The Story of an Artist – An Anthem

I heard only a snippet of the song in a commercial… actually, it was this commercial (Thank you, Google!):

I had to find it. Once I did, I couldn’t get it out of my head … or heart.

“The Story of an Artist” is written and performed by Daniel Johnston (January 22, 1961 – c. September 11, 2019) a poet, musician and visual artist who died at 58 and left behind a cult following and a musical catalogue of his life… and mental health struggles.

Of note: January, 2005, the feature-length documentary “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” premiered at Sundance Film Festival. The trailer for the film is here: Link

“The Story of an Artist” is childlike, angst-ridden and clunky… but the words!… oh, the words!… and the melody, actually, which grabbed me in the commercial.

Among the comments on myriad posts about Johnston on YouTube there are words from so many of his friends and admirers… lauding him as a kind person, good friend, talented guy and tortured soul whose mental illness was both nemesis and muse.

And with that preamble, I’d like to share the song that has become an anthem to me… an ageing artist and fellow sufferer.

From the album “Don’t Be Scared” in July 1982

Lyrics:

Listen up and I’ll tell a story
About an artist growing old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren’t so bold

Everyone and friends and family
Saying, “hey, get a job
Why do you only do that only?
Why are you so odd?”

“We don’t really like what you do
We don’t think anyone ever will
It’s a problem that you have
And this problem’s made you ill

“Listen up and I’ll tell a story
About an artist growing old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren’t so bold

The artist walks alone
Someone says behind his back
“He’s got his gall to call himself that
He doesn’t even know where he’s at

“The artist walks among the flowers
Appreciating the sun
He does this all his waking hours
But is it really so wrong

They sit in front of their TVs
Saying, “hey, this is fun”
And they laugh at the artist
Saying, “he doesn’t know how to have fun

“The best things in life are truly free
Singing birds and laughing bees
You got me wrong says he
The sun don’t shine in your TV

Listen up and I’ll tell a story
About an artist growing old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren’t so bold

Everyone and friends and family
Saying, “hey, get a job
Why do you only do that only?
Why are you so odd?”

“We don’t really like what you do
We don’t think anyone ever will
It’s a problem that you have
And this problem’s made you ill

“Listen up and I’ll tell a story
About an artist growin’ old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others just like to watch the world

Song

The Story of an Artist

Artist

Daniel Johnston

Album

Don’t Be Scared

Licensed to YouTube by

PIAS, The Orchard Music (on behalf of Eternal Yip Eye Music); Abramus Digital, LatinAutorPerf, ARESA, BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, and 7 Music Rights Societies

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