by Jeff Grimshaw
My girl friend did not attend the Jandek concert at the Anthology Film Archives with me. She was given the option but wisely, I think, asked to hear some Jandek first. I think we got about 8 seconds into "They Told Me I Was a Fool" before she said, "Youre on your own," and turned off the CD player. I dont think hed even started singing. "He sounds a lot different in concert, I hear," I said, but I didnt press it. The extra ticket went to Irwin Chusid. I first heard about Jandek from Irwins "Songs in the Key of Z" book, so it was only fitting. On the other hand, as readers of that book are aware, Irwin has little artistic regard for Jandek's music, and ridicules it mercilessly. Many of the folks on the Jandek mailing list react to the mention of Irwins name the way that the guy on the old Abbott and Costello show used to react to the mention of Niagara Falls, but then many of them first became aware of Jandek through Irwin, so theres a degree of ambivalence about him that there might not be for someone else who compared Jandeks music to a muttering sleepwalker aimlessly plucking amplified bicycle spokes in print.
That aimless plucking is one of the things I really like about Jandek, who has now released (I think) 43 albums over the course of 28 years. Hes only been performing live for a year or so. Well, you can find all you want about Jandek on Seth Tissues excellent website. Suffice to say he doesnt sound like anybody else, and its probably a mistake to play Jandek for anybody who isnt thoroughly prepared. I had his second album on not long ago when my ex-wife dropped by. The intro to "Point Judith" just froze her in midsentence for a few beats and then she said, almost dispairingly, "What is wrong with you??"
I parked in Sohoa fair hike from the Anthology Film Archives but theres free street parking on some of the side streets as early as 5 PM. I was about three steps out of my car when I nearly walked right into Kirsten Dunst, lookingwelllike a movie star: that is, she was not in the frumpy non-celeb drag she wears all the time on Page Six or in The Enquirer, but in a white sun dress so plain and simple that Im sure it cost more than the car Id just parked. We briefly made eye contact, she glanced down at my sneakers (Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Goths, black with black rubber trim and laces), and that was that, although for the next couple of blocks we were having a terrific imaginary conversation in my head, and I like to think, in hers. I killed some time in the classical music section of Tower Records on 4th and Broadway, where they were playing the new Kronos Quartet "Bollywood" CD, which I recommend to all, and in particular to anyone about to attend a Jandek concert.
When I was a couple of blocks from the Anthology Film Archives Irwin called to let me know he was entering the Lincoln Tunnel and expected to be along in 20 minutes or so. It was around ten after six at that point and the line was already 50 or 60 people long. "If I dont get there when the doors open, leave me the ticket at the door and grab some good seats," he said. At the time neither of us realized this was a comedy line: the doors didnt open for nearly another 2 hours, nearly an hour after the concert was scheduled to begin.
I dont know that Id ever given any thought to what the Jandek fan base was going to look like, but I was struck by how many people appeared to be under 30. There were more females than I expected, the crowd more Asian, and in general everyone was thinner, toohad I expected 200 clones of Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons? Probably. And I estimated, judging from the conversations around me, something like 60% of the folks waiting to get in were musicians of one kind or another (upon further reflection, the percentage might be even higher) (Come to think of it, I used to play guitar in The Warthogs). Irwin (himself a drummer) showed up, and I guess wed been chatting for about 20 minutes when somebody walked past the crowd handing slips of paper to random people. We didnt get one, but the guy in front of us did. It was a Xerox™ of a handwritten note:
You have our approval to remix the song "Your Other Man" from the album Blue Corpse to release on a private pressing 7 " single limited edition of 300 units under the name "Secret Frequency Crew." As long as the source, artist, and label are referenced, permission is granted.
"Bullshit. Thats not Jandeks handwriting," said Irwin, whos been corresponding with him for 26 years. (The authenticity of the note has in fact been confirmed in regard to its contents-- the song will appear remixed on a disc by Secret Frequency Crew, a Miami based hip-hop group with a bunch of EPs and CDs to its credit. And Seth Tissue, also a longtime correspondent of Jandek's, says it is indeed the J-man's handwriting). After about 45 minutes Irwin left the line and bought Crackerjacks at a grocery store up 2nd Avenue. I must say the crowd remained remarkably high spirited and good humored during the endless delay, even when Irwin was saying that Jandeks entire career was the worlds longest and most elaborate conceptual art piece. Around 8, the line started to move.Irwin asked one of the Anthology people why the long delay? "He was making sure everything was perfect," she said. What could this possibly mean, I wonderedI mean, a guy who reviewed one of the Austin shows mentioned that Jandek had paused to tune a guitar string and commented, "He tunes his guitar. Who knew?"
There were three cameras, two along the auditorium wall stage left and one stage right, and what looked to be a jerry-rigged audio pick up with two or three criss-crossed microphones set up in the middle of the auditorium, in the center of an aisle, high enough that I dont think it interfered with any sightlines. Not with mine, anyway, and I was almost directly behind it. Keyboard, stand up bass, electric guitar and drum kit on stage.
I was going to say that Barry Esson introduced the musicians, but thats not accuratehe announced they were about to begin, no names were mentioned, although he did say hed been involved in all of "Corwoods" live shows to date. Lights down, the drummer, the guitarist, and the bass player came out, were applauded, and Jandek followed (very enthusiastic applause) and sat down behind the two-tiered keyboard. He had a manuscript book of his lyrics on the lower one.
Initially the music sounded eerily familiar, a lot like Tim Buckleys "Lorca," I realized latersome of the same propulsive rhythm, and very similar bass figures. The music had a forward momentum Id never encountered before with Jandek, even in the Glasgow recordings. The guitarist was playing almost nothing but feedback washes and reverb effectsI dont think I caught any individual notes from his instrument until late in the third song. For much of the first song, the drummer had a spare stick in his mouth.
Jandeks playing was nothing like his psycho-kitten-on-the-keyboard demolition derby on "The Beginning." It sounded to me like very simple patterns, usually a four or five note descending scale, but on the other hand, Irwin, sitting to my immediate right, heard no repeated patterns at all.
Sample lyric from the first song (and Im sorry to say I cant vouch for the accuracy of my transcription): "All the fault lines are alarming / It doesnt matter / I cant escape the weight of these days / But its a swamp Im stuck in."
About halfway through the (very long) second song the guitarist and the bass player went into what might be the Jandek equivalent of a rave-up: about 20 seconds of head-to-head jamming. The bass player was bowing his instrument on this song, though not exclusively.
On the third song the guitarist sometimes played sitting down. I thought perhaps his strap had broken, but apparently not, or he fixed it when I wasnt paying attention. Sample lyric: "Just go outsidethe elements will teach you how to respond." The guitarist, who was working without a plectrum even during some furious strumming (for which he seemed to use his thumb), picked out a skewed, pretty melody as the number endeda very welcome respite after the sonic onslaught.
I could have used several more. By the fourth or fifth song I was starting to lose track of time, and not in the good way. Every so often a phrase would jump out"O sure theres BeautyI remember that," and "She said, go outside /Youll find something to do / So I went outside / And did things," which might be my favorite Jandek line ever (I laughed out loud, and I wasnt the only one). But 7 straight songs about unrelieved depression, creative impotence, and the general pointlessness of existencemany using the same or nearly the same words and imageryis maybe 5 straight songs about unrelieved depression, creative impotence, and the general pointlessness of existence more than Im generally up for. But hey, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.
Somewhere around here I noticed that the drummer was bowing his snare sometimes (I dont know what it sounds like. The mix was excellent but even so I couldnt identify that sound in it), and that something was definitely amiss with the guitarist. He was sitting down beside an amplifier, sipping from a glass of juice, pulling his hair back from his face, putting his hands over his ears. I dont think he played a note on the next to last song, though when it was over he turned off his pick-up. He moved his foot to the rhythm of the bass player for a while, lost it, stopped, took a tissue out of his pocket, swallowed something from the tissue. Jandek looked over at him a few times. It appeared to me that he was glaring, but its hard to say. Not only is Jandek extraordinarily pale, his eyes are extraordinarily pale. I couldnt always tell where he was looking, let alone read his expression (there was one smile, perhaps a third of the way into the night).
When the last song ended, Jandek stood up and left without acknowledging the audience; the other musicians followed, and the guitarist got all the way across the stage with his guitar still plugged in, but either he noticed in time or his momentum yanked out the cord. (Later it was reported that the guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors suffers from Parkinsons and likely didnt time his meds correctly, still later a friend of Connors wrote in to the Jandek list to announce that the problem was actually severe tinnitus, which would certainly explain the hands over the ears. Connors recovered enough to perform later that night at the AFA).
When the lights came up, I found that Irwin had been keeping a running total of how many times Jandek used some of his favorite wordsempty (8), nothing (17), "don't care" (4) and "die" (6).They announced that there were two more acts appearing and there would be a 15-minute intermission but Irwin and I both had to leave. I think Irwin would have hit the road under any circumstances, but even with the hour plus ride ahead of me I might have hung around if the show hadnt been delayed for over an hour. Irwin dropped me off at my car, where I was disappointed to see that Kirsten Dunst hadnt left a note with her phone number under my windshield wiper after all. The slender chance that she had may have kept me sane during the last couple of songs. I didnt really think she was going to leave her phone number, but I thought that maybe shed ask me where I got the cool sneakers and ask me to leave the info with her agent or something. Probably she did and some neighborhood low-life swiped the note.
Some General Observations:
First of all, given the ridiculously long wait (in very nice weather, fortunately), I hope the AFA allowed those in need to use the bathroom.
I was disappointed that Jandek was playing keyboard instead of guitar, especially in light of what some folks on the Jandek list have written about his fretwork at recent live shows; the Bizarro guitar tuning / playing is my main area of interest in Jandek. Yes, this was a totally new Jandek sound. But it was the same totally new Jandek sound for roughly 90 minutes, and my capacity to absorb fresh new sounds aint what it used to be.
No reservations about the sidemenloved the feedback washes from the guitar player, loved the drummer, and Im positively thankful for the bass player, who gave me a rhythmic anchor to hug when his collaborators were intent on reminding me that Im 50 years old and this isnt really my music. Not only did he establish a groove now and again, he appeared to be enjoying himself. But my tolerance for skronk (or whatever this stuff is) is limited to about 15 minutes, and my appreciation / understanding of it doesnt go very deep. I can admire it, enjoy it, even be moved by it (for 15 minutes, tops) but Im definitely outside it.
Then we have the lyrics. I confess I have problems with most of Jandeks recent lyrics, post "New Town" generally and post the three acapella CDs in particular (those can be pretty tough going, but I do like "Frosted Field" and "Killer Cats of the Caribbean" off the second one). Heres the thing: the very first song on the very first Jandek album goes, "I got a vision/ A teenage daughter / Who's growing up naked in the afternoon /I know a brother close to his mother / Who stays out late in the evening time / I keep repeating,/ It takes a beating / To grow up naked in the afternoon / You are a cowboy if you wear those boots / You are a cowboy when you wear those boots / Big time in the city / I got a letter / I read in the paper / It said a man was shot to death / It said a cow gave poison milk..." Now I dont know exactly whats going on there, but I want to know. Theres not just darkness there, theres magic and mysterywhat Lorca (him again!) called duende. Jandeks crazy guitar tunings and autistic strumming make a kind of sense with those words, at least to my ears. Surely those lyrics come from as dark a place as this evenings "can't see a reason to continue / It's always been this way / And I knew about it as soon as I could reflect / and understand / It's all so useless / Why do it / It's always put one foot in front of the other / And carry on." Well, I get that. If youre going to bring me to a dark place, at least show me something in that darknessa naked daughter, a cowboy boot, a cryptic letter. If all youre going to do is turn off the lights and then tell me its dark... well, hey, thanks for the tip.
You should bear in mind that mine is very much a minority opinion herethe bulk of the comments posted on the mailing list so far range roughly from awestruck to giddy with delight. G. Mazz, on Coffeerooms.com, ended his review: "In the days leading up to the performance, I was anxious that perhaps the music would not hold up to the myth but now, having seen it, I realize that at its best, Jandeks music takes me out of my skin and into a scary little world that most people would rather not visit. This performance absolutely provided that intense ultra-personal feeling. As a fan, I was stunned." Several people reported being emotionally drained. I feel kind of bad that I wasnt. Just a bit tired.
Look, Im glad hes out there, Im glad hes finally performing in public, Im glad I saw him. I would have liked more variety in the music and the lyrics, but thats just not what hes doing these days. But I wouldnt have missed it for anything.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: If I'm reading the hotgossip page on MSN correctly, I couldn't have possibly almost bumped into Kirsten Dunst on Tuesday night in Manhattan because she was in Venice. So not only did Kirsten not leave a note under my windshield, neither did the girl I actually almost bumped into. Bummer.
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