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Daniel Johnston is a perfect example of brilliance and madness going hand in hand. A genius artist/singer/songwriter suffering from manic depression and delusions of grandeur, Johnston's life is full of wild fluctuations, numerous downward spirals and periodic respites. Writer/director Jeff Feuerzeig's moving and at times quite hilarious documentary follows Johnston from his early recordings and drawings in his family's basement to his stint on MTV and his ongoing battle with manic depression, which becomes more and more evident in his creative output. Winner of the Documentary Directing Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

 I Know Casper Personally

I remember the day I woke up and decided I had to have a Casper The Friendly Ghost outfit. It was a hazy Los Angeles morning and I was about to get on a plane and make the final pilgrimage to the godforsaken and god-blessed town of Waller, Texas. I had been documenting legendary artist and musician Daniel Johnston for the last two-and-a-half years and this was to be our final shoot together.

I had been wracking my brain for days about what to do for Daniel to make the end of our journey together special. This was certainly a tall order as giving Daniel Johnston something is like trying to find the perfect gift for the man who has everything. It’s not like Daniel really needs anything, as he has every Beatles record (including John, Paul, George, Ringo, Yoko, the Rutles and Julian Lennon solo outings) ever committed to vinyl as well as a comic book collection that would rival the founders of DC and Marvel Comics put together.

In the visionary Daniel Johnston mind all things truly are equal—the commercials are just as good as the TV programs they are sandwiched between and that dark period in high school that I have been trying to block out for years where Journey, Kansas and REO Speedwagon ruled the airwaves are truly fond memories in my manic depressed friend’s imaginary world.

Through the unlikely combination of arrested development, high glycemic intake, and massive amounts of pop culture, Daniel Johnston has truly achieved a Buddhist-like state of enlightenment. In fact, in recent years (due to diabetes Type 2), he now even resembles a Buddha. A sprinkling of right-wing Christianity is just the sea salt and pepper on his beautiful mind.
So I posed the question one last time, “What is it that Daniel Johnston cherishes more than all of his other material and spiritual possessions?” And voila—a cartoon bubble popped right out of my head with the answer: Casper The Friendly Ghost!

Yes indeed. Casper is the character that embodies all things to Daniel Johnston, the character that he has written about in song more times than any other, the character that he has drawn the most out of his entire universe of characters, the character that was the only friend he could talk to (on his beloved Casper The Friendly Ghost drinking glass) when he was holed up in his brother’s garage in Houston, Texas and the character that he actually became for a period of time as he dressed completely in white and thought of himself as a Christian warrior that was here to save the world from the Devil.

I decided my gift would be the perfect Casper The Friendly Ghost outfit. Now the only hitch in my plan was where was I going to find this outfit as my plane was leaving in three hours? Luckily I had recently moved to Hollywood, California and world famous Adele’s Hollywood Costume Shop was just down the street. Surely Adele would be a superhero and save the day. So I packed my bags, hopped in my all white Jeep and sang Daniel’s song “Casper The Friendly Ghost” as I drove over.

He was smiling through his own personal hell
Dropped his last dime down a wishing well
But he was hoping too close
And then he fell
Now he’s Casper the friendly ghost

I continued singing as I pulled up in front of Adele’s and felt myself floating up her cement staircase.

No one ever treated him nice
While he was alive
You can’t buy no respect
Like the librarian said
But everybody respects the dead
They love the friendly ghost

Once inside this veritable costume emporium I had to admit that not only was Daniel Johnston a catchy guy, but also really understood the power and fun of Halloween. This place was literally filled with costumes of all of Daniel’s favorite characters: King Kong, Marilyn Monroe, Frankenstein, Woody Allen, The Beatles, a wide assortment of Devils with various horn sizes and hovering above it all as if in suspended animation, a bleached-white Casper The Friendly Ghost costume complete with a ghostly sheet and white Al Jolson theatrical gloves. The moment was truly translucent as I contemplated my obsession with a mentally ill singer/songwriter who thinks he is Casper and me standing in world famous Adele’s about to make his dream come true with one swipe of an American Express card.