Cracking the Jandek Case
It has been nearly eight years since news broke across the Internet that the elusive and (as far as we knew) reclusive avant garde musician known as Jandek made his first-ever live appearance at a festival in Scotland. Even though that performance is now one of a few dozen that Jandek has taken part in around the world, the shock of his first steps onstage hasn’t really worn off
You could credit this to the fact that the show happened some 26 years after the release of Jandek’s first album (Ready For The House, originally credited to The Units). Or that, until that debut performance in October 2004, no one could really say for certain whether the music he had been self-releasing at a frightening pace was to be taken seriously or not.
The few interviews he has given have been cagey about his methods and the inspirations behind his jagged, unhinged blues/folk skronks and wails. And when Irwin Chusid, the WMFU DJ and outsider art expert, wrote about Jandek in the book Songs In The Key of Z, he was treated as something of a novelty, just another crazed dude who likely thought he was recording potential top 10 hits.
Nearly a decade later, there’s no denying that Jandek is for real, and the music he is creating on his own and in collaboration with whatever live band gets cobbled together to perform with him on stage is equally bona fide.
Still, no one really knows what drives the work that Jandek does either onstage or off. He hasn’t given a legitimate interview in many years. He doesn’t participate in stage banter or even seem to acknowledge the existence of an audience when he plays live. The only way we are going to get any sense of the man is through the people who have performed with him over the years.
To that end, I connected with five artists who have spent time onstage with Jandek to get some deeper sense of what drives him as an artist and, now, as a performing musician. Below are the recollections - edited for clarity - of these musicians about their experiences with Jandek’s music both as listeners and as performers.
Spencer Yeh, played with Jandek on October 10, 2008 at the Wexner Center For The Arts in Columbus, Ohio
I was aware of Jandek before I had actually heard any. I mean, the time in between hearing the tale and actually hearing some music was kind of short, but long enough to really imagine all sorts of crap about what it might sound like. I think I felt like it was going to be a bit more fucked up in a lo-fi way. Part of me was sort of startled by how “pro” it felt.
The organizer of the show got in touch with me. I guess the organizer submits a proposed band and then Jandek filters through the list. I’m guessing some research was done on his end in making the selections for the band.
By the time I met him, I had heard about his surprise appearance in Scotland and seen pictures; had friends who had performed with him. So of course there was a lot of talk along the “what/how” lines already. Despite that, meeting him in person, he immediately just has this sort of vibe. I mean, it’s sort of the ideal vibe anyone dressing in one color with a hat on is striving for. Even my girlfriend who was sort of, like, “What’s the big deal in meeting this person?”…boom, in person, whole different story.
He proposed three pieces with open-ended instructions. We worked out some ideas and made decisions on choices such as a general vibe of the jam, or the particular voices he used on the keyboards. It felt like he sort of he had to say “Yay” or “Nay” about what we were coming up with, from a “feel” standpoint. It was very much “show him what we can do” and see what worked. It was so long ago, but I recall it being pretty good. I definitely did appreciate that we were doing “songs”, that he did hit the mike. To me, that makes a big difference, just hearing his voice. We also did a radio session the next day, which was a blast, particularly when he pointed at a drum set and was, like, “I want to play THOSE.”
He did give me some open insights into Jandek. A piece of the puzzle lies in the fact that additional players aren’t listed in these recent live records. I’m wondering if a secret goal would be to absorb every person on Earth into Jandek at some point or other.