Different Worlds

November 14, 2012

In another era, they’d have been called “touched”: musicians who have channeled the pain and confusion of severe mental illness into a certain kind of genius. Austin alt-folk rocker Daniel Johnston, who sings about struggles with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, is a humbling example. Ahead of his show with Conor Oberst, we consider Johnston and two others who made their demons creative partners.

Daniel Johnston: Johnston first gained cult status in the ’80s with self-recorded tapes; his major-label break was 1994’s “Fun,” produced by Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary. The 2005 doc “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” expanded his audience, and he’s continued to record. His latest: an album/comic/iPad game called “Space Ducks.”

Roky Erickson: The 13th Floor Elevators frontman spent much of the ’70s in Texas mental hospitals, penning songs about zombies and vampires. With the support of the indie-music community, he’s been recording and touring sporadically for several years, most recently backed by Okkervil River. The 2010 album “True Love Cast Out All Evil” was nominated for a Grammy.

Wesley Willis: The schizophrenic Chicago singer’s ode to Alanis Morissette reflects his trademark sound: non sequiturs — “You are a singing hyena/… You can really rock Saddam Hussein’s ass” — with choruses yelled over programmed keys. A deal with Alternative Tentacles earned him a loyal coterie of fans before his death in 2003 at age 40 from leukemia.

Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW; Thu., 8 p.m., $35; 202-783-4000. (Metro Center)
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Rudi Greenberg · November 14, 2012