[Jandek] Spencer Graham, A Chankin, Pitchforkmedia & being bored by Jandek

Spencer Graham soccerdude219 at yahoo.com
Sat Apr 7 12:27:25 PDT 2007

Gavin, I'm glad you understood what I was saying the second time around (apparently I can communicate pretty well when I'm not being hyperbolic smartass), and yeah, that's exactly what I meant. A lot of what Jandek does is not "likeable". There's a big difference between "man, I can totally dig what that man is layin' down" and "I enjoyed that performance". Jandek, to me, is all about the first. He wants you to dig it, and that isn't always a positive experience, but it is almost always a profound artistic connection- if you're willing to let it all in, to embrace the negatives and the positives, the total universe of his artistic statement. 
  The critiques I made of Jandek's live playing and his lack of chops speak to the fact that he isn't always entertaining. That doesn't mean he isn't making great music or put on a spellbinding live show, but I think if you ignore the tedium and tune out the grating, obnoxious, ear-splitting intensity of it, the mangling, confidence-destorying power of it, not to mention forgive him all too easily for his occasional musical incoherence, you're missing one of the biggest elements of the art he's making. Maybe that's how some people cope with his music, by only focusing on the more conceptual parts, but to me that's like watching a horror movie for the first time knowing where all the scary parts are already and being ready for them- you might not get scared, and you might still appreciate how it might be scary if you'd been surprised, but you're not really experiencing the film the way the artist wants you to.. 
  I think (and this isn't necesarily what I think of anyone taking part in this discussion, because I don't know any of you well enough) that some people treat atonal avant-garde music like hot sauce- the more you can stand, the stronger you are, and like hot sauce fanatics, who eventually develop a tolerance and start putting hot sauce on everything, avant garde fans become comfortable with dissonance, and call igorant the people who can't handle the burn- but is that really what the artist wants? Comfort and enjoyment are just about the LAST things Jandek ever seems concerned with. If you've gotten used to Jandek, and you can sit through one of his shows without feeling uncomfortable, I suggest you listen to some Top 40 radio until he seems adequately frightening again. You should never fully acquire that taste.
  I don't think Jandek wants the listener to be "in" on his art. He wants you to feel distant. He wants you to understand it, and mentally interact with it, of course, but he wants you to look, not touch. This is clear enough from his method of doing business, if not from the music itself. He wants you to use the music to reflect on yourself and your exprience, not on him and his. He wants to know how it makes YOU feel, because he sure as hell already knows how it makes him feel. To me, this is the reason he's never revealed his biographical details all it would do is put him in the way of his art, and it's also the reason why someone who's become so heavily entrenched in his music, and thus his artistic personality and style, actually loses their ability to appreciate all of its elements, especially the ones that become less intense with time- the detuning, the wailing, the choppy rhythms and sudden turns. You shouldn't forgive him for that stuff because he doesn't want
 you to forgive him. If he did he would have taken some more guitar lessons. 
  The fact is, he's talking about pain, so how can you have any appropriate reaction to his music except pain, even if you totally dig it? Mind you, it's a profound kind of pain, the kind you learn about life from, not just the pain of someone who can't stand "bad guitar playing". But to tune out that bad playing by excusing it as part of his artistic conceit, to forget it's supposed to be wrong, and that it's supposed to provoke discomfort- that's missing the point just as much as someone who, after hearing Jandek once, shuts it off horrified and asks why he doesn't tune his guitar.
  I'll quote some lyrics that seem to echo this stuff:
  What You Are (Track 11, New Town) 
Sittin’ here thinkin’ about 
What I got to do 
Sittin’ here tryin’ to think 
Where do my talents lie 

  Yes I’m sittin’ here thinkin’ 
What am I supposed to be 
What does it mean that I’m livin’ 
What will it mean when I die 

  And how about you there 
Do you know what you are?
No matter who you are there 
You must get the point 
I came to ask you 
Just who you think you are
  There you have it, first he talks about his quandry, which is the human quandry, and asks if your feel the same, or if you've found a better answer. His music isn't just about him, it's about you. If you're focusing on his answer to the question, and you're not reacting you're only getting half of his message. When he says "you must get the point", he's not saying "I assume you're getting this"- listen to his tone and accentation- he's saying "You have no choice but to get the point, this is a matter of life and death, for me and for you". 
  And he's serious, man.

Gavin <gavin at arkhonia.co.uk> wrote:
  A Chankin wrote that

> Recently, there has been interesting comment on the Jandek concerts.

in response (in part) to Danen's comments about the Pitchfork Richmond
review. I usually agree with most everything Danen posts on the list,
in part because he's a good writer and an astute thinker, analyst and
critic, and in part because one can't help but think him to be 'in the
know' because of his contact with Corwood relating to 'Niagra Blues'
(remember that? Anybody read it? That's something I'd love to see
discussed here). But I think his erudite and informed Pitchfork
riposte does possibly miss a point that Mr. Chankin tries to
(indirectly) address on his blog in response to

> Spencer's controversial opinions on the matter

Spencer is controversial here (and he always is - we kind of agreed to
disagree about the "Butts For Jandek" thing a few months back), and he
always seems to pop up (alternating with Frank Hardy) as either an
irritant or a catalyst in the midst of some debate or other, and I've
often found myself seething or despairing over his comments...but, for
someone who admits that

> I'm 20 years old, I've been listening to/studying music seriously
> for only four years- god forbid I still think breaking the rules is
> cool/interesting and worth discussing

he makes one really important point that is shared by the Pitchfork
writer, but that I feel that Danen maybe misses, that

> if he heard more Jandek and more shows he'd have thought
> differently, but I think sometimes an early impression from a less
> experienced fan can reveal something worthwhile that might not occur
> to someone as entrenched in Jandek's music as others are. And that
> was what I found interesting about the article, that even though
> Jandek's music is great it can sometimes get really tedious. But
> that's the nature of the beast- he probably wants that effect,
> because depression IS tedium.

I thought the Pitchfork piece was actually pretty good, and made the
point that Spencer echoes here, that its author didn't know much about
Jandek, had heard little, went at it with a (relatively) open mind,
and came away kind of unimpressed, and rather bored by the whole
thing. I gave it to me wife to read, and it concurred (in part) with
her own experiences, as she came to the Jandek Bristol show with me
(in fact she drove me down there AND back specifically, a 4 hour
journey both ways, and in the same day), and she's no fan of Jandek,
although she knows what it means to me. She managed the first half,
but sat out the second, although she could hear it from outside the
door; her concern was not that is was intolerable, but more that she
was 'zoning out' through the first half, despite the sheer brutality
of the music, and that it could very easily have put her to sleep, and
the drive back may have killed us all had she not had some way of
keeping herself alert. So she stayed outside and chatted with a couple
of guys who had come specially to see the performance, but couldn't
take any more, and equally felt that another hour and a quarter would
maybe be just too much, and between them she puzzled out the nature of
a Jandek performance, while me and my friend Danny were inside lapping
up the brutal assault as the hardcore fans that we are (my account is
here should anyone want to reread it:

Spencer says

> when you're deal with music that spurs uninterrupted negative
> emotion, or really any consistent, unchanging feeling, boredom can
> set in


> I think you're supposed to get a headache from a Jandek show/album
> (or at least the "rock" ones, as the Cell and such are very
> different moods). BUT that doesn't make it anymore difficult to deal
> with, just as his musical awkwardness doesn't seem any less jarring
> even if it's intended.

and I think this is pretty much on the money, and something that
Jandek fandom maybe misses through familiarity, a willingness to
accept what is presented on face value, and maybe too great a
tolerance for 'noise music' generally: that there is a challenge and a
confrontational intent, but the challenge and the confrontation may be
as much the endurance factor (these shows are looong!), and for the
performers as well as the audience, and maybe 'getting it' straight
away and accepting it, and by extension 'loving it', is possibly the
last thing a listener is supposed to do...I don't know. My wife was
chatting with these boys, and one of them went back in to the second
show, determined to 'get it', despite the fact that he couldn't take
any more of it - he took the challenge, and came out just before the
end to say that, once he stopped *thinking* about it, to "just let it
wash over you", it started to make some kind of 'intuitive' sense (I'm
paraphrasing wildly here as I was elsewhere)...

> when you enter Jandek's world, it's jarring- it's like choosing to
> have a bad trip, and that can be cathartic, but it's hellish all the
> same.

Maybe it isn't supposed to be 'enjoyable'...maybe it's supposed to
represent a state of mind, maybe 'be' that state of mind for the time
the performance takes place, for the performer and the audience, and
that 'Jandek' is this place for that time, and if the theme is
depression then it's depressing ("I thought I’d give you/A little bit
of depression/There’s no way out"), and if it's boredom or
pointlessness it's boring or pointless, and if it's a kind of muted
wondering ("what do I have?"), it's an extended circular reverie that
sounds like it feels...

> I still don't think I could stand a whole show.

I've seen Jandek three times, and every time it's seemed like a long
time, and it's felt...disconcerting, for a bunch of possibly
inarticulable reasons. But still exhilarating, cos I sort of knew what
to expect. But if I could feel what I originally felt when I first got
into Jandek, where sometimes, late at night and in the dark, it seemed
like the whole world was being pulled out from under me, and, had the
concerts been taking place then and I'd attended one I might have maybe
lost my mind... 

Just thinking out loud - Spencer, shoot me down in flames if I've
quoted you out of context or misrepresented your ideas.


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