Johnston rose to fame after an appearance in a mid-1980s MTV documentary about the Austin music scene. His first albums (made and released by himself on cassette) started showing up around America. Songs of Pain and More Songs of Pain were painfully honest and emotional albums, with Johnston's songwriting skills shining through the ramshackle production and his, well, almost unique voice. This is from the first album, a song that was later covered by Kathy McCarty and used in the film Before Sunrise:
Daniel Johnston — Living Life
Daniel's mental instability led to him being institutionalised several times towards the end of the decade, but the 1990s were kinder. There were several episodes, like the letters to Ellis, but nothing too serious. He even managed to get signed to a major label, Atlantic Records. a feat which surprised many people. One of the songs from this period can be found on the My So-Called Life Soundtrack:
Daniel Johnston — Come See Me Tonight
He was inevitably dropped by Atlantic, but he's still making records, still singing about loss, pain, and a slightly askew view of the world which often seems much friendlier and colourful than the one outside our window.
Daniel Johnston — Favorite Darling Girl