Daniel Johnston
Rejected Unknown
(Which? Records)

Where artists with legitimate mental disabilities are concerned, it seems we can't label them as "creative geniuses" fast enough. But it's probably safe to assume that when Mo Tucker (Velvet Underground), Yo La Tengo, Butthole Surfers, Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder became personal and musical acquaintances with Daniel Johnston, a schizophrenic (subsequently exalting him as a creative genius), it was likely with the best intentions. These musicians, along with many other famous listeners, caught onto the childlike, manic pop sensibilities that have built Daniel Johnston a significant following. But it's undeniable that, when examining the output of any artist of questionable mental stability, the initial focus is not on their skill or technique, but on their mental illness.

The back cover and press posters that accompany Daniel Johnston's latest release, Rejected Unknown, depict a slightly out-of-focus and clearly abnormal Johnston in his finest happy/creepy/crazy pose. The CD, like all of his prior releases, is covered in Johnston's primitive artwork. These and other not-so-subtle hints turn Johnston's disability into a sales pitch.

His live shows, I've been told, are quite hilarious, for the same reason people go to see Wesley Willis or Cat Power. People don't always go just for the music--it's also for the element of anticipation, the break-up of normality of the typical rock show (i.e., is Chan Marshall going to start crying and leave the stage?). But I would assume this is not completely in favor of the artist: Is it okay to laugh, or is Daniel Johnston just glad to have fans? Would he know why I'm laughing? Is it okay to stare at the blind?

But this is about Daniel's CD. Rejected Unknown is likely to receive the "hardcore fans of Johnston's prior work will enjoy" classification in his discography. As far as the "brilliant songwriting" remarks Johnston seems to receive, I think that's the drugs talking. If the songs on Rejected Unknown had been written by a middle-aged businessman, or anyone of sound mind for that matter, they would be shrugged off as amateur pop garbage. But instead they were written by a creepy, middle-aged, manic-depressive who lives with his parents and hangs out with Eddie Vedder, so get em while they last!