Jandek

Jandek’s musical career describes a great arc. The arc leads gradually first towards collaborators and more accessible music, then away from them again.

In 1978 he began totally alone, not just without the help of other musicians, but practically without relation to other music. Jandek’s first LP, Ready for the House, is credited to “The Units”, but it’s obviously a solo work, and the name was never used again.

As the years passed, gradually various other musicians appeared, first tentatively, on a song or two, then increasingly, until “Jandek” became a collective as much as a person. At the same time, the music became more extroverted. Jandek switched from acoustic to electric guitar and added a drummer; the shy whispers of the early LP’s gave way to harsh, even crazed sounds. Then he started sharing more and more of the vocal duties with a woman, “Nancy”, and added a second guitarist. The music changed again, becoming more melodic and structured and increasingly incorporating recognizable styles of music: blues, folk, sixties rock. He even put a few sharp, contemporary photographs of himself on his album covers instead of old blurry ones.

Suddenly, in 1993 Jandek made an about face. After one last group track, a long crazed improvisation called “The Electric End”, he said goodbye again to electric instruments, collaborators, and conventional styles. Since then he’s been alone again, usually with just his acoustic guitar. He went without even that on three consecutive voice-only discs in 2000 and 2001. Since then, he’s picked up acoustic guitar again as well as electric guitar, fretless electric guitar, and fretless electric bass.

Jandek dropped a bomb on his audience in October 2004 when he came out of decades of hiding and played an unannounced show in Glasgow. There’s been a string of shows since, most of which have followed the same basic format as the first: Jandek sings and plays guitar, dressed all in black and backed by local musicians on bass and drums. The group rehearses only once, the afternoon of the show. The music is electric, loud, and largely improvised. For each show Jandek writes a whole new set of lyrics, which he keeps on a music stand in front of him.

But other shows have been change-ups. The music might be quiet instead of loud; Jandek might play piano or electric organ instead of guitar; or recite a spoken word piece punctuated by harmonica; or sit in on drums with a noisy power trio. One audience witnessed an enactment of the primal Jandek scene: a man alone with his acoustic guitar.

The only thing you can count on is he never looks at the audience once.

Jandek also played at...