Old school translation (D&D 1st edition). Bruce = human bard / fighter (subclass paladin). Lawful good alignment. Jamila = elf cleric (subclass druid). Chaotic good alignment. — Dugeon Master Darius Van Arman
Midway through his long, earnest and often very, very funny essay on the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons in the September 2006 issue of The Believer, writer Paul La Farge proposes that Dungeons & Dragons is not a game at all but rather a ritual.
La Farge notes the marked difference between game and ritual. Whereas a game seeks to demonstrate how unequal or distinct players/teams are from one another, rituals seek to do the very opposite. “Ritual, on the other hand, is the exact inverse, for it brings about a union,” La Farge writes, himself paraphrasing anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. “Or in any case an organic relation between the initially separate groups.”
And so, across the 25-year history of Jagjaguwar, an independent record label curiously named using a Dungeons & Dragons name generator, we find this idea of ritual as a conjoining practice. We see it early on when Jagjaguwar joins forces with a midwestern label called Secretly Canadian for a powerful fusion. We see it in familial relationships and collaboration among Jagjaguwar artists, and the ways those artists’ most treasured collaborators make their ways to the Jagjaguwar game board.
Join The Ritual, the third piece of Jagjaguwar’s 25th Anniversary celebration, looks to pay homage to the labels and artists that, whether they know it or not, invited Jagjaguwar to the table, to this wild, dark magic ritual of music. We’re talking about independent titans like Drag City, Too Pure, K Records and Touch & Go. We’re talking about heroes like R.E.M., Slint, Stereolab and Tracy Chapman. These songs captured the imaginations of our founders Darius Van Arman and Chris Swanson — and ultimately, opened up worlds to them. Thinking of Whitman here:
The question, O me! so sad, recurring — What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here — that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
These Jagjaguwar artists and alumni —and one very close friend— help us pay tribute to the verses that invited us to join the ritual a quarter century ago.
NO REGRETS PEYOTE.
"Reimagining anything is, well, unimaginable." — Richard Youngs
Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that Richard Youngs’s ‘Sapphie’ was all about a dead dog.
I don’t know if someone insinuated this idea in front of me or if I psychologically tethered the title to the tenderly printed dog paw on its cover, not to mention the raw and plaintive vocalizations of the three-song set. Either way, I’ve gone over a decade thinking this remarkable, windswept album of torch songs was about a dearly departed pet.
And yet, as we approached a reissue of this Jagjaguwar classic and a new, reimagined version by artists Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Moses Sumney, Sharvon Van Etten and Perfume Genius, Richard Youngs was straightforward and unsentimental about its meanings — or lack thereof. “The lyrics are not about anything in particular,” Youngs wrote. And I had to just cackle at his note, the rest of which was much more interested in the technical and studio aspects of the recording. He wrote about how “Soon It Will Be Fire” is a first-take cut recorded on a SM57 mic for a Glasgow pirate radio station called Sub City, run by a man named John Hogarty.
“We both sensed there was more to this project," Richard wrote plainly. "So, next week, I went round John’s place again. Using the same approach, we recorded the remaining two tracks that would be ‘Sapphie.'" That's that. Nothing mystical, nothing poetic. The paw prints on the cover are, in fact, that of a friend’s dog (“The first dog I ever loved,” Richard said.), but there is no devastating loss at its center. He also attached a .jpg of his current pet: a happy, poodle-looking thing.
And so, I want to tell Richard what this album has really meant to me and a great many friends, artists and fellow travelers over the years, dead dog or no. I want to tell him how it’s become a centering album for a great many of us, a transcendent and meditative piece of art, a place we go for a rare little bit of peace, or maybe even for a good, private, cleansing cry. I want to share with him this other record by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble called ‘Book of Sound’ that, in its own heavy way, hits the same nerve as 'Sapphie.'
Richard should know that in a heroically stoned moment in 2018, two friends said to one another “Hypnotic Brass Ensemble should cover ‘Sapphie.’” And that Hypnotic Brass Ensemble just sweetly and immediately agreed to do it in a matter of one phone call. Nothing mystical, nothing poetic. And how, now, three years later, it’s all coming together on the occasion of Jagjaguwar’s 25th anniversary.
“What does ‘the mindfulness drill’ have to do with it?” Richard asks dryly me in a note. It’s about being relentlessly present, Richard. It’s how when we listen to your album, we feel like a lonely traveler in a foreign country. How everything has a newness to it and there’s no one to share it with but the you inside of you. And then, how maybe we all feel like that most of the time in our lives. Drawing shapes on water with our fingertips, watching those shapes ripple out into a stillness, wandering the halls of a quiet museum. How goddamn close mindfulness is to mindlessness when it’s all said and done. And that fine, fine line is where ‘Sapphie’ lives, Richard. Thank you for this, Richard. This is our resounding and heartfelt thank you for ‘Sapphie,’ don’t you see?
After considering this heartfelt tribute, this miracle of an album, Richard replied: "Reimagining anything is, well, unimaginable."
"With Dino, we always knew we could make a record, so we made one right when we formed." — J Mascis
"I woke up in a fucked up America." — Lonnie Holley
"Let’s toast to this mystical affair. Here’s to a quarter century of Jagjaguwar. And here’s to a new one in the air."
I remember. My color's green. I'm spring. — Ross Gay
Would you curse me my careless caressing you into this world or would you rise up and, mustering all your strength into that tiny throat which one day, no doubt, would grow big and strong. — Ross Gay
Before there was the beast known as Jagjaguwar, there was the Shelf Life zine and the accompanying cassette compilation 'Songs From a Challenged Landscape.' Curated by Jag founder Darius Van Arman, the compilation features future Jag album, Charlottesville songwriter Sarah White; JAG001 artist Curious Digit; and the mythical entity known as Ectoslavia (i.e. a band consisting of David Berman, Bob Nastanovich, Stephen Malkmus, Gate Pratt & James McNew).
These Ectoslavia songs have been passed around among heads over the years, but seem to have mysteriously disappeared from the digital space. If you, dear reader, have a digital capture of these songs, please reach out to us.
Don't look around It's not right It's not wrong Dance because you know the song I dance because I know this one — Angel Olsen
Jan. 7-8 1996: A blizzard hits the Charlottesville area, leaving 22 inches of snow.
JAG founder Darius Van Arman — then directing a local radio station, promoting shows, slowly dropping out of college — finds himself stranded for several nights at his job in an adult-care facility. That unexpected overtime pay is the seed money that funds our first release — The Curious Digit's Bombay Aloo.
We owe a great deal to that blizzard and to that community care facility from 25 years ago. Looking out the window right now, watching a cursed foot of snow pile up but feeling rather grateful.
The staggering of seeing, reading, hearing, knowing, understanding...At first, coping with the stock imagery, I could imagine it being too vanilla — but then it starts to do unexpected things — ETC
Hear ye! hear ye! I am here to holler that I have hauled tons—by which I don’t mean lots, I mean tons — of cowshit... — Ross Gay
The community orchard that poet Ross Gay helped build in Bloomington is a physical representation of all he puts into his writing. It’s a place open to all, a place teeming with life and abound with nature’s gifts. Over the last 12 years, his poems have given us indelible images and phrases of radical empathy and unabated gratitude; about community, collaboration, connectedness and hard work. They have crept into our hearts and made a home of all of us. And so we are launching our 25th Anniversary celebration with 'Dilate Your Heart', our first spoken word album since titan Robert Creeley’s self-titled release twenty years ago. ‘Dilate Your Heart’ captures Ross Gay’s poems and lets that orchard into their lines, with deep and loving compositions from Jagjaguwar artists and artists we’ve adored for years with this ever-dilating heart of ours.
“Dilate Your Heart” does not stem from any one of Gay’s poems. But the oft-used Jagjaguwar mantra certainly owes a psychic debt to their passages — a debt to Ross Gay as a member of this community and as an artist living here in Bloomington, Ind., where Jagjaguwar is based. Dilate your heart means: make room, let more in. New faces, new concepts, new fears, new gratitude. It means welcoming the endless expansion of your community. It means let in all life has to offer, even its very end.
Each track is a conversation between artists. The sprawling, heartbreaking and relentlessly thankful “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” is given a gorgeous, slowly creeping bed of vines by Bon Iver, as Gay's unadorned voices speaks a lifetimes of Thank You’s. On “Burial,” harpist and composer Mary Lattimore’s lunar landscape follows Gay’s voice into space, telling of our endless energy exchange with nature. Chicago’s Angel Bat Dawid dances with the frenetic, joyous scene Gay leads us through on “To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian,” in which a group of Philadelphia strangers scramble together to harvest the fruit of the titular urban fig tree. Songwriter Gia Margaret provides a mystical, amniotic environment for Gay’s “Poem To My Child If Ever You Shall Be,” a love letter to an imagined future child, treating Gay's voice like a message in a bottle to a far off idea made only of love and potential. Sam Gendel, a secret weapon collaborator, affects Gay’s voice on “Sorrow Is Not My Name” to something glassy and almost singsongy. Gay becomes a man outside time, focusing on the treasure of life’s every day instead of fixating on its finality, the feel of the music almost western, riding into the wind then disappearing. Throughout, Gay recites his poems with bright aliveness, his voice as warm and easy when he speaks about death as when he speaks about mercy, or love. Heart fully dilated, letting out all that's been let in.
"Nothing changes but the faces, the people, all the things they do ‘spite of heaven and hell or city hall— Nothing’s wiser than a moment. No one’s chance is simply changed by wishing, right or wrong. What you do is how you get along. What you did is all it ever means." — Robert Creeley
"i am not qualified to say, but i theorize that jagjaguwar is a plant and not an animal. From there we can rule out grasses, flowers, and weeds since they have such short lifespans. Tonight I believe Jagjaguwar is a tree." — David Cloud Berman
As the story goes, Jagjaguwar got its name from a Dungeons & Dragons name generator, and that vast world of mythical figures began our story. How apropos. For twenty-five years, Jagjaguwar has made a home for seemingly superhuman artists: singers with extraordinary powers, songwriter-conjurers, noise mongers, demon guitar players, hypnotizing poets. But the story of the label itself is not about individuals or specific founders/history; it is about the ensuing worlds they build, often sharing and collaborating, creating art and community. Jagjaguwar was founded on that ethos, a set of principles that fosters that worldbuilding, and supports our many wizards as they create, interact, and grow.
JAG25 will show you the whole gameboard: its characters, landscapes, and surprises. It will be maximal and a little bit messy, but teamwork is always messy. Sharing is fraught. Collaboration can be chaos. But these are also the well from which we all become a little more than the sum of our parts.
Over the course of the year, JAG25 will feature unique works and collaborations from a sprawling list of artists -- many from outside the known family of Jagjaguwar artist partners, and many from other mediums. At the center will be Jag Quarterly, a collection of releases and creative endeavors. each marked by a different Jagjaguwar mantra that informs the Jag mindset: Dilate Your Heart; This is a Mindfulness Drill; Join the Ritual; and the original, Sentimental Noise. Each is an action -- dilation dilation, drills, rituals, noise -- and each will arrive with that energy. Creative partnerships, merchandise, reissues and activations will reveal even more features of Jagjaguwar’s world, as we celebrate a quarter century of Jagjaguwar, and give thanks for the new one in the air.