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Jandek: Stepping from the shadows 

Legendary recluse remains a perfect mystery in plain view

Michael Goldman remembers his first brush with the music of Jandek a decade ago with cool and clear-headed enthusiasm. The encounter set the guitarist for Atlanta low-key rock band the Eyes on a path to soak up the 50-plus LPs and CDs that bear the name of the ghostly and enigmatic Texas recluse. After years of immersing himself in Jandek's deranged and decades-long strum and moan, and exchanging letters with the man who never appeared in public until recently, Goldman is bringing Jandek to an Atlanta stage. The show follows a sudden string of Jandek performances after appearing as an unannounced guest at the Instal Festival in Glasgow, Scotland, in October 2004. But despite stepping out from the shadows, Jandek remains steeped in the veil of mystery that has surrounded him since his first recordings materialized nearly 30 years ago.

Since 1978, Jandek has operated in obscurity, churning out myriad recordings for his Corwood Industries label. He has granted only one interview, and provided absolutely no insight into his identity or background; other than a P.O. box and a vacant face that peers back through dozens of blurry album covers.

In one sense, Jandek is cut from the same cloth as quirky and brooding songwriter icons such as Cat Power and Bonnie Prince Billy. But whereas Chan Marshall and Will Oldham consciously create a mystique around their personalities and use it as a selling point for the music, Jandek reveals nothing. A void exists where there should be a personality bringing his albums to a point. As a result, any semblance of character that emerges is a construct of the eyes and ears of the beholder.

"I was drawn to Jandek because of the mystique, before I ever heard any of the albums," Goldman recalls. "A friend invited me over to listen to some of the records he had and after that I was hooked."

The record that hooked Goldman was Jandek's 1982 LP, Living in a Moon So Blue, an album that staggers through various haunted and frightening moods that evoke the low and lonesome sound of old Delta blues records by the likes of Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson and Charlie Patton. The spirits of such spectral bluesmen are raised, not by way of song structure, but in the warped pace of the music propelling songs such as "Strange Phenomenon," "Comedy" and "She Fell Down." The use of negative space is one of Jandek's most alluring qualities, giving rise to a mental palette where listeners have to fill in the blanks. "I could imagine somebody playing these songs outside at 3 a.m., staring up at the stars," Goldman recalls. "The music just went out into the ether somewhere and was directed toward nobody at all."

These elements harden in later albums, such as One Foot in the North and Lost Cause, where dissonant guitar sounds clang and tangle around wide-eyed rambling in an off-kilter take on lurching and rural noise. Other musicians wander in and out of songs on occasion, but no one is ever credited in the liner notes, save for cryptic song titles, including "Nancy Sings" from the album Chair Beside A Window and "John Plays Drums" from Your Turn To Fall.

In 2003, director Chad Friedrichs created a documentary film called Jandek on Corwood to survey the mystery man's MO and the reactions it has evoked from fans. More recently, Winslow, Ark.-based author Danen Jobe has carried the concept one step further by creating a fictional account of Jandek's life story, derived from a sense of musical impressionism gleaned from the albums. Although the book, titled Niagra Blues: Slingerland, is not affiliated with Jandek or Corwood, Corwood has offered its blessings on the project. "He's been very receptive and helpful," Jobe says. "He gave some great comments before the book was published that helped me realize some of its directions."

Niagra Blues: Slingerland is the first published section of a larger work in progress titled "White Blues." Since Jandek's American debut in Austin, Texas, in August 2005, Jobe has read excerpts from his book before the shows throughout the United States and Canada.

Each show that Jandek plays is designed specifically for the location, working instrumentation and themes around the city where the show happens, and the promoter is responsible for assembling his band. Some performances have featured Jandek playing solo guitar. At others, he's played piano. Other performances have featured scatterings of world-class improvisers, including experimental guitarists Alan Licht and Loren Connors, Tortoise drummer John McIntyre and Sam Coomes of Quasi.

The Atlanta performance will mark the fifth time Jobe has read before the show. "You never know what you're going to see or hear from one place to another," Jobe adds. "One show it's angular, proto-punk rock, the next classically and jazz-influenced piano-based compositions, the next a jazzy, loose blues with unusual instrumentation. It doesn't seem to suit his muse to revisit old places."

As to how Jandek's Atlanta show will unfold or who will accompany him onstage, Goldman, the promoter responsible for putting the lineup together, feels that it's best to keep that as part of the mystery.

music@creativeloafing.com

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