Master of elusion

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

By bringing the enigmatic outsider musician known as Jandek to Columbus, the Wexner Center for the Arts is at once hosting its most high-profile and obscurest live event of the season.

His small but loyal fan base is beyond geeked at the chance to see the reclusive composer in the flesh, but most folks might wonder why his upcoming performance here is so significant. After hearing his bizarre, inaccessible music, they would probably be even more puzzled. To alleviate some of the confusion, here's a quick primer on the mystery man from Houston and his vast catalog of music.

Who is Jandek?

Since 1978, an anonymous figure known as Jandek has been releasing albums on an independent record label called Corwood Industries. He has released 53 so far and continues to put out new records to this day. The first Jandek album, 1978's Ready for the House, was originally credited to a band called The Units but later was re-released under the Jandek name.

An unidentified man appears on various Jandek album covers, and no name appears in the liner notes. The only contact information for Jandek or Corwood Industries is a P.O. Box in Houston. But the copyright holder for Jandek's songs goes by the name Sterling Richard Smith, and checks to Corwood are endorsed by Smith. Some fans assume that Jandek and Smith are one and the same, while others prefer to think of "Jandek" as the name of a collective of musicians, not the man pictured on the album covers, who is almost undoubtedly Smith.

What does his

music sound like?

Jandek's music tends toward a plodding, detuned take on the blues. Unconventional chords and melodies populate the songs, which vary in length from three-minute nuggets to 20-minute epics. Some Jandek tracks include only a moaning vocal take and clunky, unconventional guitar work. Others feature more elaborate instrumentation and, occasionally, other singers, as on the track "Nancy Sings" from 1982's Chair Beside a Window.

The music is not what most people would call inviting, but there's a certain allure to it, as if it will yield rewards for meeting it on its own terms. Devoted fans such as the Minutemen's Mike Watt, Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle often wax rhapsodic about Jandek's recorded output. Others have few kind things to say about it.

Why doesn't anybody know anything about him?

Jandek refuses to be interviewed, with one exception: John Trubee of Spin recorded a conversation with the performer in 1985. Excerpts from the talk can be heard in NPR's story on Jandek from last December, archived online at, and the full conversation can be heard in the DVD extras of the documentary Jandek on Corwood.

He also never performed live until 2004, when he made a surprise appearance at an experimental music festival in Scotland. Though he was identified only as "a representative from Corwood Industries," video from the show confirmed he was the same person from the album covers.

Why is he performing

in columbus?

Presumably Jandek has deigned to make an appearance here because of the Wexner Center's sparkling reputation in the worlds of experimental art and music. The venue has drawn other avant-garde favorites, such as Boredoms and Terry Riley.

What will the show be like?

The representative from Corwood Industries will perform with a trio of Ohio musicians, including multi-instrumentalist Derek DiCenzo, percussionist Ryan Jewell (Pink Reason, Psychedelic Horseshit, Terribly Empty Pockets) and Cincinnati violinist C. Spencer Yeh of Burning Star Core. Judging from the plentiful YouTube clips of previous Jandek performances, the concert will be as slippery and curious as Jandek's recorded output.