"I MAY HAVE to go off the record and pass on some questions. The communications have been very... I don't want to say it's mysterious, but... there's really no one vision of what the show's gonna be like." This is Jackpot Records owner Isaac Slusarenko talking about the improvised guitar duet between Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and the enigmatic recording artist known as Jandek, a performance for the Jackpot Records Film and Music Festival.
A longtime record-collector secret, until recently Jandek was a strictly mail-order entity, existing only through the Houston PO box of his record label, Corwood Industries. Moore remembers reading about Jandek first in the early '80s: "It was just sort of like a question mark. You know, 'One of the most confusing-sounding records we've ever come across' and 'Who is this guy?' There was a series of [albums] and they all sort of had a similar motif, which was like a kind of out-of-focus photograph of somebody who may or may not be the artist. Each one sort of had its own really displaced kind of vibe."
There are over 60 Corwood albums, each only deepening the mystery of who was behind them. Some featured one man on vocals and stet guitar; others a full band. Some were obtuse and immediate, as if written and recorded in a day; others unmistakably precise. Was the whole enterprise a joke or side project by another artist seeking anonymity (maybe Moore himself—a dead ringer for the skinny, shaggy man on the Corwood covers)?
The mystery was partially solved in 2006. "They made that film about him and how he's a mystery and no one's seen him and shortly after that film came out he appeared at this concert in Scotland," Moore recalls. "I know somebody who was there who's a big fan and he was at the bar. He said he started hearing this music being played onstage and he instantly realized, 'Oh my fucking God. It's Jandek!' It was like the hairs stood up on his neck."
Moore, an acclaimed collaborator with his own experimental guitar style, has only talked to Jandek once: backstage at South by Southwest in 2007. Though he didn't recognize Moore immediately, Jandek was familiar with his music, which is something of a badge of honor. "He was telling me about living in New York City in the early '70s for a while, the East Village. I was like, 'Wow, that must have been amazing because you could have seen those early New York Dolls performances at the Mercer Hotel and you must have seen Patti Smith do her early readings at St. Mark's Poetry Project,' and he said, 'I saw nothing.'"
The Sonic Youth guitarist laughs at the memory. "I thought it was so perfect in a way. I was like, 'All right, you rule.'" The two men haven't talked since, and Moore notes that he's seen Jandek perform only two times, both of which he was playing keyboards. "I'm completely curious about what's going to go down."
Slusarenko shares Moore's curiosity, noting the duet is already being hailed by some as the avant show of the year. "I just know the expectations on this show are huge. Thurston Moore doesn't know what's going on and he's playing the show! How's anyone else going to know!? It's really a fresh, at-ground-level performance that everyone will be experiencing at the same time and there aren't many times you get to witness something like that."