[Jandek] Jandek in Ann Arbor and thoughts after
allenrendel at gmail.com
Thu May 29 12:40:39 PDT 2008
There is an interesting review in the Metro Time music blog:
IT'S NOT ABOUT ANYTHING...
The *Jandek* show in Ann Arbor last weekend has been the buzz of many sites
on the Internet since Monday. Some have termed it "brilliant"; others have
called it "the emperor's new clothes." At the very least, everyone thinks
the show can be described as "interesting"...
Here's a first-hand, eye-witness report from local writer and drummer *Laura
Witkowski*, who we'll hopefully be seeing more of both here and in the
*Jandek, my Jandek...*
ANN ARBOR -- I first heard about *Jandek* in August of 2005 when my best
friend sent me an e-mail with what is still to this day my favorite subject
line: "Fw: Nick and Jandek -WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?!?" The latter part of
the line refers to the fact she'd sent the e-mail to me twice before and
failed to include the link that revealed the first part of the subject: A
included a photo of her husband playing drums at Jandek's Austin show
earlier that month. Nick was SO excited to be playing the show -- he is a
big Jandek fan, so what better honor than to get the chance to play live
with somebody so mysterious and under the radar?
His excitement intrigued me, so I did a little searching on the Internet and
found out more about the man and his music. The little I'd managed to hear
was spooky acoustic folk -- out of tune but somehow captivating. I made a
mental note to find more of his stuff, and then he kinda fell off my radar.
In December of '07,
a piece on Jandek and a new film called
*Jandek On Corwood*, and my intrigue was renewed. I vowed to watch the
documentary and learn more about this odd and prolific songwriter. Then, as
life goes, off my radar again he fell...
So when I heard the *day beforehand,* that Jandek was going to be playing a
FREE show on Saturday in Ann Arbor, I knew I had to go. I had only heard
two songs, hardly a representational sampling of his 52 or so albums of
work. But part of the thrill of music discovery is the "not knowing," yes? I
initially vowed to go alone -- after all, I wasn't even sure what I was
getting myself into, let alone dragging along somebody who, depending on
their interpretation of the evening, might well stop returning my calls. When
my friend said he was interested, I said I'd drive. Alas, he didn't make
it, and I made the trek to Ann Arbor alone.
Seeing as I was unencumbered by anybody else's schedule, and I wasn't
exactly sure where the *Mendelssohn** Theatre* was, I left super early. Word
on the Internets was that there would certainly be a line to get in. I
brought along my new issue of *Harper's* magazine, stopped for a cup of
coffee, and proceeded to the lobby of the theater about 6:45 pm. Doors were
at 7:30 and the show was to "promptly start at 8 p.m.," according to the
When I got there, the lobby was already filled with people. Not
surprisingly, many of these were wallflower-ish, socially impaired white
men, who had also come alone, incredibly early, and brought along reading
material to pass the time. I will not lie -- this made me feel
were also some hipster kids -- a whole gaggle of thrift store thread bearing
youngsters who were cracking each other up and just having fun. I really
wanted to ask them what brought them out to the show, what their take on
Jandek was -- but I realized they probably saw me as having more in common
with the 45-year-old guy wearing a mock turtle neck and white tennis shoes,
reading Don DeLillo and eating hummus and pita than with anything they cared
about. I don't think you can feel more lonely or less hip than while
waiting for a Jandek show by yourself on a Saturday night.
So after sitting on the floor of the lobby reading most of a
*Harper's*article called "A Mind Dismembered:
In Search of the Magical Penis Thieves" (yes... *seriously*!), doors opened
and the crowd started to trickle into the actual theater. Being by myself,
I managed to get a really great seat in the fifth row. I overheard an usher
telling the people next to me that Jandek will be set up on our side of the
stage so we'd have a "fantastic view." I am now starting to feel excited --
who knows what's in store? There's a reason that literally hundreds of
people are here -- something magical is about to happen, right?
A couple sits down next to me and I overhear them comment about my magazine.
"*Harper's*. Now *there's* a magazine with substance!" the woman says. Her
male companion shoots back, "Yeah, but you have to *pay* for *that*." I
ignore them and, having trouble concentrating on the penis thieves in
Nigeria, I flip to the last page of the magazine, which is a feature called
"Findings." Of the many random things in this column, one sentence in
particular stands out to me: "A 2,000-year-old ghost forest on the coast of
Oregon was uncovered by rough seas." That's all it says -- no further
explanation. It seems a fitting thought for the night, and as I'm thinking
this, the lights go down.
I had read that Jandek would be playing the show with local area musicians.
When Nick played with him in Austin, he was one of two drummers and a
bassist. For this performance, Jandek was slated to play with a trumpeter,
a harpsichord player and... an interpretive dancer? Yep. That's certainly
an adventurous back up band! The curtain goes up, and without a word, Jandek
starts playing his first song. He's dressed virtually the same as in the
pictures from the Austin show -- really nice button down shirt and dress
pants, shiny black shoes, and a big black hat. He does not look like he
gets much sun. The harpsichordist looks like a heavier *James McNew* from *Yo
La Tengo*. The trumpet player is wearing jeans and sunglasses. The
interpretive dancer is motionless at first, and when she finally starts to
move in very subtle, stiff motions, I immediately notice that her black
shirt and black pants do not match. I find this distracting for the rest of
To say that Jandek "played" the electric bass guitar for the duration of the
show seems like a bit of a stretch. He seemed to improvise each note -- and
I use the term "note" loosely as most of what he played sounded like tuning
-- or like if *I* decided to pick up a bass (or anybody who has never played
bass in any real sense before), set it on my lap, and began to tentatively
pluck and tap it. Although there are music stands in front of all the
performers (save the dancer -- who does have a microphone and occasionally
adds some improvised vocalizations), I couldn't begin to tell you what the
performers may have been reading. There was very little structure, very
little cohesion, and very little differentiation between pieces. Jandek's
vocals were mostly haunting statements like, "I am a piece of trash..." and
"It can't be all that bad -- there's still eating and drinking... and
sleeping and waking." That last line seemed somehow profound to me, and
despite the difficult nature of the performance, I couldn't get up and leave
like more and more people did between pieces. Was it because I was finding
it particularly enjoyable? No. But I also like to be tested -- music is so
disposable and easy to come by and it's not hard for me to get bored and
antsy. I always like a good musical challenge. So even though I had to
pee, and certainly wouldn't be out any ticket money should I decide to
leave, I vowed to stay until the end.
The end came after about two hours. Jandek never spoke to the audience or
acknowledged the other players onstage. To call this "outsider music" seems
like an understatement. After the last piece, the audience whooped and
cheered and even gave Mr. Mystery a standing ovation. I stood up too -- but
it was because I am short and couldn't see once the people in front of me
stood up, not really because I felt a standing ovation was in order. But I
have to acknowledge, it certainly takes some kind of talent to get that many
people to show up for such a weird, joyless, and angular performance. And
that alone must count for something.
As for me, I'm still scratching my head. The show left me with more
questions than answers. In the dark, I wrote one of Jandek's lines down on
the cover of my magazine. To me, it sums up the whole evening, and proves
that regardless of his motives, Jandek possesses some level of genius:
*It's not about anything... You just got bamboozled into thinking it was
Ah, Jandek, you sneaky devil, you… *—Laura Witkowski*
*Laura Witkowski is a freelance music writer and drummer. She just recently
moved back to her hometown of Detroit after almost four years in Charlotte,
NC. She hearts music majorly and would love to play in your band.*
On Thu, May 29, 2008 at 8:02 AM, Neil <candle-ends at sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> I just joined the list. Some things stayed in my head from seeing Jandek in
> Ann Arbor, and I figured this would be the place to share them.
> One thing I noticed, that I had not previously particularly noticed, was a
> sense of humor. For example, he had a piece in which he continually said
> "jump in the fire . . . in the conflagration . . . come on let's go . . .
> jump in the fire" and right at the end he announced, "oooh! it's hot!!"
> I'll share my memories about other pieces -- one was about "i have three
> neckties, which I change every hour," and about watching the gin in his
> glass dissapear. Another was about sitting in London thinking about Indian
> gurus -- them being positive thinkers and him being a negative one. I also
> remember one where he sang, "dear diary . . . let's get it on!" This last
> one made me think that all the pieces he performed sounded like journal
> The one line that really stood out to me was I believe in a piece about
> deliberately hiding himself from the public with "smoke and mirrors." He
> sang (and I remember this very clearly), in a way that only Jandek could,
> "YOU'VE ALL BEEN BAMBOOZLED! IT DOESN' T MEAN ANYTHING!" You could hardly
> blame people for leaving after they heard that, don't you think?
> To me that sounded like a direct reference about his work to the audience.
> I wanted to pick the collective brain of this list in regards to what other
> songs does he discuss his writing, or his relationship with his audience?
> One that I noticed, that I only picked up on after the concert was in "I
> Stepped Out of It" from "The Humility of Pain" where he asks, "Why am I
> doing this? Because you let me."
> Anyway, let me know what you think -- I'm sure you all are more familiar
> with his work then I am.
> Neil Paananen
> I have a podcast at www.candle-ends.com.
> jandek mailing list
> jandek at mylist.net
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