Jandek: The Man From Corwood Many people are famous just for being famous. But Jandek is an artist who has shunned recognition to such a degree that, intentionally or not, he has developed a celebrity all his own. Little is known about the man behind this avant-garde blues, even 51 albums into his career.

Jandek: The Man From Corwood

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

There are plenty of performers who are more famous for being famous than for their art. But there's one artist who has shunned recognition to such a degree - intentionally or not - that he has developed his own kind of celebrity.

Chris Boros of member station WKSU reports on the musician known simply as Jandek.

CHRIS BOROS: Jandek's music is not for everyone.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DOUGLAS WOLK (Music Critic, Rolling Stone): I describe Jandek's music as very dark, half-decomposed blues.

BOROS: That's music critic and author Douglas Wolk. He's written for the New York Times and Rolling Stone. He's been a Jandek fan for years.

Mr. WOLK: It's like somebody making music from a description of what songs are without ever actually having heard any.

(Soundbite of song "Naked in the Afternoon")

JANDEK: (Singing) I got a vision, a teenage daughter who's growing up naked in the afternoon.

Mr. WOLK: You hear those sounds on his records and you think, what is this? How did he make this? What does it mean that he made this?

BOROS: Good question, considering Jandek has now released 51 albums on a label called Corwood Industries. The early vinyl records could only be obtained by sending a letter to Corwood's post office box. And even today, there's no e-mail address or Web page for Corwood Industries or Jandek.

The musician has conducted only one official interview, and that was 22 years ago. He spoke with music journalist John Trubee, who is writing for Spin magazine. Trubee recorded the interview.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. JOHN TRUBEE (Music Journalist, SPIN Magazine): I guess you don't like to be interviewed, but I'd like to write a little about your records anyway if that's okay.

JANDEK: No problem about the records.

Mr. TRUBEE: Okay. But you don't want any personal information printed or anything or…

JANDEK: Rather not. Plus, I'm inordinately a private person. I kind of have declined interviews and things like that because I just put out a product and that's it. I don't want to get too involved.

BOROS: It's interesting to note that Jandek refers to his work as a product, since his efforts to sell it have been unconventional to say the least, sending multiple unsolicited vinyl copies blindly to record stores or writers like Trubee.

Mr. TRUBEE: I would come home from work and find these cardboard flats every couple months. And there would just be that blurry, grainy, out-of-focus photograph on the front, and maybe a sheet included with the records listing the albums that were for sale. Just the strange music and the weird albums and that's it.

(Soundbite of music)

BOROS: In the interview, Trubee tried his best to get information about other musicians on Jandek albums. None of whom is credited.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. TRUBEE: How do you run into these people that would play on your tapes?

JANDEK: Those people I don't remember their full names. They had nicknames that I remember.

Mr. TRUBEE: Uh-huh. How did you meet them? Or how did they come to play?

JANDEK How did I meet them. I don't think it'd be right to answer that.

(Soundbite of song Birthday)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) A dozen drops fall from your face. Shaking the rain in a quiet place.

BOROS: In 1999, another journalist tracked down the man identified as the representative from Corwood Industries. Katy Vine was writing an article on Jandek for Texas Monthly magazine. But during their meeting at a bar, she was not allowed to record or even take notes.

Ms. KATY VINE (Reporter, Texas Monthly Magazine): We met a couple of his friends who were all dressed just as he was, in a white shirt, black pants, black ties. I'm still not entirely sure what he does for a living, but, you know, I couldn't really go there, because then that would seem as if I were trying to elicit information that was off limits.

BOROS: Three years ago, after a quarter-century of making music, Jandek played his first live concert.

(Soundbite of song "Real Wild")

JANDEK: (Singing) If you get real wild. There's nothing around. I made the decision to get real wild.

BOROS: Douglas Wolk heard about the show through a Jandek mailing list.

Mr. WOLK: It wasn't advertised. It wasn't promoted. It was just at a noise and music festival in Scotland. And a few people in the audience said, wait, you know, that sounds kind of like the guy on the Jandek. Wait, that guy looks like the guy on the cover of the Jandek record. That's Jandek. It was a big, big surprise to everyone.

(Soundbite of applause)

BOROS: This past summer, Jandek played a concert in Boston with local musicians - and we do know their names. Greg Kelley has released a number of his own recordings. He played trumpet with Jandek and remembers the Boston sound check.

Mr. GREG KELLEY (Trumpeter): Pretty much everyone had equal say. And then at the end of it, he just said, well, this is free-form experimental music, so, you know, established that we're free to exercise our own music basically.

BOROS: Kelley and the two other musicians had never even met Jandek before the show. And after only one rehearsal, the band played for two hours in front of a sold-out crowd of over 300 people.

Jorrit Dijsktra is a Dutch saxophonist and composer who now lives in Boston. He found Jandek to be quite likable.

Mr. JORRIT DIJSKTRA (Dutch Saxophonist): Very sweet and soft-spoken and very open to musical suggestions, and just really interesting nice guy who was really genuine in his behavior and in approaching his own music. And -artistic? Yes, he is eccentric, and that's interesting. That's cool.

BOROS: Both musicians believe Jandek's music and persona are not part of some joke or gimmick. It's just the way he is.

Mr. KELLEY: There was no feeling that if you asked him a question that he was guarded about anything. And certainly didn't seem to think of himself as any kind of rock 'n' roll superstar or anything.

(Soundbite of music)

BOROS: Jandek has achieved a measure of recognition beyond the musicians he's played with and a handful of fans. He's garnered the ultimate endorsement: the tribute CD. And not just one, but two recordings on which the likes of Bright Eyes and Jeff Tweedy from Wilco have tried playing Jandek songs.

The enigmatic musician has also been the subject of a feature-length documentary film…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WOLK: There's not an obligation to be famous.

BOROS: Music critic Douglas Wolk.

Mr. WOLK: We live in a culture that has impressed on us the idea that everybody not only can be famous, but should or must be famous. And if you're not famous, you've failed. And if you're making art and the world doesn't cheer you, then it's a failure, and that's just a lie. And it's a lie that Jandek realizes is a lie, and he's gotten around it his own way.

BOROS: NPR did contact Corwood Industries for an interview, and we got a response: A handwritten letter saying, quote, "We maintain our desire not to interview. Thanks for understanding. Best regards, Corwood."

For NPR News, I'm Chris Boros.

SIEGEL: You can watch a video clip from the Jandek documentary, "Jandek on Corwood," at our new Web site, npr.org/music.

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