Music Zen!

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Something Weird From the Vaults: Jandek

with 7 comments

This is my first article for MZ, so I thought I’d write on something that fascinates me endlessly.

I remember, a couple years ago, listening to a Mountain Goats bootleg from 2004. During one of the breaks between songs, John (Darnielle) took a moment to express his wonder: “Jandek played a live show!” Only one or two people in the audience seemed to know what he was talking about, which–because I am a fan of the weird and obscure–made me curious.

I did a little research and found out that there were a wealth of Jandek records (about 45 then–there are 53 now) dating as far back as 1978, yet traversing various record stores, I was unable to find any, which piqued my curiosity even more. Finally, I managed to track down a copy of the first record, Ready for the House

I’m comfortable with avant-garde and noise–I can listen to a Merzbow or Half Japanese record and get into it. But upon hearing the first track on this album, “Naked in the Afternoon,” I was confronted with something I’d never heard before. A solo guitar with a low, murky tone began playing in nothing close to a recognizable tuning. After a moment, a voice joined in–equally sparse, whisper-singing hallucinatory lyrics in a strange non-melody. The whole thing was genuinely unsettling in a completely new way.

After a little more research, I uncovered one of the most intriguing stories in rock (sort of) music.

In 1978, copies of the aforementioned Ready for the House mysteriously appeared at a number of independent radio stations and music magazines throughout the US. The cover featured a washed out picture of a pastel living room–a photo not especially composed and somewhat enigmatic. The record and rear of the sleeve featured only the artist name, track times and the name and post-office box of a Houston, TX company dubbed Corwood Industires. In an article I read (which I can’t seem to find, unfortunately), a radio promoter recalled putting on the record and having a similar reaction to mine. Out of sheer curiosity, he contacted the P.O. box and eventually got in touch with a man who would identify himself only as “a representative of Corwood,” but would provide anyone interested with a release catalog or an order of records.

And thus things continued. More records, sometimes more than one a year, would continue to appear. Boxes of albums were sometimes given freely to those interested enough to contact the man from Corwood. However, aside from a sole recorded telephone interview in 1985 (which can be found in its entirety here, and during which he is still somewhat elusive), the artist remained largely a mystery. Some of the album covers featured what appeared to be the same man at various ages and in a wide range of locations, thus this was presumed to be Jandek, but nobody could say for sure.

Then, in 2004–26 years and 38 albums in–came the incident to which John referred. At the Instal Festival–a showcase of experimental music in Glasgow, Scotland–bassist Richard Youngs and drummer Alex Neilson were joined onstage by a tall, lanky, slightly older man, dressed in black and wearing a black fedora. This performance was not listed on the bill of events, nor was it announced at the show itself. The songs played had not appeared on any previous album and only a few people realized who the performer was. The people who organized the festival would not release any information, and the artist did not socialize at all with any of the other performers.

Since then, there have been 32 additional concerts (at present), backed up by other performers, such as Quasi’s Sam Coomes, Two Dollar Guitar’s Tim Foljahn, and an array of avante-garde and classical musicians on instruments as unexpected as lyricon synths, bassoons, harmoniums, fiddles, etc.

This is not music for all tastes–the morose lyrics and sheer atonality are enough to repel most listeners, even among those with a strong appreciation for strange music–I once heard someone say in a discussion “My toddler makes more interesting music than this.” But I have to confess, there is a certain odd appeal to the nakedness of the sounds. Like other acts on the fringes, Jandek challenges ideas about what music is, but he does so in a way that’s very much his own–through mostly quiet, labyrinthine passages of sound, filled with strange emotions that the listener must confront. If one is capable of handling being jarred in such a way and willing to be able to sort through the tangled mess of musicality, check this out.

For an idea of what you’re in for, here’s a song (“Real Wild”) from that first Glasgow performance.

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Written by Sarah K

June 17, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Commentary

7 Responses

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  1. This is awesome!

    Edit: in the related links that came up when you posted this, this appeared:
    http://mraybould.wordpress.com/2007/07/25/the-weird-and-wonderful-world-of-jandek/

    Fascinating.

    Marshall B

    June 17, 2008 at 7:34 pm

  2. Haunting. TJ will love this fa sho.

    Thank you very much.

    Jacob Z

    June 18, 2008 at 12:24 am

  3. Glad y’all like it.

    He is really haunting, especially on the albums where it’s just him and a guitar or, in some cases, just an a cappella voice. The best adjective I’ve heard for it is “ghostly.”

    Sarah K

    June 18, 2008 at 12:31 am

  4. holy shit is all I could honestly come up with while listening to this guy.

    Reminded me of Wayne who sends us tapes on the radio station. Its just him tripping out on acid while banging on an instrument while talking about the weirdest shit you can imagine.

    He made me a tape especially for me. It was like a congratulatory remark on being the brand new DJ for WHFR.

    Sadly, I still haven’t listened to it since its on a tape, and I don’t have a tape player anymore.

    rippingcorpse

    June 18, 2008 at 2:09 am

  5. Hah. That sounds kind of awesome.

    Also–there are two tribute albums to Jandek (titled after two of his songs, Naked in the Afternoon and Down in a Mirror) that have artists including The Mountain Goats, Low, Six Organs of Admittance, Jeff Tweedy, Okkervil River, Rivulets, Dirty Projectors… a ton of people.

    It’s really interesting to hear how people interpret songs like that.

    Sarah K

    June 18, 2008 at 2:21 am

  6. Lol @ jake.

    Yeah I dig it, when I saw the vid I couldn’t stop thinking of this one band, Nessie and her Beard.

    You might like them.

    Teejay

    June 18, 2008 at 5:14 pm

  7. Get everything known about Jandek at this site – http://tisue.net/jandek/

    I have no connection to the site or it’s author. It’s amazingly complete and has been kept up to date for a long time. I find this kind of thing a lot on the internet, but rarely do the authors keep them updated like Tisue does.

    larryepke

    June 23, 2008 at 10:39 am


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