I Made a Daniel Johnston-Themed Cartoon Video and Daniel Watched It

Morgan Enos (Other Houses) talks the animated music video he made for a Daniel Johnston song as a teenager.

I watched the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston when I was 15, and I didn’t pity or gawk at its mentally ill subject; I wanted to be him. I loved how he satirized his conservative Christian parents. I loved that he was the head of his own little bedroom world, of songs and cartoons and Super 8 movies. I loved how he walked out of his little bubble in Waller, Texas, to hobnob with psychedelic weirdos like the Butthole Surfers. 

Sure, there was a major dark side to Johnston’s story — bad acid trips, mental hospitals, crash-landing his father’s plane while hallucinating that he was Casper the Friendly Ghost. These were all tragic events that marred Johnston’s life and hurt those he loved. But I only glommed onto the giddy parts. And being an isolated but highly creative kid with a tendency to method act, I decided to make my own Johnston movie — and accidentally got attention online.

I was pretty glued to the computer, and one of my favorite hobbies was to make animated cartoons with the meager tools at my disposal: a pen, paper, scanner, and the mother of all primitive software, Microsoft Paint and Windows Movie Maker. My new brother-in-law had a weakness for snacks and soda, so my sister and I animated him as a grotesque, food-obsessed monster, cackling as we roared into the mic. I also synced Counting Crows’ acoustic ballad “Walkaways” to Adam Duritz’s dreadlocks singing the downcast lead vocal. (Not my most mature hour, no.)

But, I decided, my pièce de résistance would be a tribute to the king of songs and doodles: Daniel Johnston. I remember scanning my list of pirated Johnston songs on LimeWire and trying to find one that had a visual, storybook quality to the lyrics. I ended up picking “Lousy Weekend,” a sprightly track from his 1994 album Fun about spending your Saturday alone and miserable: “Oh-oh-oh, the telephone rings/But oh-oh-oh/There’s nobody there!” It was perfect.

I’ve never been the kind to take half measures, and with an utter lack of responsibilities over summer break, I poured my heart and soul into “Lousy Weekend.” Windows Movie Maker was only equipped to handle a quick handful of vacation photos with star-wipes between them; with literal hundreds of images poured into it, the software repeatedly froze and crashed, as if to plead: Stop! What are you doing?! But I was persistent.

By early July, I was done, and I uploaded “Lousy Weekend” to YouTube. I had clearly underestimated how popular Johnston was. It climbed from 1,000 views to 2,000 to 12,000, and at the point of this writing, the tally stands at 79,466. I’m reading the comments now. “Dantastic,” one person wrote over a decade ago. “Ugh… this is my weekend *sighs*,” a swooning stranger named Maddy M posted eight years ago.

Eventually, I got the nerve to send “Lousy Weekend” to Dick Johnston, Daniel’s brother and manager. Dick’s reply is long gone, but he basically told me that he tried to show his brother, and that he momentarily paid attention before getting distracted. That was OK with me. I was just over the moon that my hero laid eyes on something I made myself — and it felt like a true connection had been made.

As I got older, Johnston went on to inspire me in other ways beyond endless creativity. To me, he’s the patron saint of overcoming adversity, never giving up and putting yourself out there for love. When he died last week, I wrote an essential songs list for Billboard. (“Lousy Weekend” didn’t make it.) Working as a music journalist, I now know a lot of people who knew the man personally, and have much more important things to say about him than I do. 

But I’ve got “Lousy Weekend,” still sitting on YouTube after a dozen years, quietly racking up the views. It will always remind me of my weird, talented hero, one who came into my life at a crucial age and made me feel less like a lonely loner.

(Photo Credit: left, J Mcconnico)

Morgan Enos is a musician, essayist and music journalist specializing in classic rock. He records and performs as Other Houses and has bylines in BillboardHuffPost, the Recording Academy, Vinyl Me, Please, TIDAL and more. He is also the co-founder and editor of North of the Internet, a series of conversations with creative people. He can be found at his website.