Legends of Outsider Music Chapter 1: Jan Terri
Written by Brian Levake
For anyone who has ever feared success, or had your personal dreams cut short by rabid insecurities, needs to take a close, careful look at the
career of one Ms. Jan Terri.
If you’ve never heard of Jan Terri, don’t be alarmed, as most of the country hasn’t. But for a couple of years in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, her star
burned the brightest in the world of Outsider music, especially in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Details of her beginnings in the music business are sketchy at best; all that is known for sure was that she, while working as a limo driver, used to
peddle (to her customers no less) VHS tapes containing music videos for several of her songs, including the celestial ‘Journey to Mars’, the country
swing of ‘Baby Blues’ and her pants-crappingly terrifying ode to Halloween, ‘Get Down Goblin’. The videos, and especially the songs, in relation to
contemporary music, are staggeringly horrible. In fact, the videos were horrible in comparison, artistically and technology-wise, to nearly every video
that was available during MTV’s formative years.
Yet, upon viewing them, you begin to become drawn to them in a way that you can’t look away from a messy car accident. Oh, and for the record, Jan
Terri is, how shall we say it, umm, not a terribly easy on the eyes. She goes about four feet 10, and let’s just say we aren’t dealing with Ms. America in
any way, shape, or form.
So why was I and countless others drawn to her art? I surely cannot tell you, other than they are perfect videos to play at parties, as they are so
pathetic and half-assed, that nearly anyone with a camera could make something better. Which was the philosophy that former broadcasting great
Harry Caray used when explaining why he sang ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ during the seventh inning---he felt that the crowd could relate easily to
him, as nearly everyone in attendance could sing better than him.
VHS tapes of her videos began to spread like wildfire, especially around the advertising/media companies in the aforementioned cities. Any company
that had access to tape dubbing machines were running off copies of the Jan Terri video collection, and thus her electric rise to super stardom
began. My first personal encounter was when she agreed to play at the Christmas party for the post-production house that I was interning for. And it
was unbelievable. As opposed to going through all the trouble of having a band, Terri essentially sang over her own cd through a PA system,
pausing only to play a ‘guitar solo’ on an inflatable guitar, or to throw miniature candy bars during her rendition of ‘Journey to Mars’, which literally
sent this pro-Terri crowd into a maelstrom of dancing, screaming, and many spilled drinks.
Apparently, America was listening, as the next thing I know, I get a phone call from a friend who was a confidant of Terri’s. He called to explain to me
that by some fluke, Marilyn Manson had gotten a hold of her tape, and had asked her to play for his birthday party in LA, to which she happily
accepted. Which led to her actually opening up for Marilyn Manson at Chicago’s enormous Aragon Ballroom. During this period, which was roughly
1998, there were at least 2 different documentaries being shot about the amazing rise of Jan Terri, and her full-length debut ‘High Risk’ was also
finally available for public consumption. There were also several bootleg copies of her playing a set of her songs, quasi-karaoke style at her father’s
bar in suburban Chicagoland.
The last time that I ever saw Jan Terri in person was at a bar opening in Chicago; apparently, her 15 minutes were up, as where before, people would
be screaming along with her, echoing the lyrics to ‘IRS’ or ‘Rock and Roll Santa’. This crowd, however, ranged from unimpressed to downright rude.
It was such a heartbreaking scene to take in, as Jan Terri is surely one of God’s gentlest creatures, and someone who should be admired for
pursuing her dreams, despite the lack of looks or talent.
And then, that was it---until I turn on the ‘Daily Show’ one day, where they did a feature on Jan Terri, essentially making her look ridiculous, for which
they are terrific at. It’s endearing, at least, when she does it to herself; but when those smarmy cocksuckers at Comedy Central do it, they just look
like bullies. At any rate, the episode went down as one of the highest rated ‘Daily Shows’ ever, no doubt providing Ms. Terri with some level of
These days, any evidence of the existence of Jan Terri is awfully hard to find. Her official website has been missing for some time, and hardly any
web pages mention her, except the ‘Dr. Demento’ type sites that list her along with Wesley Willis as ‘funny’ or ‘weird’ musicians that happened to
share a hometown. But I believe that despite her musical shortcomings and lack of any real ‘star qualities’, Jan Terri proved to us all that with steady
and heart-felt determination, we really can achieve anything that we as humans set our mind to. And, personally, I like to think that as she’s driving
her limo, or doing whatever it is that she does, that she’s planning her next move, a step no doubt aimed at the superstardom that she has fully
mapped out in her mind.
GREAT FANS MAKE GREAT BANDS