The Popstream: Gettin' Funky With Jandek


picture c/o John Pham on flickr

First off, my apologies for the unannounced hiatus -- not only have things been somewhat unexpectedly busy in my day-to-day life, but I accidentally lost my bookmark to YouTube and forgot what the URL was. But I'm back into this now, albeit as a once-a-week feature, to keep from stretching myself thin. And as it turns out, there's a video I absolutely had to break my silence for ASAP, though it requires a bit of an explanation.

Ever since he started distributing self-released albums out of Houston under the mysterious 'Corwood Industries' label some thirty-plus years ago, Jandek has proven to be one of music's most enigmatic outsiders. Until he made his live performance debut four and a half years ago, nobody really knew what he looked like; he rarely included photos of himself in his album art and even the pictures that could have been speculated to be him were largely unverifiable. But his mysterious identity, prolific output (some 55 albums and counting) and haunting, surreal interpretation of country and folk-blues made him a cult hero, possibly far further than he even realized. He had already been noticed as a bit of a cult artist by 1985, where he was interviewed for the first issue of Spin, and he eventually inspired -- directly or otherwise -- a number of similar home-taped efforts by artists like John Darnielle and Beck who would later go on to bigger, more accessible things. I admit to being less up on Jandek's material than I should be, though I've been told that his 1987 album Blue Corpse is a good entry point.

When Jandek finally made his onstage debut -- unannounced, as part of an October 2004 festival in Glasgow, Scotland of all places -- a lot of questions were answered: yes, the man who occasionally appeared on the covers of those albums was, in fact, Jandek, and yes, he was a capable and compelling live performer with an ability to pull off a number of different styles. But most of his shows were overseas or outside his native Texas, and eventually fans started wondering if he'd ever play a hometown gig in Houston. On Sunday, he did.


Again, I must reiterate that as much as I'd heard about Jandek, I hadn't heard much of him. But even I got the feeling when I started watching this clip that slap-bass vamps are not a general feature of his music. When I first heard about this clip from friends on messageboards and Twitter, the general reaction was one of amused astonishment, which I think seems about right. It does take a while for Jandek to actually contribute something audible above all that aside from a few half-audible audience-directed exhortations involving shirts or something, but once he starts up on guitar you can tell he's actually into it. Not the first thing you'd expect from the consummate outsider musician, but unpredictability is what makes outsiders interesting.