[Jandek] Response to Column: Resonant Frequency #45

Danen D. Jobe djobe at uark.edu
Sat Mar 31 14:02:23 PDT 2007

Thanks Sean for bringing this article up. I wasn't aware of it, and it's well written. It reminds me a LOT of Downbeat magazine critic/editor's demolition of Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane in a 1961 issue that so wounded Dolphy it led to him leaving Coltrane's band. Of course, those guys were all bigger players than critic Mark Richardson or even Jandek, or at least were as we tend to judge things. But it's relevant -  Tynan called Trane and Dolphy's music "anti-jazz" and essentially claimed that they were playing whatever, wasting the time of the audience. Richardson finds a similar problem (Tynan also claimed of enjoying the band but being bored), and resurrects the argument that Jandek/Corwood/whoever should've stayed hermetically holed up in Houston, died anonymously, and have wound up to be some sort of vagrant. Like many recent critics, he goes out of his way to point out how gaunt the Rep appeared (at least he used witty language - the P-Fork critic who largely praised 
the SxSW show said "I was afraid he'd make eye contact"). Okay, so he left the show bored. What's wrong with that? His opinion. But...

He represents what is supposed to be forward-looking media, and yet it doesn't seem to occur to him that not only is the guitar playing intentional, but a re-invention of the instrument. The Rep plays it something close to a dulcimer, where the tuning of the strings creates the note and the rhythm of the plucking/strumming is what fuels the song, as opposed to any sort of scales or note sequences. Again, not for everyone, but neither is free jazz or even Indian ragas, both of which seem to bear some influence over the playing. If you consider yourself a music writer, I would think you'd consider this. I'll also point out something that I've said for years now: Pitchfork has still NEVER reviewed a Jandek CD. Not even once. They've covered various concerts - some with more depth than others - but they've never attempted to throw his music into their "1 - 10" value system. 

I hope they don't, even if they give something a "9.2" or whatever. Because it's the sort of thing that contributes to the very societal problems Richardson touches upon at the end of the article: artists, particularly in American society, are expected to represent a look, a sound, and a function. These base definitions are tossed around in a box and then tossed against the value system, which will assess the best and worst of what's out there based on this shallow construction. Looking at P-fork's "best new music" list, there doesn't seem much daring-do there. Glad they liked Deerhunter (and Deerhoof, for what it's worth). But what does that matter? It's just an opinion: theirs, mine, anyones.

When you remove the value system and stop trying to figure how you'd place Corwood in the "Canon" (one of the worst British inventions of all) you find that Jandek is a lot like Emily Dickinson, Vincent Van Gogh or Eric Dolphy. See, with the value system in place I'd have to say "but of course nowhere near as important." No, as people go he's quite similar, and in fact he's seen a lot more success than Dickinson or Vincent Van Gogh ever did. Yet they didn't despair this lack of success, or change what they did based on critics like Richardson. Dickinson, indeed, remained holed away and Van Gogh shot himself, but both assessed their work (as we know from letters and diaries) before their deaths and deemed themselves proud of it. They considered themselves artists. Neither expected any posthumous following whatsoever, and went to their respective graves without the accolades that would follow. We largely consider their success a validation of good work, but the work was good b
efore the success. Perhaps neither of them needed, at the end of the day, scores of adoring fans or the praise of critics.

Dolphy's work was also good before his death (in fact, his last stuff - "Out to Lunch" and the European shows with Charles Mingus - are sublime), but I'm not sure how he felt while dying much too young of diabetes in France in 1964. I can say that he was devastated by the reviews, and largely unable to record because of them. Time has labeled Tynan a conservative with too big a mouth, inconsiderate of the musicians (who actually were given a column to defend their music, implicitly validating the criticism and forcing them to prove why it should not hold. They had nothing to prove). 

What Jandek shows are now is an unusual glimpse into the creative process. The people who follow these shows are amongst the most open-minded and friendly of any I know - I've made many permanent friendships through these concerts. Honestly, I don't know how Corwood would feel about this review, but he's certainly seen other, less well written, more scathing indictments. Yet he keeps doing his thing. Ultimately, I don't want to respond to Richardson to say that the Jandek show was genius and he didn't see it - that would be validating the criticism. It was his opinion, and he's welcome to it. But it would be interesting if he'd followed his John Cage comment by placing Jandek on the same level as artist - the comment was perfect but he then allowed himself to slip into the usual cliches - Jandek can't sing, has no pitch, melody, etc. But these are all musical systems defined and valued and taken for granted as being necessary to the understanding of music. Cage didn't need t
hem, and he didn't need anyone like Richardson to appreciate what he did, either. That he eventually won some critics over says something about the critics, and I'd love to see just one critic stand up for the uniqueness of the musical process alone. I agree that the packaging, distribution, photography, mystique, etc has added to the interest in the music. But originally there was just the music, and I'll defend it by itself, without the need to call it "better" or "worse" than anything. It's groundbreaking, and deserves notice simply for that. So Richardson went to see Jandek and got bored. Hey, I've felt that way at any number of shows. But why aren't more critics at least paying notice to how interesting this concert process is, and the music itself? It's amazing to me that Joanna Newsom's fine album "Ys" would stir up such critical dust (mostly positive but some terribly negative) yet "Glasgow Monday" could scarcely get reviewed. Both are extended, challenging works of a
rtists who matter RIGHT NOW, hell with what they will mean in ten or twenty years. But maybe, at the end of the day, this is the loss of the critics. Poet Eugene Montale, responding to criticism back in the thirties, said that critics were like patrons who went to an art show, looked at a still-life of mushrooms and then pondered how much the mushrooms cost per pound. I can't say whether Richardson missed the forest for the trees in his response to the concert (again, his opinion) but his inability to see beyond what he seems to need Jandek to have been (regardless of how much he had "invested" in him, said as if the other show patrons must've been crushed by the disappointing show, which doesn't add up to what I've heard) says volumes about the problems in the critical system. 

> _http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/feature/42002-column-
> resonant-frequency
> -45_ 
> (http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/feature/42002-column-
> resonant-frequency-45) 
> It's been a few days since anyone discussed Richmond Sunday but 
> this column  
> by Mark Richardson definitely represents a different response!
> Sean
> ************************************** See what's free at 
> http://www.aol.com.

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