Music Mystery: Jandek Is Music's Banksy AND Tommy Wiseau Wrapped In One
Music hipsters love to brag about discovering musicians "before they were famous," as if that allows them to appreciate the art without having to deal with the ever-looming presence of the celebrity artist. And at the pinnacle of that contradictory logic stands Jandek, who isn't just the most famous non-famous musician but also the most non-musical musical one.
It takes a lot of skill to make a good song, but it takes even more to make a song that's intentionally bad in a good way. This is the musical talent of Jandek. Working under the equally mysterious label of Corwood Industries, Jandek is a musician/band/weird outsider art project that has been shrouded in mystery for over 40 years. Having given only two interviews (reluctantly) over their entire career, Jandek's mantra is to shun the limelight, letting their music speak for itself. And it has a lot to say. Since 1978, Jandek has released over one hundred albums and singles, often just shipping crates of them out to DJs and lucky fans, telling them to pass them along as they see fit.
So what kind of music does Jandek play? That's a tough question. With a weirdly strung guitar and intentionally dissonant vocals, Jandek is almost anti-music while still having the music sound like it's made by a professional and talented artist. If you'd have to box them into a genre, that genre would be: "your favorite indie band in the middle of a mental breakdown." For example, his song "Lavender," which could have easily been on a Pink Floyd album if they ever tried to record a song suffering from LSD-withdrawal shakes.
Or "European Jewel 613," which sounds like it could've come from Bob Dylan during the period he went electric -- if by "going electric," we meant that Bob Dylan had accidentally electrocuted the part of his brain that remembers chord progressions.
Meanwhile, "You Painted Your Teeth" sounds like a Lou Reid song if Lou Reid had had a psychotic break while watching The Silence of the Lambs and now thought he was Buffalo Bill.
But what all of Jandek's music really sounds like is Van Morrison. Specifically, Morrison's Payin' Dues album, where a disgruntled Van jumped into a recording studio with an untuned guitar and sharted out 13 gloriously badly improvised songs just to get out of his contract with Bang Records.
That's not to denigrate Jandek's contribution to music. Their songs are hauntingly alien and melancholically chaotic in a way that only a true artist could fuck up the very concept of music. Adding to that, their complete disinterest in gaining a sliver of fame has made them the hipster's hipster musician.
To those pretentious-squared indie connoisseurs, it was a great shame when Jandek retired in 2004. And by retired, I, of course, mean the upside-down bizarro version as Jandek finally started touring and performing live in person. Many can't understand why the most reclusive and mysterious musician in modern history would suddenly decide to start jamming on stage with Thurston Moore in the age of cellphone cameras. But since Jandek is all about doing what is least expected of a professional musician, maybe that's the genius of it. Because the more they perform on stage, the less anyone understands what's supposed to be going on.
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Top Image: Nan, Flickr