Documentary by Chad Freidrichs (Director) and Paul Fehler (Producer)
Interview with Paul Fehler, Producer (8-5-03)
By Ronnie

"You may not get all the answers you want
It's better that way


"…and I like Eric Clapton…but he's no Jandek"
– Gary Pig Gold quote from JANDEK ON CORWOOD


When I first read the promotion information for the documentary "Jandek On Corwood", I was skeptical. How can you have a whole film on an artist that does not even appear in your film? Well, after watching the whole film I was hooked on the 'mystery of Jandek'! Filmmakers Chad Freidrichs and Paul Fehler have done what you would have thought was impossible - make a fascinating film about an almost 'non-entity'.

"Jandek" is a true rock 'n roll mystery. His first record was released in 1978, under the group name "The Units" - but there was already a group with that name that threatened legal action-so the name was changed to 'Jandek'. And he has continually released albums (then CD's) for the last 25 years, with little promotion and only ONE interview (a telephone interview for Spin magazine in 1985). No one knows his true name or identity. The records are released by Corwood Industries label out of Houston, Texas - and Jandek is their ONLY artist. What information we do have is the minimal information on ads for Corwood (and on the back of the album sleeves):

Jandek On Corwood
P.O. Box 15375
Houston, TX 77020
The film "Jandek On Corwood" features various critics & music personalities from Doctor Dimento to Gary Pig Gold - each trying to analyze Jandek's approach & motivations. The amazing thing about this film is to see these people make educated guesses about Jandek. Some try to read into Jandek's "disturbing" music. Others seem fascinated by the 'mystery-enigma of the total recluse'. From his music, critics assume him to be 'deranged', 'anti-social', a 'sociopath' and 'alienated'.

The film tracks the development of Jandek as an artist. The first batch of Jandek records feature only himself singing with a guitar. He evolved, adding harmonica, piano and eventually releasing his "spoken word/acapella" records. Later releases have female voices ("Nancy Sings") and other instruments ("John Plays Drums"), leading to speculation that he does have friends that are involved. This of course fuels speculation that he is 'mentally ill' and met these other musicians in either drug-rehab or a mental hospital.

The most outrageous Jandek theory is the "therapy theory", in which Jandek records all his songs at once as part of a 'therapy' session to help treat his manic depressive disorder. He must work at a record plant (this is assumed) and he just releases each record when he has earned enough money to put another one out. Although entertaining, I think this theory is really a 'stretch'! Actually, these various 'interpretations' on Jandek are what makes the film. In this case, the actual mystery of the artist has made his music even more interesting. I think that the marketing of Jandek is pure marketing genius! He has created a "Wizard of Oz" type persona that controls all the media information - "Jandek" is his total creation, showing only one aspect with songs filled with loneliness & melancholy. There is a difference between art & reality, but Jandek is holding all the cards for 'reality'. Do I follow this "romantic, deranged artist" theory? Well, not really - but there is a part of me that wonders.

The year 2003 saw yet another new Jandek album. And this time, the cover photo was identified as being from Cork, Ireland. Traveling salesman? Rich boy with a trust that can travel all over the world? Not it seems that I'm catching Jandek-fever and coming up with all these bizarre possibilities. I hope the mystery is never solved; some things are better left unknown.

Oh, and I'm not going to spoil the surprise, but the last 10 minutes of the film are the most riveting…


E.C.: I know that some choices were obvious, but how did you go about deciding which people to interview about Jandek?

Paul: First we went to Olympia, Washington, to interview Calvin Johnson and the Editors of Op Magazine. The folks at Op gave us a huge list of names. Each person interviewed suggested more names… it just sort of snowballed.

E.C.: I think that it was fascinating that all the people interviewed had a lot to say about Jandek, while very little is really known ABOUT him. What that something that you wanted to stress in the film? To try and let the viewer soak in all these 'theories', no matter how bizarre?

Paul: Actually the dearth of bizarre theories was unsettling to us at first. I think the internet has had a rather standardizing (if not "stifling") effect on people's interpretations of the Jandek canon. Quite a few of the early Jandek fans, fans from the early 80s, had to be prodded a bit to talk about these older theories because many of them seem so silly now. Silly or not, these things are rather important relics--more of the imagination of the Jandek fan community than anything else.

E.C.: You also avoided the "musician interview" which is prevalent in almost every documentary on a musician. Why was this?

Paul: Actually, several of the people interviewed were musicians, though most of them record(ed) on a scale that wouldn't conspicuously advertise that fact to a general audience. I would think that the motivation to include a musician in a music documentary would stem from the desire to show what the musician's peers thought. In this light, selecting a "peer" for Jandek becomes a little tricky.

The fact that a well-known musician doesn't appear isn't through lack of effort on our part. If Jackson Browne had wanted to be in the film, I suppose we would've chipped in for a deli plate and some bottled water and accommodated him.

E.C.: From seeing the hours of interviews show and the final length of the film, is it a logical assumption to guess that some of these 'cutting room floor' edits might make it onto an expanded DVD, when the time comes for an official DVD release?

Paul: Oh, I'd imagine this would be easy enough… we've talked about it. There are some rather clever things that we absolutely loved that didn't have the proper 'feel' to make it in the final movie.

It's going to take some cajoling, though, to get Chad [Freidrichs, the film's director] back in the editing room, though… he's enjoying a well-earned break.

E.C.: Have you sent a final copy of "Jandek On Corwood" to Corwood industries? If so, have you received a response or do you expect one?

Paul: Yes, we did. And yes, we have. They liked it, apparently… or more correctly, they appreciated it.

E.C.: You only showed a few glimpses of the famous 'Jandek' post office in Houston (along with a shot of the post office box). Were you ever tempted to set up a sort of surveillance camera to see if you could catch a glimpse of the person who picks up the mail at that box? Or does that seem a little too "Hard Copy"?

Paul: Actually… we did almost the opposite. We sent a letter about two weeks before we went there. The letter said something to the effect of "We're going to be at the PO Box on Wednesday from 5PM to 6PM. If you'd like to send someone, we'd love to chat… if not, please avoid the Post Office at that time." An accidental meeting would've been… uncomfortable at best, and disastrous at worst.

E.C.: I've gotta admit, the last 10 minutes of the film are probably my favorite. While part of me felt like I was viewing the Wizard of Oz with the curtain slowly being pulled back - I realized that it left many more questions than it answered and we really know nothing new about the man! That end piece was VITAL to the film!

Paul: Yes… it was vital. We were most nervous about Corwood's reaction to the final scene… but in their letter to us they were very understanding, saying something to the effect of (paraphrasing) "We realize that it was there for the movie, as it should be."

There's something deeper to its inclusion than "mind-fuck"… but I'm not sure if I can explain what it is. I think it can have a highly personal significance that varies from person to person. I think most people who have liked the film to that point will have a rather head-swimming visceral reaction, once they figure out what it is they're seeing. After that, the reaction has the possibility of becoming rather wildly divergent.

E.C.: Have you already planned your next film project? Will it be music-related?

Paul: Yes. No.

Click here to visit the official Jandek on Corwood website
Click here to visit Seth Tisue's Jandek website - The bible of Jandek research and scholarship

Return to the EAR CANDY homepage