As part of our UCF-USF speaker exchange, Associate Professor Dr. Maria Cizmic will be delivering a talk. We invite you to join us for this meaningful, thoughtful, and insightful chat!
Daniel Johnston is a singer-songwriter who attained notoriety in Austin, Texas during the 1980s and was later diagnosed with severe mental illness. Although many musicians and critics praise Johnston’s songwriting, his performances are not always in tune or in time. Many prominent musicians (Wilco, Tom Waits) have covered Johnston’s songs since the 90s, which has contributed to a fan base that supported his career as a touring musician. How does a sense of musical normativity—of being in tune and in time—influence the way audiences listen to Johnston? How does the prevalent perception that Johnston’s mental illness anchors his sincerity shape both the listening experience and the covers of his songs? And generally, how do stories about musicians with disabilities influence the ways listeners understand what they hear?
This paper brings together several discourses: phenomenology of listening (Don Ihde), disability and performance studies (Carrie Sandahl and Philip Auslander), and music and disability narratives (Joseph Straus). In order to explore these questions, this paper examines the author’s experience of hearing Johnston live in addition to his 1983 song “Speeding Motorcycle” and Yo La Tengo’s 1990 cover. It would seem that such covers bring Johnston’s songs within the bounds of musical normativity. But, in 1990 Yo La Tengo gave a live radio performance on New York City’s WFMU with Johnston
Maria Cizmic is Associate Professor in the Humanities and Cultural Studies Department at the University of South Florida. Her areas of interest include all kinds of 20th century music and their intersection with expressions of cultural trauma and pain; technology, mediation, and film music; and embodied experience and music performance. In 2012 Oxford University Press published her monograph, Performing Pain: Music and Trauma in Eastern Europe.