Column: [Can't Make A Living] – Perseverance Pt.4: The Weird World of Jandek
In the last few installments, I wrote about how bands like THE FLAMING LIPS and GUIDED BY VOICES found their audiences by using one (nearly) sure-fire tactic: perseverance. Basically, by “keeping at it”, these bands were able (by some trial and error) to gain recognition and spark a career. Obviously, a lot of other factors had to be in place in order for this to happen (i.e., they are musically talented, savvy marketers, and all-around smart people) but generally, these bands “soldiered on” for years before we ever heard of them.
Earlier in this series I argued that discovering your audience is a major step in becoming an artist and an important part of finding an answer to what I call The Big Why – the moment of existential crisis most artists face.
“Ah,” you might say, “but those bands have all had major label backing and big radio hits to propel them into the spotlight. Give me an example that doesn’t involve big money, the radio, or MTV (read: outdated music industry paradigm).” OK. Enter the world of JANDEK.
Based out of Houston, Texas, the outsider musician known as JANDEK has been self-releasing albums on his own mail order-only label, Corwood Industries, since 1978. To date, Corwood Industries has released over 60 albums all by one artist: JANDEK.
JANDEK is considered an “outsider artist” because of his disregard for traditional music industry outlets and practices and because of the quality of his music, which is very loose, discordant and a-tonal. This is the sort of stuff that quickly divides people into two opposing, often angry, camps: people who say, “this is just noise” and people who recognize it as something deeper. To complicate things, for many years nobody even knew who JANDEK really was because he didn’t make a live appearance until 2004 (at the Instal 04 Music Festival, in Glasgow, Scotland). Yet somehow, perhaps through this aura of mystery and debate, JANDEK has found a sizable and dedicated audience though nothing more than the daring honesty and abundance of his output.
What started out as one man quietly putting out unwanted and unknown records has become an international sensation. Of course, it took many, many years to accomplish, starting with just one DJ (Irwin Chusid) who encouraged JANDEK to continue making records in the face of commercial failure and culminating with a small but dedicated following and sold out concerts in large venues.
I wish I had more space to dedicate to JANDEK, because he is living proof of the power of perseverance. You can learn about his story by renting the excellent documentary Jandek on Corwood (2004), directed by Chad Freidrichs.
I know that THE FLAMING LIPS, GUIDED BY VOICES, and JANDEK might all be considered extreme cases, but I want you to consider my belief that all these artists played critical roles in developing the musical landscape as we see it today. They were innovators who used the tools at their disposal and in the face of adversity they somehow continued to see their vision through.
Next Up >> Perseverance Part 5: Conclusion