From the Stacks

From the Stacks: Jandek – ‘White Box Requiem’

Jandek White Box Requiem front

I always pick up used Jandek CDs when I find them, but here’s a secret:

I like the idea of Jandek, but I don’t really like Jandek. My hunch is that this is how many people feel about David Bowie. They like the fashion and the whole chameleon thing, but they don’t really listen to the music. Bowie is the average music fan’s safe walk on the wild side, whereas Jandek is the music geek’s version of going way out there. The difference is this: Bowie had genuine chops. The man could play, sing, and write a song.  Jandek? Not so much.

But he’s got this really cool thing going on. The whole “Jandek/Corwood Industries” thing is a pseudonym for a dude named Sterling Smith, who has self released 80 or so albums over the last 40 years without doing any publicity. It’s like KISS in makeup during the ’70s but to the nth degree. Who is this guy, and what the hell is this?

The music is atonal, dissonant to a degree that it’s hard to find the song in his songs. Here’s a taste:

I was so baffled by the first Jandek album that I picked up that I made my son, who is a jazz pianist listen to it. “Is this good and I’m just missing it?” I asked him.

“No, it sounds like someone who can’t play guitar trying to playing guitar,” he said.

But there’s no arguing that it’s fascinating, and what’s really cool to me is that the dude found what worked for him and committed to it. I may not get it, but I totally get it.

Jandek albums trade anywhere from five bucks to hundreds, but the majority of his CDs bunch up around the 10 dollar mark. Give one a shot and let me know whether you think he’s brilliant or that the emperor wears no clothes. Happy hunting.

Jandek White Box Requiem back

Categories: From the Stacks, Music

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4 replies »

  1. People don’t really listen to David Bowie’s records? I REALLY don’t think he’s considered a legend because people like the way he dresses. And what good would being a chameleon do you if nobody actually listened to the stylistic differences?
    Considering this baffling bit of writing, I don’t think I could successfully defend Jandek to you but I’ll just say he’s a hell of a poet and those who like atonal/dissonant music greatly enjoy his work. It’s supposed to sound broken and fucked up – it’s not trying to play and not being able to. If you want to get a feel for his sense of more traditional melodies, look for The Song Of Morgan – a box set of quite beautiful piano pieces.


    • There’s nothing terribly baffling about it: Ask the average person wearing an Aladdin Sane t-shirt what their favorite track is on ‘Aladdin Sane’ and you’ll get a blank stare. You clearly are a music fan, not an average person, and thus would have a well-reasoned response to that same question.

      And I’m not sure why you would need to successfully defend Jandek to me. If you like atonal/dissonant music, then enjoy.


  2. I forgot about this old comment of mine and didn’t really expect a reply haha. Stumbled upon it again somehow today. I guess it wasn’t clear to me that you were directing these sentiments solely to non-music-geeks and being a massive Pink Floyd fan, if you replace Aladdin Sane shirt with Dark Side Of The Moon shirt – yeah I totally have experienced that blank stare. But that was in high school and now that I have no reason to come across these kinds of people at random, the notion of people only pretending to like things isn’t really something I encounter anymore so it’s not something that I take into account when reading things like this.


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