Music’s reclusive anomaly
The tunes of Jandek (Sterling Smith) are so awkwardly bizarre that the eerie 2003 documentary about “the myth or the man,” Jandek on Corwood, can be taken as one out-of-tune farce.
However, there is nothing comical about Jandek, who the film has no real connection with due to his reclusivity. The comical aspect comes from the eccentric fandom that surrounds his life and music. This is a movie not so much about Jandek, but his fans.
For those who don’t know, which the film automatically assumes, Jandek is the musical project of Corwood Industries, a record label operating outside of Houston, Texas. Since the late ‘70s, Jandek has independently released close to 100 albums of desolate folk and blues songs. Much to his delight, hardly anybody knows about his existence.
The film is riddled with Jandek’s atonal guitar strumming underneath his wispy melancholy voice. Some of the songs could be compared to nails on bumpy chalkboard. It honestly sounds like somebody trying to learn the guitar, but not quite getting the full resonance from a chord. It has to be deliberate. Some albums feature an out of tune snare drum, piano, or just random percussion from found objects like a chair.
Some fans believe there is a hidden message within Jandek’s discordant music. They believe he is of a deranged higher power singing “death blues,” transporting them to another world some call a “suicidal void.”
The interviews with various fans come off so unbelievably pretentious. It’s like Jandek’s fans are an elite group of nobles who ‘get’ his music. My favourite quote is from a radio announcer who says, “The appeal to me is the fact that Jandek is so unappealing and ugly.”
Another that sticks out is from Jandek’s “first fan.”
“I knew Jandek before he was Jandek. I know him better than he does.”
It’s this sort of dogmatic clique of people that could perhaps explain why Jandek was so reluctant to agree to an interview or interact with any fan.
The way Jandek’s distribution is handled is also bizarre. The only way to contact or obtain a physical copy of Jandek’s work is to write to Corwood’s P.O. Box, but Jandek only responds to a few of the letters. This has led to many of his fans being part of Jandek’s “inner circle” which encompasses around his mailing list. If chosen, they are sent a few LPs with images of decaying American ruins and a sentence from Jandek himself signed with “Corwood.”
Did this film have to be made? No, it didn’t. In fact, I would wager Jandek never wanted this film to be made, but now we have an archive of Jandek’s weird world. A world where he never tunes his damn guitar.
Tue., July 11, (7 pm)
Jandek on Corwood