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.