[Jandek] jandek criticism response

chthonic chthonic at chthonicstreams.com
Fri Feb 18 11:19:04 PST 2005

hello all.  i thought i would respond to a few issues this person 
raised in my own way.  although the posts seem very much like 
trolls for attention and reaction, the questions raised are similar to 
those anyone who likes jandek are confronted with from most 
people who don't.  or even people who don't like any kind of music 
you do.

>I just joined the list.

this is the first thing i don't understand.  i quite dislike celine dion 
(since you used her as a facetious example), but i would never 
waste my time joining an email list of people who are interested in 
her, simply to berate her and by extension, her fans.  clearly people 
like what she does, enough to generate sales and at least one 
email discussion list; to make an attack on this level is futile.

>There is a word for Jandek's "music" : Garbage.

there is a word for the above sentence: oversimplification.  in 
addition, the statement could be made randomly about any 
musician ever, and reveals nothing.

>I do not believe anyone "likes" them.  I think it's a bad case of 
>"look at me, I'm different and special" among a very small group 
>of poseurs.

this is making a very broad and rather rude assumption about 
people you don't know at all.  i'm sure there are some people who 
display their jandek albums as a badge of indie authenticity, or as 
proof of winning some kind of unspoken contest to own the most 
obscure or supposedly unlikeable music.  those people need to 
get a life, i agree.  

there are also certainly people who listen to jandek with open 
minds and ears and are able to get something out of it that you are 
not.  this does not make you or them better or worse than one 

my personal opinion of jandek is that he is an honest, private 
person, who records fairly off-the-wall music because that is what 
comes out when he picks up instruments and opens his mouth.  i 
believe there may be a degree of consciously enhancing the 
secrecy to perpetuate the myths which help drive interest in him.  
but i believe if this motivation exists, it's secondary to his desire to 
simply be left alone, for whatever reason.  it's a shame that mass 
media and popular culture have encroached so much on the arts 
that we expect a full press release and backstory from anyone 
creating and releasing anything.  that anyone choosing not to play 
the corporate promotional games is somehow even more of a 
fake than the attention-seekers constantly mugging for the 
camera.  just because someone's music is made available for 
public consumption doesn't mean the rest of them has to be.

as far as his music, i agree that there is much of his catalog that 
simply doesn't sound good, that i don't wish to listen to or own.  
that lives up to the worst accusations of amateurishness and 
unlistenability.  however, there are also many moments of a 
special kind of beauty that come from somewhere other than the 
normal places our ears are conditioned to receiving from.  there 
are songs and fragments that are haunting in the best way 
possible.  there are things jandek shows us that open up the way 
music can be defined and perceived, and even change the 
reasons we choose to experience it.

those are the reasons why i want to listen to jandek's music.  i 
don't blanket-label him a genius, a madman, an idiot-savant, or a 
charlatan.  he's just a musician who has his own style and some 
music that's fairly unique and arresting (not to mention polarizing 
public opinion).

also, as a visual artist, i enjoy the relentless similarity of the 
manner in which he's chosen to release his music, with the 
snapshots and title-free covers and the minimal information on the 
back with near-identical layout across 39 albums (so far).  from an 
art project perspective this has a certain beauty of consistency all 
its own.

>There hasn't been a single, genuine, black bluesman over the 
last 100 
>years who would not have heard Jandak, and after 30 seconds 
>it to be complete garbage.
>There is nothing "blues" about Jandek.  If you need a name, 
>does it. It's not complicated.

this brings up a few different points, which come back to the same 
question of the definition of the blues.

first of all, it's ridiculous to once again assume you know what 
people you've never spoekn to are thinking.  if b.b. king can 
complement bono on the heaviness of the white irishman's lyrics 
(as he did in 'rattle and hum'), it's certainly possible he or any 
number of black bluesmen might say the same about jandek.  

clearly b.b. agrees with me that one does not have to be black to 
sing the blues.  it's true the form originated with black people, but 
the essence of it can be done well by anyone with the intangibles 
of heart and soul.  in fact, there have been several black musicians 
who are publicly called "bluesmen" who are outstripped on those 
levels by non-black musicians.  one that comes to mind 
immediately is robert cray, who in my opinion plays a 
watered-down, yuppie-safe version of the strict blues form while 
retaining none of the important feelings of the source.

this brings me to the nature of the blues itself and the music it 
creates.  someone can absolutely be "singing the blues" while not 
adhering to the standard  I-IV-V chord changes most people 
assume defines them.  as i insinuated above, the blues is mostly 
about feeling, and the depth a writer and performer can bring to the 

musically, there is the issue of the so-called "blue notes", which 
are the notes that western-based music (especially of classical 
derivation) can't quite understand or notate.  these are traditionally 
the 3rd, 5th, 7th intervals of a chord which tend to be bent on 
stringed instruments by blues players.

in all of the cases above, jandek qualifies as at least being 
blues-based.  he has heart and soul, which he is able to 
communicate with depth of feeling, and he frequently plays the 
kind of indefinable bent notes and weird chords that first 
confounded music sholars trying to make sense of the music 
coming out of black america.

however, i don't believe jandek is pure blues, or that anyone who 
really listens to him believes that either.  almost all instances i've 
read about jandek where the word is brought up, it's qualified by 
another word.  "death-blues", "country-blues", "backwoods-blues", 
"noise-blues", "blues-like", "goes beyond the blues pattern", and 
so on.  it's simply a word people are using in the equation, flailing 
at trying to describe a portion of jandek's output.  there are many 
songs that bear no relation to the blues whatsoever; i doubt 
anyone would call "om" a blues song, or "governor rhodes" or 
"nancy sings", to name just a few.

if you're expecting a pure form of blues, don't look to jandek.  if 
you're expecting some easily-understandable kind of "outsider 
music", don't look to jandek.  if you're expecting constant brilliance, 
don't look to jandek.  if you're expecting music based on 
conventional ideas of proper recording techniques, standard 
tuning, art as entertainment and enjoyment, don't look to jandek.

it may simply be that standard excuse that you "haven't heard the 
right album", but in this case probably not.  if you've already made 
up your mind about jandek and have no intention of buying or 
listening to anything more by him, then clearly it's time to give up 
and move on to something more personally rewarding for you.


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