Jandek has an eye on the whole. The singer, the player (I am thinking of the solo albums) has his eye on everything - the whole. It is marked in the lyrics, and particularly on those on the albums that follow the acapella ones, around the turn of the decade; it's very clear: God becomes a word he has to use ('Because it's all about God/ It's all about God ...'), and 'you', the addressee names more than a lover, and so too with love.
These are songs about everything, about the All. That address themselves to the All, which is sometimes addressed through the 'you', and sometimes through the word God, which becomes necessary as a way of naming the All. And in the same period, a new candour about his own depression: it becomes clear: the All gives itself through this same depression. That the songs are about the whole of existing as it is given first of all through depression.
It is a mood that matters, a mood that discloses - a mood that forces him up against the All. As though only now could he name and face what he had aways faced. As if now the condition of everything had become clear. That everything, that All through the lens of a mood. Or attuned by it. And the music in that mode which explores a mood, where the words name one and the same. Where it is a question of exploring what is given by that mode as possibility.
This given, I think, is also the life of the work, Jandek's recordings. It's what gives them momentum, even as the songs seems lethargic and anaesthesised. The sense of a quest, of a 'must go on', as in late Beckett. Of a limited canvas, black to be painted on black, and yet because of these limits: everything. Because of them, because of the concentration upon them, and the exploration, along its edge, of all that this mood allows: a sense of the whole, that everything is here, given. Or that it is the horizon of the given that you are brought up against, there from where it comes.
I think you could trace it as a lyrical theme: the necessity of going inside, of staying there. And of experiencing this confinement as a cell, as a prison. And yet, after a bit 'In the cell, I have - possibilities': it is there from the cell everything is to be seen, known. Everything, even if it is only dark and cannot be known. And from there, from the room, that making begins that doubles up what gives in its darkness, in non-knowing. It begins there.
Early to late, the theme of sitting helplessly, unable to do anything else. 'I don't know what to do except/ Sit in a chair/ All else is too difficult/ Maybe walk around/ Once in a while/ But quick, back to that chair ...' An incapacity, a retreat. But isn't it, too, that place from which something can begin? And the image of being in, enclosed from the world: 'My house is dead/ And so am I/ And I'm still falling ...' Retreat, incapacity, but 'I just command the boat inside the house'; and the house is the boat.
Sometimes the dream of finding the key to a kind of paradise, of unlocking it. A way out of the cell ('the key is out there ...'), a way of finding the place ('Unlock that place/ And see what's there/ How can I do what I need to do/ In that place with those freed-up things. Laughing and joking and having fun').
But then the sense that confinement is the chance, and the key must not be found. ('Everything was making sense/ Locked up in my little room'). And in another song, 'I don't need a window/ To see what's outside ...' He is mourning someone. Some loss. 'And the thoughts that I have/ Memories of you/ I pray to God before I stare at the air'. And now that loss is possibility. It reveals, and by way of becoming the topic of a song. And there's the chance of going on. The chance of beginning over.
Why so many albums when, in Chusid's memorable formulation, each falls unnoticed in the forest? Why again, and over again? Because of that chance, that beginning. The mood becomes propitious, loss rich, depression suffused with hope. And how is that possible, that hope? Perhaps simply because the mood is doubled up in song. Because it lets itself be sung, it pulls back to grant strength enough for song, for recording, release and distribution.
Singing happens. The song is out there, away. And that from the first, from as soon as it's sung, since it will be recorded, will be placed on an album alongside other songs. 'In the cell, there are - possibilities.'
Unique to Jandek I think is the fidelity of this chance, these possibilities to the mood itself. That the music, the lyrics, bring us close to that enfeebling moods that blossoms to allow chance. How can anything begin? How can it be made to happen? But it happens, it begins, and the singing, the playing remains with the joy that that there is something, rather than nothing. That making was possible, and again.
But a joy that is pressed back straightaway, that is brought down, drawled. No sense of a lift, of lyric flight. Hope and possibility brought close to their opposites. A music played and sung along the edge, flattened. That keeps itself low. (Beckett to Van Velde: 'I'm not low enough'). And isn't that what is meant by 'the humility of pain'? That pain must bring low that same hopeful flight. That the chance to make must answer to the impossibility of making, to pain, to weariness. And that God is given only because of that pain, that weariness.
That is pain's humility. That is its lesson. A lesson endured on the later, solo albums. Endured - suffered. Even as it falls back a little. Even as it gives a chance. No lyric flight here. No lasting rapture. Everything brought back to the same. Black painted on black. Near nihilism. Nearly nothing left, black on black ... What life there is to wail only that there is life. And that wail, that wretched protest is also the whole of life, what life can be.
Sometimes it seems pathetic. 'You should get away from me/ I'll just bring you down/ I'm in my corner crying/ Like a lonely dog'. And then, in the same song, 'I don't care about philosophy/ Even if it's right/ I end up back here'. In the corner again, in the cell. By way of a reduction that no longer belongs to philosophy. In the chair, I stare. Or, I don't know how to anything but sit in a chair. Humility again, but one that is also a way of seeing, of living, of not merely enduring pain, but letting it sing.
And this is the doubling up. This is the mutation the mood allows. And on the later albums, there is little but this - the mood, its mutation. As if there were only a single mood to Jandek, only one. That continues from album to album. That gives the chance of singing and then withdraws. Until nothing remains but the songs.
Pain sings of itself. Pain knows itself and sings of itself. And by way of Jandek. By way of what is sung and played. And by that same singing, that playing, there is also the humility of pain, pain remembering pain and not rising above it. Pain staying its own course - but more than that. Pain doubled up, made into a song, singing of itself and staying its own course as it refuses to rise, refuses lyric flight.
To sing from pain's humility means a fidelity to pain. A way of staying with it, of running in its groove. This why, performing, there will be no address to the audience, no talking. Because this is not a performance, or just that. This is pain, pain in song. It is pain's humility that demands nothing else. A guitar string breaks; the instrument is passed backstage. The band waits. The Representative looks down. Minutes pass, nothing is said; the guitar, restrung, comes back. And in those minutes, silence. The Rep looks down. In fidelity to pain. In pain's humility.
And this is what he sings to an Austin audience. 'I don't know why I'm in front of you/ I'm six feet under the radar screen ...' Six foot under, and there. Dead and also there, a dead man singing, and singing from death. This is Jandek's black on black.