Journal

Jandek review: Let me tell you a story...<font size=2> by Dustin Haug</font> Oct 28, 2006

by Tania Kupczak

3 years ago, I was on tour in Nashville, TN. On Halloween, I performed 3 sets of improvisational dance with some local musicians in the attic of an abandoned maple syrup warehouse. There was an art gallery opening downstairs, and when I wasn’t dancing, I was drinking beer from a gigantic metal keg out of a plastic cup. A few days later, I found myself at a bar that one of the local musicians suggested I check out. The bar was called "The Bleeding Pig" or "The Skewered Hog" or something equally southern and disturbing. The bar was behind the parking lot of a sketchy McDonald’s at the back of a nondescript dead-end road. The bar was coldly lit with fluorescent lights and had a beat up, uneven concrete floor. You could order only 2 different drinks from the bar: Budweiser and Bud Light. They were all out of Budweiser. A band was playing in a side room, which was little more than an extension of the roof with a few tables and chairs underneath. The side room had no walls, so maybe it’s not fair to even call it a "room." The band was torturing some of the most tragic blues/rock music out of their instruments that I’ve ever heard. I didn’t listen long. The red stage lights in addition to the agonized noise were just too much for me. I played darts instead.

Vivid memories of that evening long ago came flooding back to mind as I watched Jandek, or Corwood Industries, or perhaps some other generic musical entity on stage. It was quite possibly the strangest the thing I’ve ever witnessed, which is saying a lot after my time in Nashville. 5 people walk on stage, just slow enough to make me think they are not quite the same species of human as me. 2 women sit at the back of the stage. They occasionally stand up to drone lyrics about love. 3 men play instruments: percussion, bass, and guitar. I wouldn’t recognize these people if I ran into them on the street later on. I want to believe that I would recognize the guitarist, the guy pictured on all of Jandek’s albums, the prolific musical recluse, but I’m not so sure. He wears all black, strumming an unconventionally tuned black guitar. Perched on his head is a black cowboy hat. It could be anyone’s hat. His skin is like wet papered laid on bones. His profile reminds me of Kevin Bacon, but maybe everyone’s profile does. I’ve never checked before.

Songs end after loops and layers and re-tracings. I applaud, but more out of habit than because the musicians really need any kind of recognition. They offer it like breath or the blink of an eye, completely emotionless yet paradoxically normal. I wanted to ask, "Why play a live tour if you are so unspectacular?" Which is of course the point. The performers are there with only their music. That is the vulnerable spectacle with no where else to hide.

During the 2-hour set, I went through waves of engagement and boredom, head-bobbing and toe-tapping, sitting still and dozing off. I’ve never felt so confidently comfortable sleeping during a performance. If the show was about anything, to me it was about memory and dreams, an oddly timely meditation. In a world centering on Fox News sound bytes, Hollywood block busters, and the Corporate American Empire, Jandek’s performance exists on the most extreme fringe. And this guy is from Texas? He could be Jesus Christ for all I know, but if vampires exist, I bet they resemble people like him.

Dustin Haug never listened to Jandek nor knew of the group's supposed existence before seeing the performance in Seattle. He used to write music reviews for a no-name radio station in college, but now he performs with Lingo dancetheater and substitute teaches.

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