Nathan Jolly

200 Sad Songs: #182 Daniel Johnston – Some Things Last A Long Time (1990)

Image: Keiren Jolly
Image: Keiren Jolly

Approx Reading Time-10An ode to unrequited love penned by an artist suffering from schizophrenia. Daniel Johnston’s romantic epic is hopeful without holding out hope. Grand work.

 

 

 

Daniel Johnston is a very talented, and very tormented man. Diagnosed with both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, Johnston’s obsessive love of his music, and his lack of filter and discretion when writing songs, makes for an intensely personal (and epic) catalogue, with equal weight given to Satan and unrequited love as to Mountain Dew, Casper the Friendly Ghost, his moped, or The Beatles. It’s the most interesting and earnest catalogue in history.


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A major theme in his work is love – and namely his unrequited love for a girl named Laurie Allen, who he met in college and became immediately obsessed with, despite their relationship never moving past friendship. This one-sided love has been his muse for decades, and while this sounds horribly depressing, he seems cosmically amused by the fact she married an undertaker, and feeds off the epic nature of his love for her. It’s part of his story that he can’t get her… yet (right?), and it fuels his best art. Numerous friends of his point out in the excellent documentary about his life, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, that he openly thrives on this, and it has certainly provided him with both his most defeated, and most optimistic music.

On that same documentary, his poor, poor mother recalls with a sense of joy the lyrics of an early song Daniel wrote – and seemingly never recorded: “Walking down the road, I’m feeling lonely, but don’t be sad, be glad – you’re just one step closer to the girl you’re going to meet.” The idea of love as a saviour – from Satan, from sadness, from everything – is a constant theme in his music (and his substantial body of graphic art) and he seems to have decided long ago that his love for Laurie was his saviour – despite her lack of involvement or presence.


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Some Things Last A Long Time is one of his finest songs in the Laurie wheelhouse, dealing sparely about both his heartache at not having her, and his enduring love. Her pictures hang on the wall, the colours as bright as ever. “Time comes and goes, but all the while I still think of you. Some things last a long time.” It’s beautiful, it’s sad, it’s filled with joy.

The last time he sings the refrain, it’s changed to “some things last a lifetime” and this certainly appears to be true. He won’t have it any other way.

 

Nathan Jolly

Nathan is a Sydney-based journalist who has written for numerous publications over the years, including Junkee, This Recording, New York Post, The BRAG, SBS, Triple J Mag, Channel [V], and news.com.au. He used to be pretty good at hitting three-pointers, and can still cartwheel, although he never learnt to swim, drive, or manage money.

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