or better or worse, the negligible percentage of people who have heard of Jandek (I’m talking global scheme of things negligible) are far more familiar with him as an outré tabloid hero than a musician; over twenty-six years, forty-one startling records of sweltering, near-apocalyptic loneliness have poured out of Houston, Texas, bearing only his name and the company name Corwood Industries, with a P.O. Box number. Two interviews have come out, both in which he was extraordinarily reluctant to discuss almost any aspect of “Jandek.” A film called Jandek on Corwood was released in 2004, and was largely devoted to impressionistic philosophizing by the slim number of people who might be called Jandek aficionados. In short, the negative space of a public persona. Naturally, myth abounds, teasing the imaginations of outsider-sympathizers, record geeks, and listeners with a general jones for morbid bleakness. On October 17th, 2004, Jandek stepped into the light, a dim but significant one, to perform for the first time in public—billed at the 11th hour as “A representative from Corwood Industries”—at the Instal Festival in Scotland, with local avant mini-stars Richard Youngs on bass and Alex Neilson on drums; Glasgow Sunday is the document of that performance.
Zombies are always portrayed as being almost more human than we are, slaves to the most instinctual impulses. But there’s the key dynamic of a lack of sentience—id on autopilot. Live, Jandek is as frighteningly romantic as ever, his moaning over guitar distilled as unapologetic self-expression; the band is pure pendulum-swinging hypnosis, drums tumbling down concrete steps, the haze of an ostinato bass throbbing throughout, hovering possessed over fractured death-blues. (For those familiar with his music, Young’s and Neilson’s accompaniment is more self-assured, graceful, and nuanced backing in comparison to Jandek’s other “band” material, like say, Interstellar Discussion.)
The mystery of Jandek has always made him instantly alluring; the sheer existence of Glasgow Sunday both destroys and complicates his aesthetic. If it was comforting and exciting to imagine his music as a transport to some unfurnished room of hot-as-hell passions unbridled, live, it’s unavoidable violence, like getting bug-eyed at open wounds in medical textbooks only to slide them down and see a mess of flesh, pus, hair, and blood in front of your face. Still, the surreality of the whole affair remains, and remains captivating; the edge-of-existence balladry still rests on the uncanny axis of total disconnect and frightening intimacy. Now it’s simply accentuated by his face, photographs of him standing monolithically on a stage, by the realization that it’s the same face that has graced Jandek covers for 26 years—he exists.
In a way, his utterly blank biography makes Jandek the perfect pop star: when Katy Vine from Texas Monthly asked him, “so, do you want people to ‘get it’?” Jandek replied, in classic Warholian fashion, “there’s nothing to get.” Self-expression as an ideal of pop music so often relies on the assumption that the expression provokes a kind of identification. The “I” in Jandek’s music is a distant, blurred image in your mirror, an apparition that begs for sympathy while remaining coyly behind all kinds of artist/audience barbed wire and socializing that trains us to recoil from the kind of brutal, witless love he embodies. Identifying with the music is so taxing because his voice cries out from the bottom of an existential well; if we recognize it in us, it either humanizes an aberrant passion or calls us out on relishing in the mournful profanity and ugliness of his aesthetic. Moreover, the thought that songs so desperate might be calculated is a little too much to bear.
I realize that much of this writing relies on the same conceptual hounding that all music writers have participated in while discussing Jandek. In an issue of Spin circa 1993, Kurt Cobain said “He’s not pretentious, but only pretentious people like his music.” It’s probably true, but it doesn’t mean that they’re pretentious in their appreciation: Glasgow Sunday, like every record he’s released, confirms or denies nothing about “Jandek,” but it is music that is fascinating because it can only really be itself, and there’s very little like it in the way of pure spirit, simplicity, and expressivity. Additionally, while Cobain’s comment has a definite sting to it, how would our relationship to Jandek differ from any of our human impulses to factor Mariah Carey’s breakdowns, 50 Cent’s bullet-ridden body, or any other titillating life-art divide into our understanding of the music? Arguably, it shouldn’t completely direct it, but the stain left on our perceptions is unavoidable.
Before Sunday, October 17th, “Real Wild” might have been voyeuristic, but now it’s a challenge, a confrontation, a new level of relishing in the myth:
Is there any doubtThe crowd awakens in unity for the first time in the performance, applauding cautiously, but certainly.
If you get real wild
There’s nothing around
I made the decision to get real wild
I’ll not forget today
I’ll add it to my memory
And when I need to draw it out
It will be there
Sure, it’s complicated
But only once it in a while
I stayed home and did the wash
What else could I do
I got up on Sunday
I washed my clothes