think it’s useful, and important. The simple answer is that if you’re white and live in the South—or, more broadly, America—you are connected to these actions. They are part of what made the world we live in today—part of what built the various structures of privilege, etc. We live in a culture that loves to deny guilt. And in some cases, that’s very useful. Shame can be really inhibiting to living a fulfilled life, and it can be a tool of repression/oppression. But certain kinds of shame and guilt can be useful, are necessary, and I think the oft-derided white guilt can be one of these.”
On Texas, old newspapers, race music, and two black lives that shaped the history of civil rights
In 1891, C. N. Love noticed how much money other state’s newspapers were making on his labor and connections. He started the Navasota Echo, one of the first black papers in Texas, “the cheapest and best colored paper published west of the Mississippi,” he boasted, calling it a publication “devoted to the interests of the people in general and the negro in particular.”