>> Featured Artist: Daniel Johnston
Mister Toaster had been meaning to get out to see The Devil and Daniel Johnston for months. Sadly, the D.C. screenings were few and far between. And then we had to wait for Netflix to get it in stock. Alas, it arrived and lived up to all expectations.
There may not be a more fascinating true story in rock music today. Somewhere at the intersection of mental illness, fragility and Beatlesque songwriting talent lies Daniel Johnston, who - spiting all the sung premonitions of his death - is still alive.
Traveling in singer-songwriter circles, it's hard not to hear about Johnston, whose severe manic depression and striking and wildly honest, childlike and arguably schizophrenic performances have paved for him a road to an unassuming cult status. Voices all over the rock community - from David Bowie to Beck to Clem Snide - sing his praises and his songs.
Devil portrays an unstable, artistic, reclusive Johnston growing up in a conservative Christian home with parents that had no idea how to handle his talent and/or eccentricity. His expulsion from home leads eventually to his unlikely emergence on the Austin music scene and, later, drugs and a further psychological deterioration. His songs center around stories of God and the devil, good and evil and - most importantly - a single case of unrequited love that has served as his muse for more than 20 years.
The film, which is highly worth seeing, leaves the audience understanding that Johnston deserves every bit of his cult status.
In lieu of passing on something recent and well produced, here's a cut off his first homemade cassette, Songs of Pain. "Wicked World" shows the playfulness with which Johnston approaches songwriting. Not to mention his sincerity.
So Trail of Dead fanatics dug Worlds Apart just as much as they had its predecessor Source Tags & Codes, even if the critics didn't.
Still, So Divided comes out of a turbulent time for the band, which contemplated breaking up before it started work on this, the group's third album.
Trail of Dead's range is hard to miss - as it defiantly wavers between pop classicism and introspective guitar-heavy rock.
Most entertaining, the band's swagger is intact. On "Stand in Silence," the band , as it did on the title track from last year's Worlds Apart, starts with a sample of human screams - this time, it doesn't sound so much like cheering. What begins like a punk-pop outfit morphs suddenly into a airy, heroic piano-centric solo that screams of Beethoven's catalog. And then it's back to the attacking pop song as if to leave on a bang.
With the tragic demise of Tower Records comes good sales and opportunities for us all to beef up our record collections. Mister Toaster made a long-overdue foray into The Byrds catalog, having barely more than a classic rock-radio IQ when it comes to the jangle-, country-rock '60s.
>> Reverting to: 1966
"Eight Miles High" was introduced to a good lot of us in a rock 'n' roll history course as one of the most psychedelic, drug-ifnluenced songs in history.
To reduce this gigantic single in pop music history to drugs is a crime and will not be tolerated on the Toaster Talks. The song's driving bass line, angelic harmonies and jaunty (tripping, perhaps) guitar solo override easy drug references and place this song into a more appropriate category - as one of the most interesting pop singles of the 1960s.