By Jack Daniel Betz
As Ramon so kindly reminded you all in this week’s preview, Big Star Bar will be visited by a representative from Corwood Industries this Sunday afternoon. I am speaking of none other than the least accessible musician in all of Houston music history, the arcane, abstruse, artist himself: Jandek.
I felt compelled to write this little piece because I’ve run into an unbelievable amount of people my own age who have no idea who Jandek is. This includes people who are into way weirder music than I am, like power noise and pedal noise stuff. Stuff you couldn’t pay me to pretend to care about.
There was a time when this would have been a bigger deal, more specifically before his 2004 Glasgow gig, which Ramon also touched on. Before this small, unheralded, show there is essentially no record of the man playing live despite the fact that his career started in 78 and he had, by 2004, released over thirty albums. It wasn’t until 2009 that Jandek played his hometown of Houston for the first time at Rudyards. Just a few months ago he played the Menil as well.
However, some of the best live music Jandek has played for Houston so far was not on any stage or at any festival. Last year, he was kind enough to play a fully original two song acoustic set broadcast live over KTRU shortly before the station’s FM signal went dead. The songs had a chilling, eldritch, delivery but also one of great emotional depth and pathos. Jandek was a perfect last live performance to honor the innovation and eclecticism that KTRU has shown Houston over the past few decades.
Besides his highly unconventional contributions to music, Jandek himself is an interesting subject for investigation. Most of what we know about him is founded upon rumors and hearsay (and Wikipedia). According to an entry in Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music, “He’d written seven novels, but after they’d been rejected by New York publishers, he’d burned all the manuscripts.”
Odd, impossible to confirm anecdotes like these are typically all we can learn about Jandek because of his curious unwillingness to talk about his personal life at any meaningful length. Even during the rare occasions Jandek has made himself accessible to the press he remains impossibly distant and vague; not hostile by any means but distant for sure. This clip from the documentary “Jandek on Corwood” shows Jandek’s characteristic evasiveness. It’s almost comical. When asked about where he met a particular group of session musicians he responds with what feels like the longest pause in all of human history. The camera pans, the interviewer fidgets, some b-roll is shown, and then Jandek finally replies that it wouldn’t be right to say. Under the Youtube video, commenters swear that the man on the other end of the line couldn’t possibly be Jandek. They say he put someone up to it. One even says he met Jandek and that he sounds nothing like this. Every time someone tries to answer more questions about the man, the plot always seems to thicken.
If you’re looking to actually purchase his music, it gets even more mysterious. One cannot simply drive over to Cactus and load up on Jandek. No. That would be too easy. The only way to have access to his full catalog is by mail. There isn’t even an order form, just an address and a list of very reasonably priced albums and DVDs.
Whether this anonymity is merely an artistic choice or a real distaste for public life I can’t say, but either way I’ve decided to not detract from it by omitting what consensus says is his real name. It’s out there, you can find it but I’ll leave that to you. If it’s important to him, I won’t bother him with more exposure of that kind.
Regardless of what you think of Jandek’s work, he’s an important part of Houston’s rich musical heritage and Sunday’s event should prove interesting to anyone with a taste for outsider music. The performance will be an early one at 4 p.m. so don’t plan on showing up late. Eclectic Houston, multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Wesley will be involved somehow but the details are hazy. Expect great things.