By Erika Meyer
There’s a thing about empathy between musicians. The great bands were ones in which the majority of the people were good people, morally good people; I call them real people – in jail they call them regulars…. the selfish or shallow person might be a great musician technically, but he’ll be so involved with himself that his playing will lack warmth, intensity, beauty, and won’t be deeply felt by the listener – Art Pepper, Straight Life (1979).
My favorite music discovery of 2011 has been found in the old (but new to me) material which has been popping up all over the web like mushrooms after a spring rain. Thanks to the internet, not only can you find yourself tagged in some forgotten 20-year-old photo, you can also find archival footage of your favorite bands (or maybe even your old band). You can discover, download, and re-mix creative commons or public domain footage, and stumble over music and art that has been lingering in some dusty corner for years.
I found the music of Chicago songwriter Jan Terri about a month ago through a video posted from my friend Sara on the Facebook wall of my other friend Sara. The video was ‘Losing You’, but the title on YouTube was “Worst music video ever”. Of course I had to take a look. I thought it was funny. Then it grew on me.
I suppose you would call Jan Terri an outsider artist. Her approach to music is an engaging mix of pop convention, genre mixing, and unique personality. She is influenced by The Beatles (especially Paul), Elvis, and other pop acts like Britney Spears. She also loves Nashville and some of her music is country-influenced. Like Karen Carpenter, she started out by playing drums (she says she was 1980 Illinois State Champ) (1). Her music and videos were made in the early 90s, but have an 80s feel. She has a unique way of singing (and speaking) and she does not look or behave the way the dominant culture expects (demands!) women look and behave in music videos.
‘Losing You’ is far from the worst music video ever. In fact, it is entertaining to the point that Sara (a drummer and vocalist), Sara (a guitar player and vocalist) (2) and I all found ourselves watching this video again and again, and judging from the interest it has received on YouTube, there are many others like us.
The story is that Jan worked as a limo driver, made these videos, and passed them out to her clients, some of whom were in the entertainment industry. Some loved them, copied them, shared them. That’s right: Jan Terri’s videos went viral more than a decade before the invention of YouTube. In 1996 Terri sang her Christmas hit ‘Rock’N’Roll Santa’ on an early episode (#6) of Chicago’s rock’n’roll cable access music show, Chic-a-go-go (3). In 1998, a filmmaker made a short documentary about her, called The One, The Only, Jan Terri which can now be seen on YouTube (4). In 1999, one of Jan’s VHS tape videos fell into the hands of Marilyn Manson who invited Terri to perform for and open for his band. In 2000, Jan Terri appeared on The Daily Show, interviewed by Stacy Grenrock-Woods (5). But shortly after that, Terri seemed to drop off the map — not too many people know that she’s gearing up to release a new album.
I don’t wanna lose you tonight – you’re the only thing that matters
It’s a primal feeling of longing for love set to a catchy tune that won’t leave your brain for days. I adore the way Jan sings the end of a phrase just a bit flat, a bit like Nico. Jan’s unique pronunciation and the rhythmic idiosyncrasies only add to the charm.