[Jandek] Helsinki

Al nilescram at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 21 23:08:14 PST 2005

This may not be an appropriate way to approach this discussion, but  I'll take the risk. I'm not thoroughly familiar with all the material  Jandek has produced, but I own a few records, heard a considerable  number of songs, seen the documentary, read a lot about him, and I'm  generally quite enthralled by his character and the phenomenon.
    I've tried to understand and appreciate his musical "language". Some of  his stuff is very hard to listen to, but he's not the only artist whose  music is sometimes difficult and even painful to me to listen to, and I  still sort of love them.
   And now I traveled 170  miles to see him play live in Helsinki. It was one hour - looked like  he placed a small timer on the left hand corner of the keyboard! - of  upright piano, uninterrupted, no vocals, with subtle harp accompaniment. Very simple, mostly  slow and quite melodious, tonally conventional rambling and meandering  up and down the keyboard, probably improvised all through, or composed  on the spot, if you like. Abrupt key changes marked transitions from  one "part" to the next, perhaps, but similar themes reoccurred  throughout.
    "I could almost play like that", I thought. ("Hell, I do play like that!") Most people would say I can't play very well, and some would certainly say I can't play at all. 
    For the first 10 or 15 minutes the audience kept relatively quiet, most  of us obviously trying to listen and figure out what it's all about.  But slowly the audience chatter started to fill the space, which was  very annoying. The majority didn't seem to show any respect at all. I  had to leave my comfortable seat on the balcony of the converted movie  theater and head down toward the front of the stage, where some people  were standing. It wasn't too crowded, so I found myself just some seven  meters from the artists for the rest of the show. And still the  ever-increasing noise from the audience made it very hard for me to  fully hear the music.
    And then it ended. He picked up the timer (?) and put it in his pocket,  stood up, turned towards the co-musician, a barely visible nod to her,  no smile, no eye-contact to the audience, and slowly walked into the  dark.
   I know I shouldn't pose this question, and I know it's  unfair, as I only have this one live experience, but especially for  those of you who have seen him play live, have you ever come to think  of this: Is it a bluff?
   Has he somehow  managed to build such a reputation in some circles, that he can do just  about anything on stage, and we are not to question the high artistic  quality of the performance? As if it isn't relevant at all?
  I'm not saying that the concert was a "tremendous letdown", but can't help thinking that way. (Sure I know that, as it is the  question of music, then it's a question of taste, and thus everything  is subjective and relative.)
    Apologies for the inconvenience. 

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