Jandek – Chair Beside A Window (1982)

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By Mark Saleski

This story travels a bizarre triangle from Portland, Maine to San Diego, California to Houston, Texas. To be honest, there’s nothing particularly exciting about either the story or the music, but it illustrates just how big the world of art is…and that there are plenty of ways to discover something new.

So it was maybe ten years ago or so, and me and TheWife™ have decided to take a late-winter vacation. For most people living in the chilly northeast, this means a flight to sunny California, or maybe a cruise to the Caribbean. Well, we’re still cold weather people, so we head even more northeast, renting a condo not far from the ocean in Portland, Maine.

What does a person do in a small, cold city before spring makes itself known? Why, check out the book stores and the record stores, of course! (This is exactly what we would do in the middle of the summer as well). In the evening of our first day there, a few hours after the first trip to Longfellows Books, I found myself settled in to one of the living room comfy chairs with a fresh copy of Irwin Chusid’s Songs in the Key of Z. It’s a book about “outsider” musicians. Several chapters in is a segment on Jandek.

What is a Jandek?

He a musician from the Houston area who has put out over 60 albums, none of which you have ever heard. They are all put out under the name “Jandek,” coming from Corwood Industries, P.O. Box 15375, Houston, TX. I don’t know the very beginning of the story, but as related in the Chusid book, a journalist requested information from Corwood, and began to receive boxes of LPs. Records, but no actual information. Jandek is the J.D. Salinger of the music world. The music is striking, in that it sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before. There is Jandek’s voice, which whispers, moans, and howls bits of poetry and free associations. This is accompanied by either acoustic or electric guitar that is tuned to, well, something. Standard ideas of melody, harmony, and rhythm are pretty much ignored. It is, to say the least, spooky stuff. Part of what makes it spooky is this idea of a reclusive man in Texas, putting out at least two albums per year of this stuff. I remember being sort of fascinated by the story but could find none of his music at the local record shop.

About a year later, me and TheWife™ are visiting her parents out near San Diego. Being a native New Englander, one who likes to have a little space around him, I was sort of put off by the population density of the area. It made me feel a little claustrophobic, the endless expanse of suburbia. So, what did I do? Yes, I went to a record shop. Lou’s Records, in Encinitas, to be exact. After about 20 minutes or so, I had myself a nice stack of CD’s. I made a turn toward the front of the store and saw a sign on the wall that said “New Music.” Hmmm. Closer inspection revealed a bunch of things from independent jazz and “new music” labels such as CIMP and Tzadik. It took me about five minutes to return all of my CDs back to the racks. I then began to worship at the new music altar.

As luck would have it, the very first disc I saw was Jandek’s Chair Beside A Window. Oh yes, it would be mine. It was the only Jandek disc I bought that day, because the description in Chusid’s book scared me off a little.

The combination of words and music were every bit as odd as I’d imagined. The album opens with “Down In A Mirror,” full of echoey, atonal arpeggios on guitar and Jandek’s disembodied voice:

“we can’t deny….there’s spirits in this house…..you shut the door…..the wind closes two more….”

It was an absolute perfect companion to my feelings about the San Diego area mega-suburbia. A few years later, I bought several more Jandek discs at Twisted Village in Cambridge, Ma. This morning, I watched a documentary about the man called Jandek on Corwood. There’s trouble afoot, as now I want everything else he’s recorded. TheWife™ is not happy about this.

There’s almost no point in describing the rest of the music on this disc. It’s from his early period and contains the notable appearance of “Nancy” during “Nancy Sings.” You really need to experience this stuff for yourself. I will say this though, it’s not for everybody. Heck, it might not be for anybody. As Irwin Chusid says in Songs in the Key of Z, “…99.999997 percent of all sentient life on the planet could not listen to three Jandek tunes from start to finish.”

Ah, I’m a 0.000003 percenter. Life is good.

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