Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Representative from Corwood

Jandek. It's a name I've heard many times throughout my dalliances with music. The story of Jandek, while interesting, is not one I'm going to detail here. The wikipedia entry seems fairly thorough, and is worth reading, because his tale is quite unusual, nearly surreal at points, and is one that can be appreciated without ever having heard Jandek's music. In fact, for reasons I might be able to articulate here, the story very well might be a better one if you never do seek out an example of his music, instead just imagining it from the descriptions that are given.

Having heard the name Jandek tossed about in music discussions, equally subjected to great praise and great disdain, I finally decided to do a little research. I read up on the man, particularly the details of the handful of live performances he had given in the past several years. I was struck to find that there were many musicians I was familiar with, even greatly impressed with, that were combining in interesting combinations to form Jandek's backing bands whenever he made a live appearance. These groups included names such as Richard Youngs, Alex Neilson, Chris Corsano (of Six Organs of Admittance, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, among many others), Loren Mazzacane Connors, Heather Leigh Murray (of Charalambides), Matt Heyner (of No-Neck Blues Band), Liz Harris (Grouper), Alan Licht, and John McIntyre (of Tortoise). For those unfamiliar, most of the musicians are heavily involved in improvised music scenes, be it drone, free jazz, or various forms of improvised blues and folk.

Upon seeing such lineups, I decided: maybe it's time I listened to some Jandek. Knowing his discography to be difficult, I assumed that the best place to jump in would be recordings that had musicians I was familiar with, because to some extent I could expect a certain caliber of support from their like.

I'm not sure how I feel. And that's probably just what Jandek wants. It really could go either way: he could be an extremely competent musician looking to stretch the definition of the art that most are comfortable with, or he could be a fraud, a genius hack that has perpetuated one of the longest practical jokes in history. Towards the middle of the live album Glasgow Sunday, there are a few tracks that sound nearly identical, mid-paced angular atonal blues with half-spoken lyrics and no repeating forms, yet after each, there is uproarious applause and fanfare from the audience. A few people enthusiastically whoop and shout, clearly enthralled by what they just heard.

Honestly, I had a hard time taking it all seriously at that point. I had to listen to something else. Looming in my mind was this image of the ever-serious Jandek, quietly chuckling in his head as people cheered, utterly fooled by his joke. Jandek, the great ascetic, with the longest Poker Face in Texas. For a brief second, I even saw the other band members, musicians I respect, caught up in the legend, believing earnestly that they are part of some great moment in the history of experimental music, ignorant to Jandek's silent exploitation. It kind of hurt. Maybe I'm over-thinking the whole Jandek thing, and maybe those musicians really are a part of something unique and seminal. The hard part is, it is impossible to tell.

And by the very nature of the Jandek mythos, it is doubtful anyone will ever know for sure just what the representative from Corwood meant for his legacy to mean.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Hub

Yesterday Freddie Hubbard died. Already today, both in writing and in conversation, I've tried to articulate just what it was that made Freddie so incredible, and the task has proved to be difficult. Certainly much of it has to do with the way language always seems to fail in accurately describing music (something I experienced firsthand as an excited, and then a disillusioned music reviewer), but some of it also involves the way language has been bastardized in modern times. It's an issue that I briefly touched upon in my ramblings after David Foster Wallace's death. He himself struggled with it for his entire writing career.

The problem is in invoking words which, by their standard definition, capture just what you'd like to describe, but by their standard application are relatively hollow and trite. Words like "inspire," or the aforesaid "incredible." If I say, "Freddie Hubbard was truly inspiring to me," there is no way to effectively communicate that what I intend is for the reader (or listener) to completely set aside everything about how the word "inspire" has been constructed for them throughout their lifetime of hearing it in less-than-sincere or not-entirely-appropriate contexts, to go back to the truest, most pure definition of the word, outside of history and all of its forces, and to then parse and consider my statement and its implications when "inspire" is understood to evoke the powerful and complex emotions it was originally intended to convey. Aside from such lengthy sentences, there is no way to guide how someone will handle my use of "inspire." And while some people may need no explanation, or may not even be cognizant of the issue at hand, the fact that I myself am aware of the potential cheapening of my words is enough to stop me in my tracks. And so I'm stuck.

It's frustrating. A loop, where language isn't enough to describe how language isn't enough. Ad infinitum ad absurdum. Today, I feel like maybe the only way to accurately capture what Freddie Hubbard means to me is in song. But what music could I ever devise that would set the right tone? Freddie was the man, man, and I'm whining about semantics. All I want is to aptly illustrate just how much of the man he was. And I want people to know I mean it.

Tonight I'm going to blast Ascension. It is the only tribute I deem fitting. To those spiritually inclined, the album has an apt title, but more importantly, it is the spirit of Freddie. One of the many, many instances of his spirit left for us to absorb, and one of the freest and most dangerous at that. He exists within the heart of its unbridled outpouring of life, and when we speak of the soul of Freddie Hubbard, it, glorious music, is the only soul there is to speak of.

Rest in peace, Freddie.