Monday, November 27

Staring at the cellophane

The (ongoing) story of the recording artist Jandek is one of the most baffling in popular music. I use the word popular here loosely. A month ago I spent about three to four hours reading the website linked above, which goes into incredible detail about each of his forty-seven albums and CDs released since 1978. The close analysis of the album covers is incredibly thorough. Every time I visit the website I get hooked.

From a chapter on Jandek from the book Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music (2000):
Jandek, alone with a guitar and a microphone, sounds like a muttering sleepwalker aimlessly plucking amplified bicycle spokes. His music is dark and gloomy; but it won't make you sad—it will make you tense and uncomfortable.... Jandek accompanies himself on acoustic or electric guitar, but for the incoherence of his zombie-like strumming, his hands might as well be accidentally brushing against the strings. His occasional wheezing harmonica approximates early Dylan having an asthma attack. Sometimes Jandek is backed by a drummer who seems unfamiliar with the kit, and who pounds away relentlessly with no ground beat.
Another writer describes the serial, conceptual art–like presentation of the records:
There has been, on average, one full-length Jandek (pronounced Jan-deck) release every year since 1981. Each album or CD cover is illustrated with a grainy photo depicting either a house with the curtains drawn, furniture, or the same tidy, expressionless, fair-featured young man. The back covers are white with black type listing nothing but the title, the song list, and an address: P.O. Box 15375, Houston, TX, 77220. If you line up all the records side by side, the uniformity of their design is enough to give you a headache.
Never before has there be such a mystique surrounding the artist, and one that not many people outside the record-collector set or experimental music scenes know about. Jandek was first seen in 1999 by a journalist. He also gave an unannounced performance in Scotland five years later and has performed—with incredible restrictions for the performers and no contact with the press or public—several times in the US and Europe. After reading all the stuff on the website, I kick myself for missing his New York shows last year.

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