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.

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