Jandek live in New Orleans, LA, March 16, 2009
I am a Jandek fan, let me get this out of the way. I first heard him when his album The Living End fell out of the stacks at the college radio station while putting away a Jane’s Addiction record and in the former I found everything lacking in the latter. Alt-rock in the 80’s proudly bore the patina of roughness while begging for a shine; here was was Jandek the uncarved block. Then as now, we know little about him – he makes difficult, sometimes harrowing records straddling the line between outsider folk and insider experimental on his own label for which the only point of contact is “corwood industries, p.o. box 15375, houston texas 77220.” And he’s been doing it for 30 years now, shipping these records out to college radio stations assuming they would take on a life of their own separate from his. And they did. In an era of constant projection of self through social networking, his story is impossible to unravel. Jandek is not a simple recluse; he wants to contact you, he just doesn’t want you contacting him.
In 2004, Sasquatch emerged from the woods to play an unannounced enigmatic concert at a Scotland music festival with Richard Youngs and Alex Neilson and has proceeded over the years since more than thirty of these concerts in various locales, ranging from Helsinki to Indianapolis. I was a little torn about the development in the story line; I like the hermit sending cryptic dispatches from the mountain, that is how mythic wisdom gets disseminated. But I also under stand the folly of mythologizing artists – they are human, often less effective in their humanity than the rest of us, which is why they produce art. Jandek, for whatever reason needed poke out of his bubble a little. And being a fan first, analyst second, I didn’t really care why – I wanted to see this.
In 2005 he was scheduled to perform in nearby New Orleans and I bought tickets the instant I heard, but his show was canceled due to this gigantic, apocalyptic storm Katrina we had. I secretly wished he would perform in the wreckage of New Orleans on his appointed time, sticking to the peculiarities his persona had generated, but of course that didn’t happen. Then, four years later a terse announcement from the ticket vendor announced that my original ticket would be honored at the March 16 make-up show at Dixon Hall on the Tulane campus.
Doing business solely by P.O. Box these days is bad business, if the sparse crowd in the recital hall is any measure, but I liked that – Jandek was still hermetic knowledge. After an affable set by the art-folk outfit Hooray for the Riffraff, the stage was cleared except for a grand piano and a theremin, like a water buffalo and a stork having a staring contest. There was a time when the very word theremin would excite me, but over the years I seen it to be a very difficult instrument to master beyond the novelty of space noises. Jandek usually plays with whoever the top-shelf improvisors are in the given city, and I know a couple of New Orleans cats who know their way around a theremin, so I had hope.
I did not know the young woman who emerged from stage right before the instrument, nor was she introduced. The Representative from Corwood, as he is commonly referred in these concerts, preserving the mystery of the Jandek brand, strode in front of her resolutely to the piano, not particularly regarding her or the audience.