Sunday, August 13, 2006

Being there with Jandek

jandek : glasgow Monday- THE CELL

The worlds greatest ex-rock crit, Richard Meltzer accurately nailed Bob Dylan's shtick to a large extent, when, in his tome 'The Aesthetics of Rock' said something along the lines that 'Dylan frees us from meaning' rather than the other way around (which is the case for 95% of innerlectyul fuckheads, myself included). But there's something incredibly powerful, profound and perhaps transcendental about art that delivers us from meaning. In fact, maybe that’s the thing that makes music 'spiritual' - and in today's milieu, that is a very dirty word (though Terry Riley, in a recent tour in Australia was effortlessly waxing lyrical about the role of rock n roll and popular music being a way for young people to express their spirituality). You could say that it all goes back to that undefinable term "the shit's got SOUL", or if you are the modernist, non-believer - it's got FEEL. Either way if the music's got it, you'll get it somehow. Mr Sterling R Smith aka Jandek aka the Representative from Corwood Industries recently released I think it's his 48th record GLASGOW MONDAY : THE CELL. The disc is another whopping 2-CD set, immaculately recorded from one of his recent UK live shows, and is another bona-fide masterpiece from the man, as far as I'm concerned. A live 'concept' album no-less, in the great tradition of live concept albums, like FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE, TOMMY LIVE @ ROYAL ALBERT HALL , THE WALL live at Krakow or some other place of megalithic grande-gestureness. So Jandek, in his infinite jest gives us his own version of 'The Wall' in THE CELL.

Immediate thoughts: A jail. A holding cell. A good title for a Swans/Michael Gira party-tune, but THE CELL could also mean, a battery, one of those solar things or most importantly, the smallest known living organism. Jandek once again frees us from meaning with the simplest of terms. But let's not get too carried away with his royal Perplexed one here.. The album cover features another jaw-droppingly great example of minimalist art photography with a shot of an ancient looking, possibly Celtic in origin, stone-dwelling that gives some sort of visual representation of Jandek's 'Cell'. The thing that baffles me the most about this album cover is what appears to be a stone table in front of the rock-house:

..I mean, what the fuck is that thing? Is it another of Mr.Jandek's Photoshop tricks?

Anyway I listened to this album straight through this afternoon while cleaning the garden of my own 'Cell':

It was a really pleasant sunny day here in Melbourne-town, a nice break from the crisp but dry (and finger-and-toes-freezing) winter we've had so far and Jandek's hot new album went down a treat and ended just as I filled the green bucket with the last chunk of rotting, possum-eaten lemon that fell of the tree in my back yard.

ANYWAY, I'm gonna attack this album on two fronts, namely the MUSIC and the LYRICS.

THE MUSIC: Jandek on piano. Richard Youngs and Alexander Neilson as the main pick-up band doing Cello-ed Bass and ambient-pavement saw percussion (and I mean really ambient, so you don't think yr listening to Throbbing Gristle or Neubaten or Pussy Galore). Jandek plays a very luverley piano here. I mean the playing here is so staid and quaint you could play it to an old fart who listens to classic-FM and they'd probably like it. It's quite astonishing to hear this type of 'civilised' playing from a bloke who has sonically raped, tormented and psychotically-epsisoded hundreds, if not thousands of left-field brain-splattered listeners over the decades. I mean this record is of the cheese-and-wine and Government-grant 'produced' standard (FOR WHAT THAT'S EVER FERCUCKTEN WORTH)..Yep, it's mature listening for snobby adults. It's a fuckhead's aesthetic-circle-jerk-spunk-bubble-feltch. I could go on... But don't despair. Coz sonically this is another great avant-rock-piano album in the tradition of John Cale and John Cage and Michael Nyman - this record is the antithesis of the 3-Ben's Axis of Evil (Ben Lee, Ben Queller and Ben Fold Five, a sonic threat as truly diabolical as anything Iran/Korea/Syria, Al-Qaeda and Johnny Farnham and the Family First Party could muster). The album still has that rootsy, gnarled and beautiful edge that only Jandek can muster. In fact, on initial listening it sounds like chamber music taken from a Merchant Ivory Production about British noblemen and maidens. The piano aint new to Jandek - his sayonara to the millennium - the fantastic THE BEGINING album featured the magnum-opus that was 'The Beginning' 14 and-a-bit-minutes of Jandek passionately (nuttily, whats the diff?) noodling with his mother's grand-piano the piece being equal parts frustrated catharsis, infantile tinkering and introspective plinking. In GLASGOW MONDAY: THE CELL, Jandek sticks to the introspective plinking, and obviously has some pretty reasonable chops to display. But the real kicker that makes this record something beyond dull wine-and-cheese MOR-plonk is the fact that this record is a 'one riddim rekkid', just like all those old reggae records and the recent 'See Me Yah'/BASIC CHANNEL production. Yep. Jandek plays pretty much the same tune 10 times with slight and subtle variations on each while Youngs and Neilson chip in with their classy tutored-embellishments. Youngs seems to be playing a bowed-electric bass that drones, and slowly and deeply changes keys at specific moments. Neilson uses lots of feed backed-industrial sound washes, jingly bells and ever so slight rattles of wood or something of a similar timber. As a whole the thing has that elegiac feel that isn't dissimilar to rock-works like the recent Reed-Cale 'SONGS FOR DRELLA' or even Lou Reed's MAGIC & LOSS, or imagine a whole record that sounds like that spooky-otherworldly piano on Sonic Youth's 'Providence'. Also the piano sounds similar to the sort of thing you'd hear on some soundtrack to a serious-melancholy arty film. Right now I can only think of bits of EYES WIDE SHUT but there's prolly many others that might be familiar.

LYRICS: Jandek actually sings/talks quite nicely here. In fact he sounds remarkably like Robbie Robertson in parts. The main turn of phrase for THE CELL is: 'What do I have?’ In fact every 'Chapter' starts with the statement 'What do I have?’ which if you care to think about it, isn't that far off from the repeated verse-statement structure that many religious hymns use, and is also used in many of the great poems of the times. In many ways the lyrical content of THE CELL finds Mr.Jandek going from the material to the cosmic to the intergalactic. The whole thing feels like mediation on life/existence/death and his imminent passing from this 'material' world - hence 'What do I have?' coming off like the ultimate challenge to the physical/material paradigm. The stanzas vary from Part One where he talks about the Body/Mind connection, to part two where he talks about modern-life-banality: 'What do I have/Some ability to pay the bills/Well lets get them done!’ Each 'Chapter' gets more and more esoteric in the subject matter and phrases, but no less poetic. In fact as it goes on, it reminds me in FEEL to Goddard’s 'Eulogie De L'Amour' movie, who knows, maybe Godard will get Jandek to score one of his flicks, (or maybe they'll both leave this mortal-coil together in some sort of cosmic-existential-fractal boom?) But his lyrics here are rich with evocation: 'A ship without a crew', 'some bastion I guard', ‘Phoenixed (?) out of here', 'when it's all gone and black, the guardians step aside'.etc..etc..

If there's one film THE CELL reminds me of, it's Hal Ashby's BEING THERE. Maybe it's Jandek's cryptic, meaningful-but- meaningless phrases, the seemingly naive approach he has to making music, and the way at times that it all becomes so effortlessly transcendent. Jandek is like the character Chancey in that film, in that with his 'simple' manner he was able to see through all the complexities and manoeuvres and cruelty in life and see them for the bullshit that they are. Another quote from that film that might equally apply to Jandek is that 'life is a state of mind'. In BEING THERE, Chancy leaves his 'Cell' to embark on some sort of quasi-religious/symbolic journey, not much different to the story Jandek imparts in GLASGOW MONDAY: THE CELL.

Make no bones about it, this album aches, with age.

Peter Sellers in a Jandekian state of mind.

1 comment:

Steve Local said...

The "stone table" in front of the house is a stone-age burial chamber. In Wales they're known as cromlechs - have a look at

Nice review anyway - good to see someone actually commenting on the music rather than just the myth.