Sunday, April 12, 2009

Review of "Jandek on Corwood"

Jandek on Corwood
Directed by Chad Friedrichs

As with much outsider art, biography is as crucial to Jandek's legend as the actual output. Since 1978, the enigmatic musician has released 33 records through the equally secret Houston-based Corwood Industries. In theory, the stuff is great: insect corpses glued to staff paper, or atonal marathons of ghostly koans and mental-ward blues, performed over gangrenous guitar. One could also justifiably situate Jandek's music right at the border of the listenable—which begs the question: would anyone but a journalist find the Jandekalogue worth wading through?

Chad Friedrichs's doc has too many rock-crit talking heads, too often saying the same thing based on scant information—though Voice contributor Douglas Wolk is eloquent on the sense of an ending he derives from the last song on each Jandek album, a pseudo-finality waiting to be trumped by the inevitable next release. Katy Vine actually tracked down the reclusive Texan, and her fascinating account of an immaculately dressed man, refusing to talk about the music but inviting her to a bar (where his similarly attired colleagues are) is diminished by the pedestrian visuals (cufflinks, glass of beer). A recording of John Trilbee's 1985 interview for the first issue of Spin is graced with a shot of a telephone. (What we see doesn't do justice to perhaps Jandek's true aesthetic achievement—album cover art as unified and resonant as the Smiths' or Belle & Sebastian's.) "Your review of Ready for the House [debut album] was the inspiration and force behind the continuation of Corwood Industries," he wrote to music writer Phil Milstein years after the fact, and one senses that the outsider knows how to play the publicity game better than was imagined. Though a clumsy portrait of the artist, Jandek on Corwood inadvertently serves as a mirror on the critical faculty itself. —Ed Park

[Some version of this appeared in The Village Voice, in November 2004

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