[Jandek] Jandek vs. Jandek in Toronto

Seth Tisue seth at tisue.net
Mon Sep 18 05:44:11 PDT 2006

Someone announces that the show is being recorded, in both audio and
video, for Corwood, so "no flash photography" please -- a relaxation of
the usual no-photography-at-all policy?

Jandek takes the stage in his usual garb, except his shirt's a lighter
shade than usual.  He tests the mike over his keyboards with the tap of
a finger; looks like we'll get some vocals tonight.  (After Finland, you
never know.)

We knew to expect the Korgs.  Smaller model above, full size below, just
like at the Manhattan show.  Same backing instruments as Manhattan, too:
electric guitar, double bass, drums.  The drums aren't assembled into a
drumkit; they stand individually, forming a low semicircle around the
drummer.  He's on the floor, no drumstool.  Glances are exchanged;
everyone's ready.  It's dark out in the audience and the stage is bathed
in blue light.  For a moment the room is silent.

When the first notes from the keyboard ring out, my heart sinks.
Jandek's chosen a setting for the lower keyboard that sounds like
something you might hear on a new age CD you bought at the supermarket.
It's dreadful.  I'm mollified when he starts playing the upper keyboard
too and I hear the same somber church-organ tones we heard in Manhattan,
a sound well suited for funereal blues or just for a funeral.  But that
other keyboard sound remains a near-constant bummer for the next 90
minutes despite my struggles to tune it out.

The mix favors the vocals quite heavily; Jandek's voice seems to boom
out of the speaker I'm in front of.  Even so, the band's arsenal of
improviser's instrumental special effects is distracting during the
vocal passages.  They sound much better during some somber, murky,
intense all-instrumental sections, with the organ sound officiating.

Perhaps you've heard Glasgow Monday, aka "The Cell".  At that 2005 show,
Jandek introduced a new vocal style: half spoken, half sung, breathy,
hushed.  In Manhattan last year, and again here tonight, he's adapted
that style for use with louder backing music; still spoken/sung, but
lower, more forcefully, changing to a wail or a moan here and there for

Musically it's the sequel to Manhattan, but lyrically it's like "The
Cell".  He's even more direct now about recovering from an illness.  He
mentions "the sickbed" several times, and describes his travails there.
"Afraid to die/ Afraid to live... Chemicals/ I destroy myself and live/
Unexpected revelation... Rising out of your own ruin... Germ warfare/
kill or be killed/ Story of cellular survival... Something must live
on...  He destroyed himself/ he continued anew."  Sounds like
chemotherapy to me.

Did you notice the switch from "I" to "he" in those lyrics, there?  He
switches like that several more times and it puzzles me, but any doubt
that "he" and "I" are the same person are erased when he sings, "He
carried his art/ on his bones/ skin stretched over/ apparel hanging/
stick of a man..."  But why the different pronouns?

The division between "he" and "I" emerges as the dominant theme of the
evening: "He sprawled about the bed at night/ waiting for the dawn/ At
times I watched him/ Was he really me?...  He spoke, I listened/ He
moved, I watched."  As this split emerges, "I" is determined to take
charge: "I decided to make him/ do what I wanted/ I grew tired of the
years of regret... The moment had simply arrived/ Bursting through all
the blockades/ The whoosh of a torrent... I took responsibility/ He was

"I" wants to take control of his own life by controlling "he", but
"he" doesn't always fall in line.  "Why can't I just kill him?" asks
"I".  "I crucify the thing he was/ I let him suffer/ He died for me"
-- the double meaning here, referencing Christ, is unmistakable.
(Later, too, there is a line comparing recovery from illness to rising
from the dead.)

In bed, our hero waxes metaphysical: "The sensation of mathematics/ His
thoughts took on an abstract isolation/ They resembled geometric
lines..."  But then, when he feels well enough, he returns to the
everyday world: "I walked for hours/ navigating the city."  He sees
people, buildings, cement, fire hydrants.  He witnesses "the march of
sex."  "I" even complains that "He forgot me in the panorama."

So, this was the third in Jandek's series of unified evening-length
lyrical presentations, after "The Cell" and whatever the Manhattan suite
was called ("Depression", perhaps).  I think he wanted to integrate and
contrast the darkness of the latter with the hope and peacefulness of
the former, all in a single work.  (And with dueling synth settings to
match.)  Another intriguing set of lyrics, for sure.  I wonder if Jandek
was making music during the period of illness and recovery that he

In New York, the heavy downer night (Manhattan) was followed by a
night of amped-up catharsis (Brooklyn, 1st set).  So that means I'm
ready to rock out in Chicago this Wednesday.  Actually, I'm ready for

Seth Tisue | seth at tisue.net
http://tisue.net | http://www.flickr.com/photos/tisue/

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