The music of Jandek (Sterling Smith) is so bizarrely inept that one might wonder if the documentary about "the myth or the man" is some commedian's attempt at a mocumentary. It is pretty damned funny, not because there's anything particularly commical about Jandek, who the film never comes within a million miles of reaching, but because of his completely bonzo fandom which has used his reclusiveness as an excuse to admire their personal inadequacies & failures as being mythic rather than pathetic.
Bare in mind it's the fandom & not Jandek that's pathetic. From the evidence of the film alone it would be impossible to guess whether he's pathetic or one big joker. The film's simply not about him. We do get to hear a lot of samples of his music & that's for the good, but the film's about the imagination of sad little ducks who liked to believe they were somehow "in the know" & part of a marvelously appreciative clique. A type of clique that could itself explain why Jandek was so long reluctant to give interviews or interact with anyone interested in his music.
Because Jandek was never the sort to give interviews or invite documentarians over for brunch, Jandek on Corwood (2003) presents to us a bizarre parade of abject nurds, & one female reporter who is pretty normal & therefore despised by the parade of nurds very unhappy to admit a mere girl could be the only person to meet Jadek the Mysterious, & those sad guys actually speculated that she made it all up.
Those ducks have all sorts of theories about who Jandek is, how he came to exist, why he won't hang out with them. They assume he must be a mentally ill loner, possibly a sociopath, certainly a recluse, weirdo, & loveless loser who poors the angst of his misery into a long series of indistinguishable albums of minimalist music. The music itself does intrigue, but these spastic fans surmising all this crap about the guy who made those albums could only be pure mocumentarian delight. Except that the most mocumental part of the mocumentary is that the first-time or amateur filmmaker wasn't trying to be funny.
These dunces could as easily have supposed Jandek had plenty of buddies & got together with some of them now & then to play poker or canasta. They might have invented the possibility that he's a life-time member of the Texas Rabbit Association & raises New Zealand reds, or that founded a regional philatelic society, & has a whole nuther life as a stand-up comic on open-mic nights at Cafe Nowhere. When fans who claim to really like his stuff just assume he's a lonesome lunatic who can't get laid, this seems to come from the ease by which someone disinterested in the limelight can be made into a mirror.
The highlight of documentary is when the only interview Janek ever gave (up to the point when the documentary was made that is) gets played off the tape recording of the phone call. In that interview Jandek came off as a completely regular joe. He seems to take his music seriously, but knows 300 copy editions will probably fill the market need, & confesses that he's attempting poetry, some of it impromptu. He's so normal (though not ordinary) that the comparison to his fans' inventions about him pretty obviously have no baring in reality.
But whether any of their nutty speculations about Jandek had any applicability might've been hard to say before the dvd came out. It was idiotic speculation but who's to contradict it. However, he's since done live concerts in Glasgow, Gateshead England, London, Austin, Chicago, Portland, Indianapolis, & Seattle, as well as in Finland, Belgium, & Canada, just for starters. Some of his live performances are now available from Curwood Industries.
Perhaps some future re-issue of the documentary will include these updates, but as it stands, the whole point of Jandek on Corwood, which was to perpetuate a "myth" about The Man Nobody Has Ever Seen, has become roundly pontless. Or, rather, the film's point becomes the manner by which it documents the nature of Jandek's nurdy fandom.
Jandek's home-made albums are available from Corwood Industries which is only post office box in Houston, & more recently a few places on the web. I'd describe it as "spastic blues" as a guitar seems to be more or less plucked at random by someone who never learned to play it
A sweet melancholy ghostly voice begins jabbering nonsensical-to-folksy lyrics. And anyone who has ever sat alone in their house with a guitar they're not too good at, banging away on it making "music" or noise to entertain oneself, should be willing to admit that sometimes this sort of racket is on some level authentic art, & occasionally worth listening to. I mean, everyone must have at least one Jandek album in them, & it would be great if we all made one.
Indeed there were Industrial & "noise bands" in the decadantly waning years of the first wave of Punk Rock who took just this attitude, & some of those performances were first-rate in their own sphere, a triumph of formlessness over competency, & in its crackpot dadaistic manner, potentially brilliant.
On one level Jandek is like the self-involved guitar puttering an eternal thirteen year old with little or no talent in the ordinary or commercial sense of the word. On another level Jandek's music has a tantric, meditative effect, as though Jim Morrison or David Byrne were doing Tuvan throat-music.
Watch the film & laugh at the fans, but Jandek can be taken seirously if you like. Or not if you don't like. To me (looking in the Jandek mirror through my own filters) there's a backwoods beatnik dada punkoid fluxus feeling to his music, which he issues in limited editions of 300 copies once to three times a year, making small effort to sell them, & paying for it hobby-like from out of a reasonably good salary he earns as a machinist. The music that others find absurdist or incomprehensible I find in many cuts to be old-fashioned morbidly humorous experimentation (to put it in the best light).
I can imagine his cds used as fine ambient background music for a nice little coffeehouse, Jandek droning on quietly as people converse, until one guy alone in the corner with one cup of coffee for the last three hours suddenly stands up & screams, "What the hell is that!"
In a world where ordinary people so want fame & money they'll eat bugs or a raw horse schlong on prime-time television for attention, or scream at each other about their infidelity with the family dog on afternoon talk shows, it is perhaps equally ordinary that his fandom long assumed lunacy of some guy in Houston who was not like that, who just wanted to share his music without pursing stardom or going on tour or appearing on tv shows or at least be interviewed on the radio by Dr. Demento (the one & only person of note to appear in the documentary).
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