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Jandek “Orgy”

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Jandek is a mysterious Houston “recording artist” who has been self-releasing albums since 1978. Some call him a genius, many more call him a psychically dyslexic agoraphobic with no discernable musical talent beyond an uncanny ability to irritate.

Demonstrating that not all radio is geared toward the masses, Harvard’s WHRB is holding a “Jandek Orgy” the 20, 21, and 22 of January starting each night at 10pm EST. Why would they do such a thing?

    Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name was good at walking into any given town of the Old West and annihilating anyone who got in his way. With every (often violent) action, the Man With No Name’s blurry and blank character became crisper and more defined, and his name, or the need to know it, became less important. In the case of the artist known as Jandek, we have the benefit of a name to attach to the mystery man who has crafted 32 unique albums. But that is all we have. Jandek is largely undefined. The 32 albums represent the actions which we use to quantify and define the artist known as Jandek. The album covers define the man nearly as much as the music itself. There have been attempts to pierce the confounding psyche and persona of Jandek, but these are conjectural hypotheses amounting to darts in the dark. Like any good piece of art, Jandek forces the listener to form your own characterization and your own meaning, without preconceived notions. Is Jandek a pedophilic albino with a slick haircut? Possibly. Is Jandek a musical auteur who deconstructs his own skills to the point of unlistenability? Maybe. Is Jandek even the man we see on the record covers? Uncertain.

    The Jandek Orgy proposes not to answer these questions definitively, but to provide listeners with 26 hours of the tools necessary to reach their own conclusions based on the evidence of the man’s entire creative output. Additionally, the 26 hours will feature music that includes the most atonal machinations forged in the intestines of some darkly profound and personal hell as well as the most spritely elegant and orphic footsteps ever trodden on some Elysian field.

Hmm.

Decide for yourselves on Jandek the musician, but Irwin Chusid’s classic Songs In the Key of Z book about outsider music has a chapter on Jandek that contains some of the most colorful descriptions of “music” penned in the last 20 years. Yeah, I think Jandek sucks stagnant hosewater too, but maybe this music was made for the express purpose of giving Chusid something to really sink his teeth into. Or not.

A shorter version of the chapter is available online here:

    How to describe the music of Jandek? Like most amateur rock critics, start by comparing him to the Beatles. Then strip away melody, catchy hooks, rhythm, and harmony. Next toss out vocal and instrumental ability, along with any trace of human feeling other than dull, lingering pain. Aside from these deficiencies, he’s exactly like the Fab Four.

    Jandek, alone with a guitar and a microphone, sounds like a muttering sleepwalker aimlessly plucking amplified bicycle spokes. His music is dark and gloomy; but it won’t make you sad-it will make you tense and uncomfortable. Here is the Ultimate Disconnect. You love it or hate it-and for every one of the former, there are one million of the latter. A sampling of his song titles: “Painted My Teeth,” “Twelve Minutes Since February 32’nd” [sic], and “Janitor’s Dead.” Jandek accompanies himself on acoustic or electric guitar, but for the incoherence of his zombie-like strumming, his hands might as well be accidentally brushing against the strings. His occasional wheezing harmonica approximates early Dylan having an asthma attack. Sometimes Jandek is backed by a drummer who seems unfamiliar with the kit, and who pounds away relentlessly with no ground beat.

    If the above seems too flattering a portrait of Jandek’s cave-dweller primitivism, imagine a subterranean microphone wired down to a month-old tomb, capturing the sound of maggots nibbling on a decaying corpse and the agonized howls of a departed soul desperate to escape tortuous decomposition and eternal boredom. That’s Burt Bacharach compared to Jandek.

    Jandek is a recluse named Sterling R. Smith, and he’s holed up somewhere near Houston, Texas. (Please don’t call the one in the Houston phone book-wrong guy.) Since 1978 Smith has issued, mostly on 12″ vinyl, 28 full-length albums-no 7″ or 12″ singles, no remixes, cassettes, or videos. A few of his cryptic album titles: Staring at the Cellophane, Telegraph Melts, Blue Corpse, Chair Beside a Window. He didn’t begin issuing CDs until the early 1990s. His album covers are devoid of any information. He has never issued a press kit, and never performed in public. He rejects all requests for interviews. They found the Unabomber, but so far, no Jandek. Seth Tisue, curator of a Jandek website, notes, “His consistency in this regard far surpasses that of other legendary reclusives such as Thomas Pynchon and J.D. Salinger.” Jandek’s records rarely turn up in stores-even second-hand shops. Smith is pouring a lot of money into a Deep Dark Hole. (If you’d like to pour in some of yours, write Corwood Industries, PO Box 15375, Houston TX 77220.)

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About Eric Olsen

  • The Theory

    wow, that’s pretty intense.

    Now I wanna hear some of his stuff. haha.

    peace.

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    I remember seeing reviews of Jandek almost every month in Option magazine, but never bought a record or saw one in the bin at Cheap Thrills in Montreal.

  • http://www.jandekoncorwood.com kisseverycomma

    http://www.jandekoncorwood.com has the documentary trailer

  • Han__x

    I’m a huge Jandek fan, but I think it’s totally understandable why you’d hate him.
    Harsh rcritiquing.