Life isn’t always easy, and consequently neither is the expression it inspires. At risk of sounding esoteric, there are few things that are more exciting about art than encountering and deciphering complicated and personal work. And this expands well beyond the visual realm. All forms of human expression have the opportunity for uncompromising conception, from the literature of James Joyce or Thomas Pynchon to the music of Sun Ra or John Fahey, and the contemporary scene is peppered with artists outside of the gallery whose uncompromising vision is ours to dig out. The opportunity rarely arises, however, to witness these visionaries in person experiencing their individual expression in all its complicated glory. But, thanks to the Jackpot Records/Clinton Street Video Film Festival, we get the opportunity with a live performance by Texan musician and mystery man, Jandek.
It’s been almost 30 years and 20 albums since Jandek’s first self-released album introduced the world to his vision of desolate, plodding folk. Songs meander through single notes strummed seemingly without focus or purpose or even tuning at times, and lyrics fade in and out ruminating on life, death, love and the nature of thought itself. Each album features cover art as personal and enigmatic as the music itself. Blurry or obstructed photos of a seemingly ageless man, his furniture and home, the only information available being his name, the tracks and his label Corwood’s address. Over the years nothing has really changed, minus a single font shift in 1991; and as each album has entered space, Jandek’s myth has grown. With the release of the brilliant documentary “Jandek on Corwood” in 2003, Jandek’s music was introduced to a bevy of new listeners, and the few half-answers provided by the film simply proved to further fuel the myth surrounding Jandek.
Musically, in this day of internet availability, Jandek’s hyper-personal, uncompromising vision is less a rarity than when he released 1978’s Ready for the House, and his difficult and ether-bound music is the kind of thing that’s easily dismissed as selfish and abstruse. But with releases spanning what for many of us is a lifetime, and albums in a constant state of release and re-release, Jandek is for many a mystery worth exploring or, more so, an artist worth deciphering. Albums range in their arc, from simply guitar and voice, to just voice, to full instrumentation with guest vocalists and musicians. Songs on an LP may feel completely disparate, but they meld seamlessly with music from a decade earlier, giving the impression that certain themes in Jandek’s music run parallel to one another, forever unfinished and growing. It’s a body of work only a few have dared tackle and for many is too daunting to begin.