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Recluses and the Music Geeks that Love Them

Recluses and the Music Geeks that Love Them

by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor
first published: April, 2005

approximate reading time: minutes

The love for Jandek is a lonely and fierce one, so this comp manages to transcend the unknown-artist-delivers-crap-track barrier plaguing most things in the Various Artists section

A Second Tribute to Jandek - Down in a Mirror
(Summersteps Records)

I am not a man with a lot of soapboxes. Taxes don't really get under my skin, I gave up traffic rage ages ago, and I really don't mind waiting in line all that much. I don't even care that much if I'm getting ripped off or charged too much if you are sneaky enough about it so that I don't notice. To the victor the spoils, I say. That all said, there are a couple isolated issues that I do feel passionate about: people should spend more time with their kids, Jackson Pollock COULD draw and was very good at it, and I am an unabashed Jandek fan. Jandek is a notorious (former) recluse cult blues musician from Houston who has turned out 30 some odd self-released albums since 1978 of harrowing darkness and bare-belly vulnerability. The thing that separates him from the rest is that he has no truck for things like tuning or key or other tethers holding back the music world from real exploration. It makes for difficult listening, but I think there is genius in those weird hills. Listening to Jandek albums is a lot like wearing new shoes, they need to break you in before you become comfortable with them, but once you do, nothing else fits quite as well.

I stated he is a former recluse, since for all of his tenure until last year, his only contact point with this plane was a Houston PO Box and one interview a stalker/journalist secured by staking out his house. But in the last year, the ghost has emerged to play two festival performances at avant-garde music fetes in Scotland (word around the listserv is that he has retired from his day job, so now he is free to get his freak on without repercussions) and the interest in him has surged. A documentary on the man "Jandek on Corwood" (poignant in that Jandek himself was not involved in it in any way) is making the rounds (available on NetFlix if you live in an arthouse-deficient burg), and the fine folk at Summersteps have emerged with their second tribute album to the man.

The first was, as I understand, more of a love letter from fans with four-tracks, but this one has involvement from a number of big names in the music world. I am comfortable enough with my sexuality to admit I have a giant fanboy crush on Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, so to have him open this collection with a sweet version of "Crack a Smile" only makes it worse. The new-Wilco Okkervil River also turns in a ghost town rendition of "Your Other Man" his lonesome echoey croon and guitar work probably coming closest to the original, except that OR hangs on to the quaint notion of singing and playing in tune. Brother JT gets all early Dylan on a rave-up of "Message to a Clerk" and Six organs of Admittance, another current obsession of mine, shows up with a dreamily lo-fi ""I'll Sit Alone and Think a Lot About You" which I maintain is somewhat of a thesis statement for Jandek. The Mountain Goats make "White Box" a spooky lovechild between the two.

The love for Jandek is a lonely and fierce one, so this comp manages to transcend the unknown-artist-delivers-crap-track barrier plaguing most things in the Various Artists section. George Parsons intones a spoken "Aimless Breeze", a track off of one of Janky's own even-hard-for-me-to-handle spoken word albums, to great effect, including mimicking some of the mic tics that marred/made the original. Lewis and Clarke provide the prettiest song on the album with their cover of "Nancy Sings" making me want to seek these characters out whereas Japanese avant-garde notable Kawabata Makoto provides the wierdest, a Master Musicians of Jajouka hornets' nest take on "Babe I Love You" performed on the hurdy-gurdy. It sounds cool, great, in fact, and nothing like the original, but that's all right. (except that now I have a sudden urge to seek out a hurdy-gurdy on eBay.) Wayside Drive get their Velvet Underground on with the resplendent "The Spirit" while Home for the Def turns "Cave in on You" into a goofy but engaging Soul Coughing-like not-quite-rap.

An added bonus for me is that there is a track by someone I used to know in real life, making this all the more insular a pleasure, that track being Ross Beach's twangy spooky "Van Ness Mission" I wish I had been clued into his Jandek lurve back when we ran in similar circles, so I could have had a brother in weirdness. But then, that's what being a Jandek fan is like. The music is so singular and off-putting that you feel you must be the only person in the world that is into this. It doesn't even register as "music" for other people, its a line in the sand, and tales of using a Jandek album to clear out a party are common. This album may not prepare you for the loner's errand of becoming a Jandek fan, but it is an excellent collection of songs, done with love and reverence.

More than you would ever want to know about Jandek is available here at Seth Tisue's mind-bogglingly comprehensive fan site, should your interest be piqued, and your need to alientate yourself further from the sheep listening to their "music" arrise.

Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v
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