How does one make a documentary about an undocumented man? Filmmakers Chad Friedrichs and Paul Fehler did just that, working for a year and a half, interviewing various journalists in order to demystify the reclusive musician known as Jandek. Linking the artist's cryptic lyrics to imagery found in and around his home in Texas, the filmmakers create a deeply cinematic, haunting landscape. They succeed in creating a world that, like Jandek's music, is simultaneously mesmerizing and disturbing.
The J.D. Salinger of the music world, Jandek lives a secretive existence, refusing interviews and photographs. Taking the term "underground" to an extreme, Jandek (who has released over 37 albums since 1978) isolates himself from the press, seemingly obsessed with avoiding public attention. However, in spite of, and because of his attempt to remain anonymous, Jandek has made himself into an underground celebrity by shrouding himself in the alluring cloud of mystery. If he really doesn't want people to be interested in him, then he might know better than to create such intrigue. In a culture so obsessed with celebrity, artists like Jandek consciously or unconsciously create quite a scandal.
Jandek's songs push the boundaries of traditional notions of music. Inaccessible and often difficult, even painful to listen to, his songs are stark and intense. His music makes the listener work, daring them to stick with him through what often sounds like the last cries of a dying animal. That said, his music also brings the listener into a deeply personal world of isolation and subjective experience. Stark and bluesy, these bare-bones songs often contain only one note, played over and over in repetition. Jandek's instruments are often played out of tune, and he pushes the limits of distortion, sounding at times like a stripped down Sonic Youth. Fans of Youth's sing-talky style may enjoy Jandek's vocals, which have a spoken word, poetic element to them.
So what drives a musician who does not want to be publicly recognized or to appeal to popular ideas of what sounds good? JANDEK ON CORWOOD sets out to explore this question, using stark images of bare trees, rain, and bloodstained sheets as a backdrop for Jandek's stark, often troubling recordings. The film explores the common hypotheses among Jandek fans as to what drives the man's music. Is it depression? A cry for help in the form of lyrics so depressing they resemble suicide notes? Is it madness? Or could it be that Jandek, (like Salinger) has found a way to make himself even more interesting to the world? Perhaps Jandek isn't mad at all. Maybe he has just figured people out.