Daniel Johnston’s music is not only the gift that keeps on giving in the sense that the late songwriter’s timeless recordings seem to have achieved the same sort of consistent relevance as Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” but also in the sense that his archives seem to run as deep as the Prince Vault. Which is all to say that it’s nowhere near as big of an event when a new set of his recordings comes to light as, say, a new Beatles song, though it’s nearly as exciting to hear new versions of his familiar tunes.
On January 19, Shimmy-Disc will be unveiling another new collection titled ALIVE in NEW YORK CITY which will be made up of a live concert recorded by Kramer in 2000 along with an additional collection of previously unreleased demos recorded over the phone included on the digital release. As Kramer tells it, something about being in NYC influenced Johnston in a way that makes these live recordings unique among all the others. “Daniel was a small-town kind of guy, so New York City was like Oz to him,” he recalls. “He saw it as a place filled with magic, opportunity, infinite possibilities, and a never-ending yellow brick road. He wanted to be a part of the city’s creative grid. I think the frenetic nature of it all eventually became too much for him, and it eventually fed some of his most difficult behavior, but one can’t deny that he made his greatest record there. 1990 belongs in the Library of Congress, and I’m sure that one day, that’s where it will be.”
Shimmy-Disc is teasing the release today by sharing the live version of “The Spook,” which originally appeared midway through his 1999 LP Rejected Unknown. Swapping that recording’s bluesy slacker-rock guitar and punky vocal for a twanging acoustic guitar and trembling singing, this recording feels more in line with the familiar Daniel Johnston discography. “The emotion captured in his voice, in this performance, really stands out to me,” Kramer continues. “It’s obvious when listening to all of Daniel‘s songs that he really means what he’s singing about, even when he’s being playful, or when he was portraying the entertainer that he always wanted to be, as well as being an artist. I think both of those desires coexisted in Daniel.”
The track also comes to life with the help of a visual created by Kramer that superimposes slow-moving videos of Johnston in a surreal manner. Check it out below, and pre-order the record via Shimmy-Disc here.