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December 22, 2004
"You won't get all the answers you want; it's better that way"

It is probably true that a person remains forever unknown to us, and that there is, in each, something irreducible that escapes one's grasp. Practically, I know a person and recognize them by their behavior, by the totality of their deeds, by the consequences caused in life by their presence. I may define them practically, appreciate them practically, insofar as I gather together the sum of their consequences, seizing and noting all their aspects, and, in this sense, outline their universe. It remains certain that, apparently, though I have had numerous experiences with said person, I shall not for that reason know them any better personally. Yet if I am to add up the characters he has personified and go as far as to say I know him a little better at such a point, this will be felt to contain an element of truth. There is a moral to this logic. A person defines himself by make-believe as well as sincere impulses.

Jandek On Corwood is such an attempt to enumerate the successive appearances of a most elusive figure; a reclusive musician named Jandek who pours out morose stream-of-consciousness musings onto meandering off-key acoustic guitar. Throughout, these introverted, markedly out-of-tune acoustic guitar compositions - with the exception of the gorgeous folk-blues of "Nancy Sings"' - craft an intimate climate that, like prolonged thundershowers, can induce noticeable shifts in a person's mental state.

The only snag - in the entire documentary, Jandek is, in a sense, nowhere to be found. Rather, key figures expose their experiences with Jandek as well as their impressions or stances upon his efforts. Amy Frushour Kelly discusses the use of negative space in Jandek's sound and album covers as a way to force participation on the part of the listener; Calvin Johnson elaborates on the difficulties one faces when attempting to divorce the actual identity of the artist from his imagined 'icon'; others attempt to capture first impressions of the man, which vary from descriptions of Jandek as "like staying up to late when maybe there's not enough insulation on the nerve endings", to his music reading as "a suicide note which sounds like it's always about to sign off, but never does."

As stories accumulate, the image crafted is one which tells of Jandek - what with his not appearing in public to perform shows or engage in interviews - coupled with the forlorn, introverted nature of his lyrics, as being perhaps sociopathic or even deranged. Introduced are disjointed notions which speculate as to whether Jandek's music may have been a part of a manic-depressive therapy session. As one would now imagine, Jandek is described, not just in realms of music but those of life, as though he were one "who is singing to a wall which keeps him from actually communicating with others". And, with a diverse range of perspectives - which not only provide worthwhile ruminations as to Jandek, but become interesting of themselves (the quirky, yet humorous interludes from Richie Unterberg; to the simply out of place top hat, red bow tie outfit dawned by local radio host) - the footage gathered for this film commendably communicates the disengagement found in Jandek's music and make him felt even though he never appears.

A laudable effort is done by weaving these disparate perspectives together, for the film follows a smooth progression of dramatic events. Never does it seem as though these pieces were tossed in a burlap sack and turned upside down. Each vantage point expounds upon those which came before it; filling in the lines a bit more and adding subtle dashes of color or otherwise etching new figures in the background. More specifically, one is shown dreary landscapes of eroding grass, leafless trees hovering over abandoned shacks and upset waters folding into themselves or the weather beaten rocks of Rhode Island, which are watched over by a sole lighthouse.

As to the documentary's plot line, it may be said to consist of two parts: a first part which constructs a rather stereotypical portrait of what Jandek may well be like, and a second which thoroughly deconstructs the notion that Jandek's image can ever be more than a fan's reflection of themselves. Never is this deconstructionist perspective more supported than when, at the end of the picture, John Trubee's over-the-phone interview is played, and the person behind Jandek actually speaks. With something of a country tinge to the timbre of his voice, at first impression this artist named Jandek does not at all appear as the brooding, introverted intellectual one might have imaged. Rather, he is cordial and simple, almost to the point of monotony. His most interesting insights come when comparing the way people leave a person's consciousness to that of a rock eroding on the shoreline.

As put by Gary Pig Gould, Jandek bears similarity to stumbling across a sole character while at a bus stop at night and finding, despite their silence, an intrigue in their movements. They are present; that much is clear, but why? Why here, why now? However did he come to arrive here? It becomes clear that between the certainty of a person's existence and the content I try to give it, the gap will never be filled. Despite the lack of any absolute certainty, a person may still take pleasure in the unearthing experience, and Jandek provides an ample plot of land to explore.

---
SEE ALSO > A Guide to Jandek

--
Max Schaefer
Nocturnal qualms and eyes that brim like lamps betoken slender sketches, poetry and short stories strewn alongside piano playing, a fiddling of knobs and murmured dialogue with a medley of electronic gizmo's. A twenty-one year old person lodged within the University of Victoria, Max harvests organic sounds on a sullen sampler, watching water unwind like two broad lengths of ribbon and nursing a book below the canopy of a cheery-tree. Max believes that the world is made present by people's presence in it and that art is one such way in which a distinctive disclosure might be crafted.

See other articles by Max Schaefer.

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