Saturday, April 9, 2011


When I was in university, I had a job on the campus radio station. It was pretty crap - the 'graveyard shift', so to speak - but it was fun to just sit and play tunes and realise that probably a maximum of ten people were listening to you... And, of course, more importantly it got you access to the campus radio station's library, which was chock-full of all kinds of strange and wonderful stuff.

If it hadn't been for the fact that I'd seen evidence with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears there, I would never for a minute believe that the 'musician' called 'Jandek' was anything more than a hoax.

There is a vanishingly slight chance that you've heard of this guy, but it's a much bigger chance now than it would have been a few years ago - now that he has made some vague attempts to 'come out of his shell'. It's better to consider him before that.

As you can see here, this person has released almost sixty albums in the past thirty years, sometimes as many as five or six a year. As regularly as some people, for example, visit their family or take a sick day off work, this guy fills an album or a CD with about an hour of... well, I have no idea what to call it. None of it is even remotely 'tuneful', the lyrics tend to be meaningless gibberish, it all sounds more or less the same. It's as if he keeps a kind of 'diary' but puts it out for public consumption in regular installments.

The album covers tend to be random photographs - perhaps of himself from his childhood, perhaps of houses, perhaps of curtains. Take a gander at the size of his 'oeuvre' in the link I included above and note how creepy it starts to seem after a while. And that's without hearing the music.

On dozens of these albums, all he does is hold an untuned acoustic guitar in his hands and pluck about at various notes while moaning. There are no melodies, no verses or choruses, no sense that he has actually ever heard human music before or knows what it's for. And every album is exactly the same... Oh, I stand corrected. Sometimes he plucks at an untuned electric guitar. Sometimes an untuned bass. Sometimes he bashes erratically at drums. Sometimes there are no instruments at all, just him mumbling into a microphone for twenty-minute stretches.

And yet all of these are still in print. You can still buy them - should you want to. He sells them from his P.O. box in Houston, Texas. Until very recently, he had never appeared in public, never granted an interview, never revealed his name... He was a complete nobody, a cypher (he still is, more or less, but he has performed live). Most of these records he'd just send for free to campus radio stations where they'd gather dust in a corner somewhere - the state that I first discovered them. The odd DJ would find them, put them on and be utterly baffled.

It's difficult not to feel sad for this guy. He lives, one imagines, a normal life - not a great one, as he often seems really depressed and friendless - but then periodically, like Bruce Wayne, goes down under ground and unveils his secret 'Jandek' identity. Then he spends however much money it takes to get records pressed by the thousands, knowing full well he'll never sell them, ships a few out to radio stations, and keeps the rest somewhere in his house on the off-chance that someone will write to him and order a few.

These days, I suppose, people might. Or at least enough throughout the world to give him a workable return on his investment. But that's after a good 25 years of howling into the absolute silence. A tree falling in the forest.

Do you admire his dedication? His perserverence? His will to keep doing it despite having absolutely no talent whatsoever? Or do you just get creeped out at the guy?

I have no idea.

If you're intrigued enough to want to hear some of his tuneless warblings, has his discography laid out in full detail with sound clips from each disc. However, you have been warned - you can't listen to more than a few minutes of this stuff before starting to feel a hollowness in the pit of your stomach. Could you imagine listening to all sixty albums of it?

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