Home #Hwoodtimes Poetry in Commotion (JANDEK – The Element of Nothing)

Poetry in Commotion (JANDEK – The Element of Nothing)

JANDEK drops a new book of poems

By Dale Nickey

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/15/24 – I started my Jandek journey a decade ago. I’ve written twenty articles and reviews of his recorded works (including two live concert reviews). For the most part I tried to do what most music writers failed to do. Focus on the music more than the myth. Of course, Jandek (the enigma) had to be addressed to provide context, but I felt that a serious analysis of the music was missing from the Jandek saga. It’s been a while since I wrote a Jandek review. I exhausted my vocabulary. I felt I served my purpose in codifying the Jandek ethos. Then, I received my usual review copy of Jandek’s latest work. The package felt odd in my hand. Not the usual CD or DVD. It was a book. A book of poems.

Apart from reviewing Jandek’s music, it has been my mission to find (the) soul of the man. A mission I never accomplished.  Just to remind, Jandek suffered (or cultivated) selective mutism when he released his first record in 1978. He declined to do interviews even though his record sales registered in the single digits. He gave out no promo material. No bios, one sheets, head shots. He didn’t play live. He didn’t advertise (except one cryptic 1/8-page ad in an obscure music fanzine). He would send 25 count boxes of vinyl records scattershot to odd reviewers, radio stations, record shops with no strategy or explanation. His “company” was Corwood Industries. Contact could only be achieved by terrestrial mail to his P.O. Box in Houston Texas. His records gave song titles and no other information. The cover art consisted of grainy (sometimes blurred) black and white photos of the artist, or a chair, or a chest of drawers etc., with the quality you might find in a dime store photo booth. A handful of music critics took up the cause and kept the faint pulse of Jandek’s micro-celebrity on life support for the remainder of the 20th century.

Since that first record, Jandek has gone from segregation-unit blues man to the subject of books, magazine articles and documentary films. He began to play live in 2004 and has taken his cacophonic crusades to major cities across North America and Europe. He has put out albums as a solo pianist and has explored ambient soundscapes. His discography now numbers well over a hundred titles. It remains a mystery how he underwrites his activities. I’m quite certain his archives will keep us awash with new Jandek releases long after his passing.

So now I have a book of his private thoughts. Unfiltered, undiluted by mega-decibels instrumentation, or improvisational flights of fancy. These are words The Representative of Corwood Industries felt important enough to memorialize in cloth bound hardcover. To me it feels momentous. A harbinger of something. Jandek is now 78. Even in his youth he projected a ghostly aspect. Some poly-dimensional hybrid of plasma and flesh. I hope I’m wrong, but the book feels like a preemptive elegy.

Like his music, Jandek’s poetry and prose weaves in and out of focus. The presentation is stark and spare. A blue cloth bound cover with a cover title – Jandek “The Element of Nothing”. We get a title page. Copyright 2024. We do get an ISBN number on the back cover. But nothing else. Like most poets, his base obsessions are simple, love, mortality, and God.

I am pouring over this work like an archeologist with a fresh slab of hieroglyphics. Perhaps the key to the soul of Jandek has always been there in his lyrics; but this feels different. This feels personal. Many of the lines are epiphanies from a man who knows his time is near.

I have selected lines from various poems:

I lost all my memory

And now I’m lost and obliterated

The curvature of life progression

Has somehow sharpened our wits

To the dangers of evolution

And the wilderness of fortune

Isn’t it beautiful

This parade of infrequent days

We’re in a menagerie

Of flying things

The slow zoom of eternity

Here I am

Confronting the Universe

My spirit accepts no interference

To the passage of my soul to God

But I’m all ready for the end

Or maybe it’s the beginning

I can throw my lasso out to the wind

And harness me a cloud

You get the idea. There is an artist residing inside the pages of “The Element of Nothing”. Even in his more difficult early recordings, a close listen could reveal the seedlings of an artist pushing up through the concrete of his musical mayhem. The album titles are intriguing as are the song titles. Something is going on inside his head, even if we’ll never know what (it) is.

The overwhelming majority of listeners will never be able to get past the high strangeness of his music. And full disclosure, this writer sees some of his records as a one-and-done listening experience. However, his words stick with me and buries much of the poetic dross you’ll find in New Yorker magazine.

Jandek will pass during our lifetime. The world will barely blink, move on and forget. I won’t.