I recently discovered Daniel Johnston, and in case you haven’t heard of him before either, I thought I’d share this song. Daniel Johnston is a manic depressive, maybe that’s why I felt so taken aback when I first listened to his music.

This song in particular is most likely relatable to everyone on some level, since everyone probably deals with existential boredom at some point. Maybe that’s what it means to reach adulthood; realizing that life is often boring and youthfulness is ephemeral.

Manic depressives might find themselves exceptionally resonating with this song because it almost seems impossible to ever accept those aspects of life. Must I bored all the time? Can’t I be high all the time?

Boredom is homeostasis. Boredom is the fine line between frenetic chaos and catatonic chaos. To be bored is to be on the cusp of complacency. Maybe it’s only true for me (although I doubt it is), but boredom and complacency are insufferable. I find myself scheming for an exit strategy. Cocaine? Sex? Another runaway trip? Except, adulthood shows a person that there is truly no escape. I am rendered helpless in my suffering, and am too aware of the futility of my own escapism to try anything at all. Mania is intoxicating. It gives zest to my life. It brings me thrill. Euphoria. Bliss. Desire. Ecstasy. I want it always, but I know better than to try pinning the tail on the donkey, because the donkey has kicked me in the face more than once. At the end of manic happy trails therein lies a tomb of anxiety and psychosis. At the end of that, a catastrophic mess to clean up.

Daniel sings “Maybe if we were in the movies we wouldn’t be so bored” towards the end of the song, and I think that we all just want to live in a movie. Movies are evocative, otherwise we wouldn’t watch them. But we are not in the movies, and sometimes life is bland.

In another song called “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances,” Daniel sings, “Do yourself a favor and be your own savior.” He is a creative 52-year-old manic depressive that’s still alive, and let’s be honest; that’s an impressive feat considering 25-50% of manic depressives have or will attempt suicide. He is inspirational to me, as he has learned how to manage his own illness and wrote a plethora of music so people like me could relate to it and find solace.

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2 thoughts on ““Life in Vain” by Daniel Johnston

  1. Yeah, I saw that! I really want to see it. It’s interesting to see how his health has clearly deteriorated over time. In his younger years, he looked like a healthy, attractive guy. But compared to people his age, it’s obvious that his mental illness has taken a toll on his health overall. I really love his music. It’s very simple and sincere.

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