I am thinking about Jandek, and why I think about Jandek. Is he a recluse ('worthless recluse''s one of his album titles)? Was he? Once, a long time ago, he'd phone his very few record buyers and talk to them at length. He had no friends, he told one. He sent 7 novels to publishers, but none of them was published, he told another. But that was a long time ago.
How old was he then? 30 years old? 35? The aesthetic world (if I can call it that) of Ready for the House was already whole; what effort it must have taken to release it on his own label, with his own funds, designing his cover, the layout of the sleeve ...! But he released it; it was sent out into the world. And as if by a single stroke: a world appeared; Jandek's (but he was not called Jandek, then).
How many copies did he sell? Only 2, he told someone by phonecall, later. He sent out dozens of albums to college radio stations, to record shops. What happened to them? But a copy was reviewed, and that review, Jandek said later, gave him enough strength to carry on. 3 years later, another album, and from then on, until now, one or two albums a year.
Two interviews - one a transcript of a phone conversation. You can hear it, all of it, on the Jandek at Corwood DVD. 50 minutes where Jandek talks seriously, often pausing to think. He's serious, determined. He must speak carefully, he knows that. He's an intensely private man, he says. Intensely private ... when, 15 years later in the late 90s, Jandek is tracked down by a journalist, he is still private. Never, he tells her as they part, does he want to be contacted about Jandek again. And in conversation with her at a bar, he says Jandek has little to do with him; Jandek doesn't need him. Mysterious and beautiful: Jandek doesn't need him.
There's nothing mysterious about the name Jandek, of course. He made it up on the spot, he says in the first interview. He was speaking to someone call Decker on the phone, and it was January. And that was it: Jandek. But what about Corwood Industries, the record label (and perhaps more than a record label) which keeps a P.O. Box in Houston from which you can order his albums directly, and to which correspondence should be addressed, where did he get that name from? I like it very much; and I also like that when he plays in public, as he has done, in a remarkable change, in the past three years, he does so as the Representative from Corwood Industries.
His fans sometimes call him the Rep. Not to his face, of course. He has the look of a man who doesn't want to be spoken to, they say. The Rep, the Representative. He's not Jandek, or perhaps Jandek is more than him. And Jandek doesn't need him. Perhaps he needs Jandek, but Jandek - is in a relation of indifference to him (I'm extrapolating ...)
Ready for the House - an already intact aesthetic, a world; dissonance; spectral traces of the blues; a voice, still high compared to later recordings, that sounds as though it knows everything, that it had already exhausted life. Jandek is dead; he's already dead. That's why Jandek doesn't need him. That's why he's only the representative from Corwood. Jandek is dead.
How many albums? 40 or so, before his first performance in Glasgow, in 2004, which followed months of investigation. The performance was not publicised under his name. No one, not even the other musicians at the festivals, knew he was playing. He stayed at a different hotel to the others; he came and he went; he met his partners in improvisation only the afternoon before the performance. The same for his performance in Newcastle, a year later.
Jandek, or rather, the Representative from Corwood, dressed all in black, rail thin, with a black fedora, playing with his left hand bunched into a fist. Playing? Striking at the strings. It's rhythm that's important. When he sings, a gap of silence from the guitar. And then back to the guitar, played simply, insistently. Something matters here. There's a journey to be taken. You can see a clip of him playing on Youtube. Once again, as with the first album, everything is intact, everything there; the performance is fully realised.
And his ambitions grow. The third gig, at Glasgow again, is a suite, a single song, or a song made up of parts. No clapping until the end, the audience are told. It came out as a live CD, his 45th album, and what a shock to hear him playing a conventionally tuned piano, slowly and calmly, like Bach. On his 45th album - revealed, suddenly: he plays piano. And sings in a new way, half speaking. I admit that this, for me, is the most moving of his albums, especially in its cumulative force. It's 80 minutes or so long, and when it ends, great cheers from the crowd, and from me, too, inwardly. Great cheers, and a kind of release. This is divine music. This is the music of God. The Cell it was called, the suite of songs. It's released as Glasgow Monday.
And what about all the albums in between? Ah, I don't know them yet. Sometimes, coming home from work, I'll put one on, and just sit on the sofa and listen. Something important is happening. Something demands attention. I find the later records the best. Khartoum, and its sister album, Khartoum Variations. The Humility of Pain - just for that title. I Threw You Away, with its cover photograph of a street in Cork which I've just visited. And Newcastle Sunday with a picture, very perversely, taken in Dover.
And then there are the sleeves themselves. Photographs of Jandek himself at various ages. Dressed as a Muslim. Standing tall in his cowboy boots. Or face on in a photograph booth. Or pictures of drum kits. Or curtains, so many curtains. Or of the outside of houses. Or castles. And if you look closely, you can tell the photos have been modified. Drainpipes removed from the picture of Dublin Castle.
Does he have a computer? Does he work online with digital photos? But I can't imagine him with a computer. Can't imagine that he surfs the net (he said he didn't in his second interview). Can't imagine him googling 'Jandek.' I think about him so often, and the vast sea of albums I'll have to journey across. 50 albums soon. Soon, a total of 50 Jandek albums, with 50 strange covers.
He sings about God, Jandek. This doesn't surprise me. All profound singers sing about God, or rivers. To sing about rivers, as Bill Callahan does on the opening track of his new album, is to sing about God. Remember the line from Eliot (I've half forgotten it), 'I don't know much about rivers/ but I think think this river is a strong brown God.' Yes, Jandek is a religous man. Is the Rep? Jandek is, but what about the Rep? Does he believe? Does he need to sing of God? Or is it only Jandek who so sings?
I think it is Jandek on the record sleeves, not the Rep. Jandek dressed as a Muslim on the cover of Khartoum. Jandek is a man of God, but what about the Rep? There is a third name, alongside Jandek and the Representative From Corwood. Sterling Smith. That is his 'real' name. His workaday name. When is he Sterling and when the Rep? At different times. The Rep works for Jandek; he is Jandek's emissary. Sterling, meanwhile, works as a machinist or, later as a white collar worker, journeys around the world in his free time, in order to fund Corwood. Someone has to. Someone has to make sure the albums come out. That's Sterling's job. Sterling makes the money, and the Rep rings the record plants and types out the catalogue of albums for sale.
And Jandek performs. It is Jandek who sings, Jandek who knows how to sing, how to play. Jandek who turns his back to the audience when he can. Jandek who stares up at the wall and plays guitar, his back to the audience. Because Jandek is concentrating. Jandek is pure passion. A flame instead of a man, licking upward, tall and thin. Before the gig, the Rep. After the gig, the Rep. On the plane home, just plain Seymour. Driving back to his house, just Sterling.
I think about Jandek often. That there are so many albums to which to listen. That his first recording came out in 1978, and seems the outcome of a lengthy process. Dozens of recordings. Experiments. Working out how to play, and how to record. Sending out a few demos and then, finally, deciding to record by himself, all alone, and release his work by himself, all alone, dependent on no one. And how good his records sound! How perfect they sound! Put anything next to them and they sound fake.
And I think about thinking about Jandek. Of the experience, for me, of which he is a proxy. How dull life is! How mundane! How stuffed full of inconsequentialities! With what nonsense it's necessary to reckon! That's what I think and perhaps it's what Sterling Smith thinks. But Sterling says to the interviewer who tracked him down that he couldn't make music all the time. It'd burn him up. It'd be unbearable. So he has to work, he says. He takes the blue pill, and not the red pill that would show you how things are, he says, remembering The Matrix.
I told myself I'd write 50 posts on Jandek, one for each album. But I don't think I'm capable of that. I'm tired, too tired. Writing one post is enough. One - and writing it over and again, the post that starts with Jandek and remains with him, turning him over in my thoughts. Jandek. That name, in its simplicity. Jandek, and those 50 album covers, exactly alike in some ways, all the same in some ways, the same over again.
Sometimes I think there's nothing I want to hear except for Jandek and nothing I want to think about except for Jandek. Everything else is pointless, non-essential. I listen to Comets on Fire and Espers and Boris and all that sort of thing. It's good, all good, but not essential. I listen to Mark Kozelek, which is nearly essential, and Bill Callahan and Michael Head - all very good, close to essential, but not quite essential. But you have to be careful with the essential, not to come too close to it. You need distance. You need time and space set aside. Sit down on the sofa. Do nothing else. Listen to nothing. Just Jandek. Just that: Jandek.
Sometimes I think everything is pointless and only Jandek isn't pointless. That there would be no point, and to anything, except for Jandek. That there's Jandek and nothing else, nothing else at all, nothing else mattering. I think that's how it must be for him, too - for Jandek, or rather the Rep, who is Jandek's servant, and Sterling, who is Jandek's shadow.
Jandek. Jandek, then. What can you do with yourself after you've heard Jandek? Shouldn't your life change in some way? Shouldn't everything begin again? That's how it seems: as if nothing is important except the beginning. There's even an album called The Beginning, with a 15 minute piano track called 'The Beginning'.
Didn't someone baffled by Jandek play it to an open minded composer friend? A friend who was very encouraging of the efforts of younger performers and composers? A friend familiar with serialist techniques and minimalist techniques and microtones and so on? He knew everything; he was open to everything. He liked the avant-garde and the avant-garde end of the avant-garde. And what did he says when he was played Jandek, and specifically 'The Beginning', all 15 minutes of it. It's rubbish, he said, which is very beautiful.
Rubbish! Imagine! It's rubbish, all of it! The whole thing! Really, musicians are the most reactionary! Really, there's nothing worse than a musician! But still, everything should begin again when you hear Jandek. Your life should begin over. You should begin to live for something. Your days and nights should catch fire. Or is it only that you know what life should be? Isn't it only that, and that that is enough?
I think that's what the Rep knows, who works for Jandek. The Rep who disappears when Jandek comes on stage. When Jandek, back to his audience, smiles at the band. When Jandek does his strange hip movements, half dancing. When he leans close to read his lyrics from the stand. Jandek, who is very thin, thinner than the rep and thinner than Sterling. Jandek, thinner than anyone, rising up like a dark flame.
I should write about his voice. I should have written about it at the start, that's how it should have begun: with his voice, very simply. Is it a keening voice? Not quite? A desperate one? Sometimes. An anguished one? Sometimes, too. A peaceful one? Oh yes, sometimes there's great peace, it's very beautiful. Peace descends. Jandek sings to God and God descends. It's all about God. It's all leading to God or coming from him, one or the other. There's a great deal to be written about this God, Jandek's God. That's what I'll have to write about, one day or another.
50 posts. That's how many I should write. 50 devotional posts, and to Jandek. W. likes my obsessions, he says. He likes that I'm obsessed with Jandek. We sat in his living room and listened to The Humility of Pain, played very loud. 'It's like a Blanchot novel' bellowed Will over the music. 'I'm going to send him one', I bellowed back.
Will Oldham, I have it on good authority, tried to read Blanchot, getting out something or other from a library in Kentucky. He wasn't keen. 'I'll bet he started with Thomas', I say to W., 'it's the wrong start.'
But W. was impressed with Jandek. 'You've discovered something here,' he said. And later, 'I have to admit it, you're onto something.' So I burned W. some discs, reassuring him that the originals were already coming from Corwood, that I'd ordered them already, W. not wanting to condone piracy. Oh yes, I've ordered them, I said to W. 49 discs, at $220 which is a bargain, I said. I told W. I'd burn him some more. Please, he said.
I think something important is happening to me, I said to W., as a result of all this Jandek. Oh yes, I can see that, said W. I told W. how in Appelfeld moments there comes a moment when a protagonist will say something like, 'after all, man is not an insect' and then do something stubborn and foolhardy like going down to the village to get food when he should have been hiding out in the forest. They're amazing moments, I tell W. That's what I feel listening to Jandek, I tell W., that I'm not an insect. W. can see what I mean. It's like Bela Tarr, he says. Oh yes, Bela Tarr and Jandek are pretty much one and the same in that respect, I say.
At three A.M., having drunk everything we can find, W. crawls next to me into the bed I've blown up on the living room floor. Oi!, fuck off!, I tell him. But it's late and W.'s tender. Show me the Jandek documentary, he says. OK, I say, but I'll have to show you the trailer first (it's on Youtube). W.'s ready. We watch, but he goes into the other room to sleep before we get to the great part about the rocks. You're missing the best bit, I shout to W. But W.'s tired. He needs to get to bed.
Sometimes I say, The Humility of Pain. Isn't that a great title? Oh yes, W. agrees. Or I say, his 45th album, imagine, on his 45th album he begins to play piano in tune. W. is duly impressed. Or I say, 'I don't know what do except sit in a chair': what great lyrics! W. is at one with me on that. Or I say, they're coming, all 49 of them. 49 albums! W. finds this remarkable. He is generally appreciative of my obsessions. It's one of your best features, he says.
Is W. an obsessive? Yes (but not as much as me). Is he a melancholic? Yes (but not to the same degree that I am). W. has decided I am melancholic because of a mood he saw pass over my face in the pub. It was then I knew you were a melancholic, he said. For his part, W. is also a melancholic. How can you not be, with the state of the world?, says W. Jandek's clearly a melancholic, I tell W., but he has God. We're not capable of God, says W.