Is there a greater enigma in music than Jandek? This outsider's outsider makes the Residents look like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame contenders by comparison. Since 1978, without fanfare, he has self-released more than 50 records on his Houston-based Corwood Industries label, while maintaining an impenetrably anonymous existence. He's not sending out one-sheet bios with each new release, not giving interviews, not posing for publicity shots. Chad Freidrichs's compelling 2003 documentary, Jandek On Corwood, raises more questions about the guy than it answers. With his impeccably sustained aura of mystery, Jandek is in no danger of even becoming the next Daniel Johnston.
The only tangible thing offered by Corwood Industries are the records themselves, usually adorned with rather mundane (but uniquely Corwoodian) cover subjects: perhaps a nondescript house, or a dimly lit drum kit, or another, even dimmer shot of the same drum kit, or a photo of our mysterious Representative from Corwood — snapshot portraiture from his younger years. The music itself charts one man's lonely, personal vision expressed through nightmarish, moaned lyrics and atonal, abstract, haunted guitar that might be something close to Bizarro World blues, or might just be aimless noodling. As "outsider music" specialist Irwin Chusid so aptly put it, "Jandek's neither 'rock' nor 'roll.' He's not even 'and.'" This can be difficult listening to be sure, but Jandek summons an undeniable eeriness that, at least for those rare Jandek fans, trumps any unlistenability factor. And the man does indeed have a community of fans, as indicated by the often erudite and obsessive discussions of the participants on Seth Tisue's Jandek mailing list. (Tisue maintains a Jandek Web site, a repository of all things Jandek, tisue.net/jandek/).
For years, the records served as the only evidence of the goings-on at Corwood Industries. Then, in late 2004, Jandek made an unannounced and unprecedented live appearance at a festival in Scotland. It was so unannounced that some audience members wondered just who the heck the Jandek imitator on stage was. Since then, he's appeared sporadically in live settings, usually accompanied by musicians from whichever city he's playing in. These musicians tend to come from the world of avant-garde rock and jazz improv — contextualizing Jandek's unique music in a similar, free-flowing, improvisational idiom. This Saturday, Jandek makes a rare (and free) appearance at the University of Michigan's Mendelssohn Theater. The Representative from Corwood will be accompanied by harpsichordist Christian Matjias, trumpeter James Cornish, and postmodern dancer Biba Bell — an area pick-up band that's unorthodox even by Jandek standards.
Doors at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 17, the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N. University, Ann Arbor; 734-763-3333.