Friday, October 30, 2009

Gettin' Scary With Jan Terri

Keeping with our theme of Halloween and mental illness (see Daniel Johnston in the previous article), contributing writer, Tim Holtzclaw, tells us the story of Jan Terri. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Travel back with me for a moment to the early '90s...

Post-Cold war United States scientists are celebrating the cloning of Dolly the Sheep; Bob Saggett is asking for America to mail in their funniest VHS home videos; and MC Hammer points out that "You've got to pray - just to make it today". And somewhere between the anger of the L.A. Riots and the joy of Super Mario Bros. 3 hitting Toys R Us shelves, lies a middle-aged limo driver from Chicago with big hair, an even bigger heart, and a lofty dream to share "pictures" that "correlate with song"...

Combining ahead of her time Blair Witch-style camerawork with sitcom-intro panning of cityscapes, Terri blurs the line of art and music with her 1991 breakthrough song and video: "Losing You." In it, a cold Chicago wind-blown Terri shakily belts "My Heart is open like an open book, and yours is closed", portraying a story of misplacement that channels the rebellious honesty of Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself for Loving You". With Casio keyboard drum beats and a flare for the theatrical, Terri weaves musical styles of the Beastie Boys, Cher, and Meatloaf. Her music revolves around fundamental, albeit, elementary themes, painting stories of love, loss, and seasonal adventures. Her passion for her family comes alive in "Cruise Ship", and her respect for classic film shines through in the black and white hit "Get Down Goblin"(see below). Throughout the decade, Terri gave away her videotapes to clients through her limo service and feverishly self-released two albums: the aptly titled, High Risk of 1991, and, Baby Blues of 1993. Both records (like most works of genius) received little popularity, until a recent Youtube campaign and subsequent tour with Marilyn Manson, resurrected the dormant cult-pop icon.

Now, upon first glance, you will laugh at Ms. Terri. Her wobbly (and questionably drunk) camera man; her too-tight leather jacket; her lack of basic rhythm and chubby, unclear facial expressions. But keep watching and something magical will happen... the unwavering passion that at first looked like it must be some sort of prank, suddenly feels like actual sincerity. A guilt will develop in you like that of a repenting bully and you will regret so much teasing, finding surprising beauty each time she inevitably falls off-key. Jan Terri builds a slow tug on your heart strings like a beached whale, rallying fans around a hopeful return to sea. Yes, believe it or not, you will actually end up rooting for her, grabbing nearby friends to sit down and experience Terri in all of her lack of self-conscious glory. You see, before egomania and Botox, before bulimia and electronic voice enhancing, we had Jan Terri. Pretty? Maybe not. Talented? Questionable. Addictive? Like a bag of Sunchips.

-Tim Holtzclaw

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