Shortly after the passing of author JD Salinger, I asked my coworkers in the office if they could think of any modern day artist that went out of their way to shun media attention while continuing to release material. One of my coworkers quickly piped up with the name Jandek. He replied so quickly that I thought that he was joking so I asked him to spell it out for me — it was not a joke at all.
In the last few months, I have been listening to the music of the artist known as Jandek and I am just as puzzled as I was when I first started. My co-worker loaned me a few of his albums and I loaded them. He warned me in advance that it could be a difficult listening experience. Indeed, it was.
The first song on the first album released by Jandek is called “Naked in the Afternoon.” Is it just me, or does it just sound like a strange atonal chord being played on an acoustic guitar along with the notes that make up the cord and a quiet, almost desperate, voice talk singing the words?
The second song started shortly after the first song ended and I thought that there must have been something wrong with the import because it sounded exactly the same as the first song. Same strange atonal chord — the exact same one. Same singing style. I then noticed that the words were different — it had to be the next song. Okay, I thought, perhaps the first two songs were just a sort of introduction.
I listened to the rest of the album and each song was just the same. The second album? Another album chock full of songs with the same chord, the same structure, and sad sounding yet brilliant lyrics. Take these heartbreaking lyrics from the song Can I See Your Clock.
Now listen gently to the call
Riding on the waves that fall
And rise to reach the sun and you
You’re living in a moon so blue
Such fantastic lyrics, and yet I find it so difficult to listen to them. The next mystery of Jandek is the fact that the artist simultaneously hides and reveals himself. Much like the cryptic band The Residents, the real identity of Jandek is not generally known to the general public.
Unlike The Residents, however, Jandek has revealed exactly what he looks like — if you peruse the covers of the Jandek discography from the last thirty-two years, you will see photographs of the same man on most of them. That man is Jandek. That was confirmed when Jandek performed live for the first time — in 2004. In my mind, there is a disconnect between these two ideas — showing off your likeness on almost all of your albums and yet hiding in every other way.
I am baffled and fascinated by Jandek at the same time. What is the meaning of all of the album covers that look so similar to one another? Why are the lyrics so well written and yet are sung on music that is so inaccessible? It may be years before I work it out. Look for an update when… if that happens.