Daniel Johnston 







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Aug 2017

Erika Pinktipps
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Daniel Johnston backstage in Boston 2009-10-15

Sept 4
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Mon: 03-27-06
Making Plans for Daniel
Story by Nitsuh Abebe

It's the last day of February, half past six, dark already, cold, insufferably windy. Daniel Johnston has two things on his mind: He's out of cigarettes, and he's about to get a ride in a limousine. I'm with Daniel's companions for the night, gathered in the lobby of a Marriott hotel in midtown Manhattan, and I'm guessing the rest of us are thinking more about where that limousine's going to take us-- uptown, to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Tonight is the preview reception for "Day for Night", their 2006 biennial, and 14 of Daniel's drawings are up there, somewhere, hanging in two small, neat rows. This is pretty important, as Daniel's aware: "It's a really big-time art museum," he says. But he's still thinking more about the cigarettes and the ride. Whenever a large enough livery car circles the block, he perks up: "Is that really it?" And then I bother him some more with questions about his art.

Art is complicated, but if there's anything we can learn from "Behind the Music", it's that the art itself is only the beginning. Make art with any value, and you're immediately surrounded by action. Managing that action can be tough. It's treacherous enough that even savvy, stable artists wind up ruined-- by trusting the wrong people, or making the wrong decisions. The art is one problem; the business is another one entirely.

Daniel Johnston isn't surrounded by a pop star's buzzing machine; he's not actually "famous." But his art is valuable. His much-loved songs, recorded largely at home, have gotten him as far as a weird, ill-fated contract with Atlantic Records; his notebook-sized Magic Marker drawings sometimes sell for thousands of dollars each. The action that stems from that is even more complicated than usual, because Daniel just isn't capable of attending to business. The reasons why are familiar to his fans, and-- following a recent cover story in The New York Times Arts section-- any number of others. He's 44 years old and has spent most of his life struggling with bipolar disorder. He's been hospitalized, repeatedly; he's had breakdowns and episodes and scares; at his worst, he's come very close to being responsible for people's deaths. He relies on the care of his family for everyday living-- never mind making a career in the arts. His work is valuable, but it's less like a business and more like a natural resource: He makes it, and probably always will, and a whole lot of action goes into figuring out what happens after that.

Which means that Daniel's surrounded by the same machinery as any star, only on a weird miniature scale, and with all the actors curiously replaced. Instead of slick managers and unctuous handlers, Daniel has his family: mostly his father, Bill, and his older brother, Dick. Instead of shady groupies and coattail riders, Daniel has art dealers, some of whom the Johnstons claim have taken personal advantage of both Daniel and his work. On some level, the routine down here in the Marriott lobby feels like some sketched-in version of meeting a pop star-- right down to the part where the entourage is finished gathering and Dick runs upstairs to fetch Daniel from his room.

Strange, too, when the man of the hour steps off the elevator looking the way we now know him: paunchy, older than his years, faintly cherubic. He's wearing the usual drawstring sweatpants and track jacket; his gray hair is mussed and his eyebrows shoot everywhere. His medication gives him noticeable tremors in both arms, something you'd never guess from looking at his drawings. If you saw him on the street, you might assume he was homeless, a conclusion several people will leap to later tonight. It's not so far off: If not for Daniel's family, there's every chance he'd be going through the same cycles of institutionalization and homelessness as some other mentally ill people.

There's a lot going on with Daniel right now, so tonight's entourage is not exactly small. When I showed up, Dick Johnston-- whom Daniel titles "my assistant manager with my dad"-- was chatting with the publicist for The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a documentary that's set to premier at the end of March. Nearby sat Jordy Trachtenberg, of the digital distributor Orchard Music, along with his girlfriend; Jordy's involved with a compilation of Daniel's songs that'll be released in April, with the title Welcome to My World. Cruising toward us in that limo are Elizabeth Burke, Abby Messitte, and others from the Clementine Gallery in Chelsea, which will host a show of Daniel's drawings in two weeks. And once we reach the Whitney, Daniel will meet with a stream of other parties: curators, patrons, museum donors, owners of his work, fans, the reporter who wrote that Times cover story, half of Sonic Youth-- even some guy who, strangely enough, really wants Daniel to come check out some show having something to do with the Brian Jonestown Massacre. It is, according to the Times, "Daniel Johnston Month" up here.

No one thought Daniel would make it to New York for any of this. Just after Thanksgiving of last year, he ran into a serious health problem-- a kidney infection that reduced him to a coma-like state. It's possible that the medication he takes to control his bipolar disorder had been taking its toll on his body in other ways. He and his family both told the Times he wouldn't be here. But here he is, in a good, mellow mood, conversing about some of his interests: smoking, making music, the Beatles, and cola, like the strange one he got at lunch. "It was a real heavy glass, it weighed like a ton. It was really weird. They brought me a hamburger and a Coca-Cola that was like a weightlifting Coca-Cola."

And then the limo arrives, and we're ready to go.



A week later, I head to a screening of The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a Sundance Award-winning documentary by Jeff Feuerzeig. Stephen Holden of the Times, on the other hand, wrote the film off as "fawning," amid some talk of "fans who confuse brilliance with madness" and "a tendency in the United States to equate weirdness with artistic brilliance."

Turns out the film is fawning, but mostly by omission. Everyone interviewed, apart from Daniel's own family, has a story to tell about first hearing Johnston's home-recorded cassette albums. But the story is always the same: "I was blown away." A work of genius, they say. The typical line is that Daniel's songs are just as special as the Beatles and Bob Dylan songs they draw on, just less professional in their performance and recording. There are countless ways in which this is true: The best of his songs can be just as musically limber and lyrically well spoken as any. But claiming to have spotted that stuff straight off means skipping over the countless things about Daniel that just aren't like Dylan or the Beatles-- the strange yelping voice, the cruddy tape-recorder studio, the sometimes harrowing performances, or the unguarded bluntness of the words. It means skipping over what a lot of people are surely getting out of those records, and it means skipping over a lot of what those records give us: the sound of a young man with a chord organ in his brother's garage, singing strange songs into a tape recorder.

It's a funny omission. Several people here make reference to the "myth" of Johnston; they just never stop to wonder why that myth connects with people. What Feuerzeig offers is mostly a timeline of the myth itself, as mapped out by a shocking number of recorded documents. It's astounding how much of Daniel's life has been recorded, whether by himself or by others, and it certainly benefits this film.

The first stop is Daniel's West Virginia childhood, where we see a kid's total immersion in art: He draws pictures, reads comics, plays the piano, listens to records, makes Super-8 films with his brother. In fact, he won't do anything else-- won't do his chores, won't get a job, always only the art. Some here look to mythologize that immersion, but I'm not so sure; I keep thinking of one of my favorite novels, Edwin Mullhouse, which speaks beautifully to the solemn importance of child-art to the child. When Daniel's Christian parents yell back about his indolence-- his mother calling him "unproductive," asking why he wastes all his time on "Satanic" drawings that "pollute the minds of young people"-- it all seems even more normal. Everyone wants him to get off his ass and do something worthwhile; he just wants to stay immersed in his world of notebook doodling, comic books, writing little songs, and dreaming of being a famous artist. How many kids are having that argument even as you read this?

The difference between those kids and Daniel, though, turns out to be the illness, which starts creeping up in his late teenage years. He goes off to college to study art, but he can't take care of himself-- he misses his classes, seems dazed, and eventually gets sent home. At another school, he falls madly in love with a girl who turns out to be engaged-- he doesn't look like he'll ever graduate, and gets brought home again. His parents send him to Texas to live with his brother and look for work-- he takes a tape recorder into the garage and records an album. He gets moved over to his sister's house, but he buys a moped and runs off to sell corn dogs with a traveling carnival. And eventually he lands in Austin, Texas, working at McDonald's and trying to get everyone to listen to his tapes.

It's not hard to guess what this mythology offers: For everyone who put away the doodles and got a job, Daniel is a dream of the opposite. Live vicariously through him, and you get to believe in the great artist who runs away on a speeding motorcycle; you get to look at it all as destiny, not as a giant risk you're too psychologically healthy to take. Jordy Trachtenberg, in the Whitney, puts it a different way: "I think we all have some kind of calling in life, but the harsh reality wins out. Daniel wins by default, because what other choice does he have? It pours out of him every which way, a song or a drawing." And when I ask Daniel if there's any job, any other job, he's ever thought would be interesting to have, he replies, "I've worked jobs before, but I don't want to. I worked at McDonald's. I don't want to work jobs no more. I'm an artist." When did he decide that? "All my life. I didn't want to work. I expected to be an artist. I finally made it."

And what does it mean for us to assign Daniel that myth? What does it mean for Daniel to embrace it? It's easy to look at Daniel's art as pure, something natural and unmediated, and in ways that's true-- but in ways it isn't. Daniel picked up the myth of the exceptional artist from the world, not the other way around. What effect does that have? Louis Black, editor of the Austin Chronicle, talks in the film about the moment when he and others first decided to have Daniel institutionalized, fretting about being the sort of person who would put van Gogh in a mental hospital. What we don't see is much wondering about whether it'd have been better for van Gogh, if not art history, to get treatment. Thirty minutes later, Black is explaining how Daniel began to deliberately go off his medication a few weeks before performances, knowing the edge it would bring to the show. He did this before a 1990 appearance at the South by Southwest festival, and we see footage of the show here: It's riveting. Then again, so are the photos of Bill Johnston's wrecked airplane, which Daniel brought down. On the way home to West Virginia, he killed the engine mid-flight and threw the key out of the window.

The main thing you get from the documentary, if you're anything like me, is just plain depressed. It's tough to watch a person be ill, especially when you met him a week ago and saw him happy. It's just as tough to see how that's affected everyone around him: As much as the art has thrilled many, the real Daniel has required a lot of sacrifice and put people thought a lot of difficult times. Feuerzeig seems to understand this, and instead of leaving us with a feel-good conclusion-- Daniel, happy now in Texas, living peacefully with his parents-- he throws in something extra: The realization that Bill and Mabel Johnston are spending the last years of their lives still taking care of their child.

Daniel, I'm told, had a hard time sitting through the documentary. When I ask him about it, he laughs pleasantly, covers his face, and tells me it was just plain embarrassing; he doesn't even remember a lot of the stuff in it. He tells me he's seen it twice, but Dick only counts one of those viewings-- Daniel couldn't make it through the other one. "He was squirming at some parts," Dick says. "And I try to say it's okay, Dan, that was a long time ago, it's all gone. But they have the camera on him when he's totally out of his head. 'Can we go on to another scene now?' No, the camera's gonna stay on him while he's acting like a lunatic. So I grieve for him in that regard. It's an uncomfortable thing for him to watch."

Daniel mentions one part in particular, a song he sings about Mountain Dew: "I don't remember doing that at all." It turns out that the recording in question comes from a period when he was institutionalized. It's a jingle for Mountain Dew-- how all the patients drink it, how it'll save them from sin. It is, without question, funny. Cut to Daniel's former manager, Jeff Tartakov, who hits the punch line, saying he sent it to the Pepsi Corporation and never heard back. Funny and wonderful, yes, but it's also a symptom of a very serious illness, which raises a whole lot of hard-to-answer questions about exactly how interesting you want to find it.



Daniel is much, much better these days. He lives in a limited world, and there are plenty of ways in which he's a lot less functional than the rest of us. But he's mentally ill, not mentally challenged: At his most communicative, he's sharp, witty, friendly, and fun. Once he's in that limousine, headed toward the Whitney, drinking Mountain Dew from the bar, he's practically a comedian, goofing around with Jordy's girlfriend: "Here I am with Carly Simon-- she keeps telling me I'm vain. I mean, with a limo like this, and all these people, and the Mountain Dew, how can I be vain? And this is rich people's Mountain Dew. When I buy Mountain Dew it's from an old broken-down gas station."

His tone is exactly the sort that most artists have to remind themselves to fake: It's as if he has a good sense of his cult renown, but remains unaffected by it. He lives, after all, in a small Texan town, next door to his parents, interacting mostly with his family. How much difference does "fame" make there? "He can get it out of his system and make fun of himself in that way," says Dick. "Or he just realizes that in the scheme of things, you're fooling yourself if you go on too much about it. You might as well laugh and be done with it."

Dick's a big part of that, too. Whenever people seem to be turning Daniel into any kind of mythic figure, or walking on eggshells over his condition, Dick turns into a standard-issue big brother and deflates the whole thing. When someone in the limo reminds Daniel again that this is "a big night," Dick brushes it aside: "A big night for him means we get to order pizza." It seems at first like he's cutting his brother down to size, but after a while it begins to feel like he's doing something much nicer-- reasserting the comforting everyday order of Daniel's home life. "He's not come up to speed in his mind," says Dick. "As much as I try to describe to him what's transpired and what's getting ready to happen, the next minute it's 'Oh, can we stop and get a smoke.' It's of passing interest to him, because that's not what his world is made up of."

As with a lot of people in this situation, you can tell how close someone is to Daniel by how willing they are to tease him about his behavior. Jordy Trachtenberg, who's accompanied Daniel on foreign tours, is the same way, happily telling stories and prompting Daniel to fill in the funny parts. "Remember when we were in that Applebee's in Virginia, and you stood up and asked a waitress who just happened to be across the room for a Coke?" (Daniel does a mock sheepish look: "Yeah, well, I don't get out much.") "Remember when we went record shopping? And what did you do? You bought the same Beatles bootleg from five different stores, didn't you?"

The folks at the Whitney, of course, are as gentle, accommodating, and professional as you'd expect, from the interns working at the artists' entrance to the string of curatorial types who emerge to say hello-- all of them terrifically pleased that Daniel's made it here. Daniel, for his part, is just as professional, happily shaking hands, saying his thanks, introducing everyone to his brother. Daniel, in fact, seems less affected by the atmosphere we've stepped into than I am-- "big night" though I knew this was, I hadn't anticipated that it would be arty, wealthy, and exclusive enough to leave me feeling like a bit of a yokel.

The biennial crowd turns out to be a lot like Los Angeles in general-- the sort of thing that throws you off balance by conforming to every stereotype you've ever come across on bad TV. A lot of attendees look ready to report to Central Casting: Older Upper East Side women with expensive faces. Men dressed like tycoons who seem to be appraising the art and the people both. Adults who look like Tim Burton characters. Gaggles of fabulous young folks. Even a man wearing a pince-nez and resting in a motorized wheelchair so futuristic it seems like it should be manufacturing cars; I almost hope it's an affectation. Some skater kids slouch by, being young turks; one of them shuffles along clutching his side like a junkie, then stops when he realizes no one's paying attention. There's plenty of star power from just outside the art world, as well-- David Byrne, DJ Spooky, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, Taylor Meade, Momus. The last two are actually part of the show.

Daniel meets Phillipe Vergne, one of the show's curators. He has his picture taken with a major donor. He's reintroduced to Randy Kennedy, who wrote last week's Times article, but he's a little confused on the timeline: "Didn't you come down to Texas to see me, a couple years ago?" The folks from Daniel's gallery have social and professional obligations around here, and set off to work the room; Dick, Jordy, and Daniel move quickly along to the drawings, which are somewhere on the second floor.



Daniel's colorful drawings are executed in Magic Marker on regular-sized notebook paper, with speech bubbles and title text floating around the central figures. They're cartoonish, both in the drawing style and in their content-- many of them feel like individual panels from a larger story. Johnston defines them as "amateur art," despite his formal training. When he says "amateur art," he's just describing what he likes: "Doodles, nervous drawings, things like that."

What separates Daniel's drawings from just plain "doodles," though, is the consistency of their themes and concerns. In all of Daniel's art, sketched or recorded, there is an ongoing battle between good and evil. Many of his drawings feature a Daniel-like character called Joe the Boxer, who's missing the top quarter of his head, and is often seen boxing a many-eyed, tentacled creature called Vile Corrupt. Heroes are a recurring theme, including Captain America, one of Daniel's long-time fixations. Hell appears and reappears. So do gunboats, swastikas, military men, and other signs of war. As Daniel told Pitchfork a few years ago, "Good triumphs over evil... World War II, for instance, who won that war? America!"

One of the drawings at the Whitney depicts a uniformed man, draped in American flags, giving what looks like a Nazi salute. The text above his head reads "God Bless America"; the text below his feet reads "Fear Yourself." Another shows three skeletal figures writhing in fire; the title text reads, "In hell there are no friends." Daniel talks about that one tonight: "That's probably not true," he says. "That may be a little drastic."

In just as many drawings, though, there's peace. They're filled with jokes, bright-yellow ducks, visions of love, and whimsical compositions. They're lively and friendly. The art is defiantly not the work of a tormented mind-- it's the work of a guy who believes strongly in good, believes strongly in pain, and believes strongly in fun.

The Whitney's press release classes Daniel Johnston among artists who offer "an archaeology of the present in which irony and critical distance convey a disgruntled relationship with the tired models dominating our media-driven environment." Fair enough, for a quick press release brush-over, but tonight it seems completely wrong. The "irony and critical distance" might be down to an author-is-dead approach, but the last bit is backward. Daniel's inspirations feel older and more media-dominated that anyone's: He's in love with Captain America, the Beatles, and Casper the Friendly Ghost. And when it comes to disseminating art, his relationship with the media is a whole lot more curious than that. When an MTV crew came to Austin in the mid-80s, Johnston went out of his way to bluff his way into their presence-- he wanted to be on television, because that meant making it. Apart from stuff like that, it's as if he's blissfully indifferent to the whole idea of mediated art: He wants the amateur stuff, the doodles, the teenage world where a person just makes stuff and hands it to someone else directly.



Jordy Trachtenberg, the music distributor, is big and buzzcut, with a booming presence and an immediate earnestness; two minutes into talking with him, you already get the feeling he'd back you up in a fight. That vibe-- loyal, protective-- is surely a lot of why the Johnston family trusts him with Daniel's affairs. Just as important is the way he's willing to let them call the shots. "They're not music-industry people," he says. "So sometimes the decisions they make will seem strange. But I have to trust what they think is best." The protectiveness comes out, too: He's happy he'll be in Austin for the South by Southwest festival when Daniel's gallery show opens, because he'd rather not find himself in the same room as certain collectors.

Jordy's lived in New York for a couple of decades. Dick Johnston, of course, has not. He looks about a decade younger than his 51 years, and has the close-trimmed goatee, gray blazer, and crossed-arm conversational stance of the red-state professionals I grew up around. The red/blue cultural divide is, to be sure, a phony one, and here in New York, in the center of this glitzy crowd, Dick seems entirely comfortable, if occasionally amused. When Rufus Wainwright creates a stir a few feet away, Dick just remarks that "those are some pants he's wearing."

At the same time, though, Dick seems keen on reminding me where he and Daniel are coming from, especially when the subject is religion. When I say that he and his brother were raised "very Christian," he's taken aback by the modifier: "Very Christian? Christian," he corrects. I'd read allegations of art dealers sneaking in to see Daniel when his parents are off at church, but when I ask Daniel if he ever goes to church with them, Dick laughs: "That one always takes the moderns by surprise." The last time I heard the word used that way was in the Julie Andrews version of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Religious themes-- and that good-versus-evil stuff-- are all over Daniel's art. Dick takes them very seriously, and Daniel certainly does, too. "Jeff Feuerzeig once said, 'I think Satan is a metaphor to Daniel, of his illness,'" says Dick. "And I said, 'Well, Daniel really believes in Satan, and so do I.' Lots of people suppress the fact that there's a battle going on in you. He never tries to pretend that there isn't. And that's uncomfortable for some people. But the day we start saying we don't have a battle is the day we've lost to the dark side."

He tells me I should probably ask Daniel about his own religion, but he has stories, too. "When Dan was coming in and out of consciousness in the hospital, when he was first waking up, he'd say, 'I need God's help.' And I'd say, 'You're getting it.' You have to see the art to understand his view of reality. I know the public world, the popular world, is very comfortable in their unspiritualized view of living. And that's a shame. They have a misunderstanding about the word 'spirit.' I agree with Dan's perspective, and I think he's stayed true to that perspective."

Daniel's take on it is short and understated: "Yeah, we believe in God. We went to church all our lives. We still do." At the absolute depths of his mental problems, that religion provided the cues for Daniel's delusions: He sensed demons everywhere and obsessed over the devil. Religion was the raw matter-- the deep beliefs-- the madness had to work with.



There's comfort in being a part of Daniel's crew tonight-- this guy, after all, is supposed to be somewhat removed from the big-city art world, so you can be, too. He's good company; it's especially fun to watch him take note of other people's art, which happens mostly with the various video installments. For a while, Daniel ducks into the room where they're showing Francesco Vezzoli's star-packed movie-trailer take on Caligula. Dick follows, but leaves when he sees a woman on screen fellating a strap-on. Daniel watches for two or three minutes, then exits abruptly. A New York Times art critic will soon agree with his reaction, pointing out that the piece is a "one-note gag."

Daniel notices music. Our conversation, post-"Caligula", is mostly about Michelle Phillips' appearance in the film. "I love the Mamas and the Papas," he says. "But they always were like a G-rated group, so it's kind of shocking to see that." Later on, across the room, he seems to grow agitated and withdrawn, staring down at his shockingly white sneakers, mumbling and frowning. I try to catch his attention by pointing out the version of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" coming from a nearby room: "You like Bob Dylan, right?" He doesn't seem to hear me, so I step back and let him think, wondering if all the commotion is starting to get to him. A few minutes later, though, he turns to me: "Is this a real Bob Dylan bootleg? It's like he's working on that song." Here I am asking him about it while he's busy listening.

When a Whitney employee asks him who his favorite artists of the night were, he says "Sonic Youth were here." Which they were-- or at least Kim and Thurston. Daniel's worked with them before, so I flagged down Kim; after telling them both how much he loved A Thousand Leaves, Daniel says he'd love to work with Sonic Youth again. "Or even just you and me," says Thurston. A week later, in Feuerzeig's documentary, I'll see footage of what happened the last time Daniel and Sonic Youth hooked up-- members of the band driving around New Jersey, searching for a lost and unbalanced Johnston so they could put him on a bus and get him back home to his family.

Daniel definitely wants to work on music again. These days, he plays with some kids from his town in Texas, in an act called Danny and the Nightmares. In the limo on the way over, he was thinking grand again, talking about a collaboration he'd done with the band Sparklehorse: "They asked me right away, they said we can record another album. I said that's great, yeah, so I started writing songs, and it's been like two years now, and I have it ready to do, and I'd like to record another album with Sparklehorse."

"You never know," said Jordy. "Anything can happen."



Drawing pictures, though, seems like a better life for an aging Johnston. It's something he can do at home, at his own pace; he just hands the results over to his father and brother, who number and catalog them for exhibit or sale. Compare that process to the one involved in making music: dealing with collaborators, with studios and labels, and toughest of all, being asked to perform and tour, something that takes a significant toll even on young, healthy people.

But the art comes with issues, too. Even Daniel's "lesser" drawings can fetch prices running up over one thousand dollars, and his inclusion in the Whitney biennial will undoubtedly push that value up even more. The Johnston family sees that as an opportunity for Daniel to support himself and pay for his care. In the world at large, though, the art is inevitably a commodity-- and the Johnstons have had problems with at least two collectors, both of whom they claim have tried to acquire Daniel's art behind their backs.

One of them is Tartakov, who appears at length in The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Tartakov has been essential to a lot of the things Daniel's accomplished. His label released many of Daniel's early recordings, he organized some of the showings that originally brought Daniel's artwork to people's attention, and he was very nearly the one who landed Daniel a major-label record deal. Just as that deal was looking like a possibility, though, Daniel dropped Tartakov as his manager, something that seems to have hurt Tartakov badly. The picture we get in Feuerzeig's documentary, in fact, is that of a person who made a bad business decision-- investing time and energy into an artist who just couldn't be counted on to stay productive, loyal, or even reasonable-- and has spent years trying to salvage whatever he can from it. On one message board devoted to Daniel's art and music, he seems exactly that resigned, calmly and politely engaging with fans even as many of them treat him as the villain of the story.

With both Tartakov and Jeff Brivic, owner of the biggest collection of Daniel's art, the Johnston family's main concern seems fairly simple: They want all business dealings to run through them. Dick says that Daniel, like anyone, just wants to be liked. He's friendly and generous, and he knows that his drawings are one of the few valuable things he can give people. He's this way with his family, as well. Dick tells a story about stopping by Daniel's house to drop off groceries and clean up, and having a slightly guilty-looking Daniel offer him some drawings in return: He just wants to feel like he's contributing something. The problem is that while Daniel knows his drawings have value, his exact notions of value can be a little confused. "If you ask him which he would rather have, a hundred dollars or a Coke," says Dick, "well, it depends on whether or not he's thirsty."



After a couple hours at the Whitney, Daniel's tired-- and hungry, and thirsty, and craving a cigarette. The entourage moves to a restaurant further uptown, where Daniel has his third hamburger of the day. Once we're done eating, he heads outside for a cigarette, and I tag along. A woman comes down Madison Avenue walking a puppy, looking skeptically at Daniel as we pet it. But with his stomach full and the night's action behind him, Daniel is in the best shape of the entire evening-- happy, talkative, and totally lucid, fake-boxing with Jordy and telling me all about the amateurism he wants in his art. The Magic Markers, he says, go all the way back to his youth: His parents would give him a set every Christmas, and he'd draw them dry. As for the albums: "No matter what people might say, my records are pretty amateurish. Who would have ever thought of anything as ridiculous as an album recorded on a chord organ?"

"That was a great night," he says. "You can tell people appreciate it-- they're whole hog with the limo, and all the pretty girls at the party. There was that one girl who looked like someone from 'Saturday Night Live'." This has been one of the evening's running themes: Daniel says Abby Messitte, from the gallery, looks like someone from SNL, and despite all the night's guessing (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss? Molly Shannon?), it'll take me a few days to figure out that he must mean Mary Gross. "What day is it?" he asks. "Is today Saturday?"

It's Tuesday, I say.

"Feels like a Saturday," he says, "with all this partying going on."

And he's right again, kind of-- it's Mardi Gras.