The sweet, distant boy I liked in college picked me up for a movie in his 1980s BMW, and we sat in the dark, warm theater. My hands were sweating profusely.
It was one of those cold Montana nights that get dark at 4 p.m. I was too young to drink, so after the movie ended, we went back to the coffee shop where I worked. He sat across from me, casually sipping black coffee, and I very casually with no anxiety tremors at all also sipped on my coffee (also black).
We discussed the movie, a disappointing Christopher Guest flick (GUESS WHICH ONE), and our common points in music, and I was starting to feel pretty fucking confident. I had just cut my bangs. I was fucking killing it in my philosophy class. I was a hot catch.
Then he got in the car with me and asked if I liked Daniel Johnston.
God. Fucking. Damnit.
I like music. Even at 19, I loved a lot of music deeply. There was just this ingrained part of me, though, ground in through years of media and social cues, that had convinced me if I didn't like everything a boy liked, then it wasn't going to go well for me.
I kind of blame Burt Bacharach and Hal David for that. Assholes. They wrote "Wishing and Hoping" and then gave it to Dusty Springfield so women would be like: "HEY YEAH, THAT SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT IDEA. THANKS, DUSTY." Ladies, it was Hal David.
I hadn't heard of Daniel Johnston. I, as you may have guessed, said, "Duh, I love him." It was a quiet moment. The boy smiled and turned on "Life in Vain," and we drove down Last Chance Gulch, Johnston's pained voice cracking above the snap of ice.
It occurred to me as he dropped me off at my dorm that we had sat in the car for an extra 10 minutes listening to Fun, and that I had said out loud, "I love this record." And I did. I loved it from the moment it started playing. But I had to keep that glorious moment of revelation—one of the best parts of loving music—concealed, because I'd pretended to already know all about it.
It was the first time I felt bad for pretending.
What I Think Now: You see, I like a pop song. Johnston's melodies are rife with that naive, "anyone could write this" feeling. And yet no one has before. His music was immediately weird, immediately raw. It felt like meeting someone and instead of "Hi, how are you?" they said, "I am afraid no one will ever love me." That's where I was at 19.
I had pretended to like Daniel Johnston for approximately five minutes. I regretted it because Johnston, for all of his struggles, all of his illness, always tears right through the facade. I wish I had met him when I wasn't hiding behind one.
I interviewed Johnston by phone a couple years later for a Houston publication. He sweetly asked if I'd be at the show I was previewing, and I said I lived in Boulder and wouldn't be able to make it. He paused and said, "Oh that's okay. I'll be doing some scary monster songs, and you might not like it."
I turned on Frankenstein Love and stopped pretending to like bands for boys from then on.
Was It Worth It: It only took three years from the moment I pretended to like Daniel Johnston for me to realize I should just be real. Or, like, a little more real. Baby steps. He was the one who nudged me there, one stumble at a time.