Notable Recluses: Five Musicians Who Almost Never Tour

Jandek in a rare performance at Big Star Bar in April 2012.
Jandek in a rare performance at Big Star Bar in April 2012.
Photo by Jason Wolter

Some musicians are just road rats. They can't get enough of life on tour. For others, it wears down on them to a breaking point.

Many have been very vocal about how much they despise touring, especially as they've gotten older. Some, like Trent Reznor, have expressed fears of being a KISS-esque nostalgia act if he continues to tour. Eric Clapton just recently said he'll quit touring when he turns 70 because he's sick of losing money trying to make touring comfortable.

But there are those who take this to the extreme. Everyone knows it's hard to get your music noticed and keep interest going if you don't tour, but some very big names have somehow managed to circumvent that and work from home for such a long period there might be a whole generation who will never get the chance to see their favorite recluse.

Who is, or was, your favorite of these notable names who have avoided the road?

5. Jeff Mangum In 1998 Jeff Mangum could have ruled the world with his band Neutral Milk Hotel, whose inestimable legacy has only grown over time thanks to a little album called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Instead, he went home, quit music, and quit touring for years to come.


Last Night: Jeff Mangum at Wortham Center

Slowly though he began to come out of retirement in 2008, participating in one off performances and recordings. Those began to become more frequent until finally Mangum launched a full comeback tour this year, including an acclaimed performance in Houston.

4. Leonard Cohen Once an acclaimed live performer, Leonard Cohen went on a Buddhist spiritual journey for the majority of the '90s and left the road to younger men. He didn't return to recording music until 2001, but he still decided not to tour in support of his newer albums. That is, until some unfortunate circumstances occurred, including his former manager embezzling much of his money.

With a renewed reason to tour ($$$), Cohen jumped back into the fray in 2008. Instead of being a simple cash grab, though, his tours appeared to be a labor of love with the once-dour Cohen singing and dancing in his seventies with the verve of a much younger performer. He hasn't quit since, and your author had the opportunity to see him perform last year in Austin, where he gave fans a truly amazing experience.

3. Michael Jackson Following a massive world tour in support of Michael Jackson's HIStory project, the King of Pop went dormant to write and record his new record Invincible. In the intervening time, his only performances were for a 30th-anniversary special celebrating his career and some charity shows in 1999. As it turned out, fans would never see MJ on the road again.

Invincible was met with less than satisfactory reception and soon after a renewed scandal over Jackson's sexual conduct erupted. The pop star had always been agitated by the public's interest in his private life and took even more extreme measures to go into hiding in the next few years.

Just before his death, he was in the process of staging a massive concert comeback. Instead, all we have is the rehearsal footage, where we can see that he was most definitely still the king and hadn't missed a step in his feet or his enormous vocals.


2. Kate Bush Kate Bush has only toured one time in almost 40 years of being a recording artist. That's a pretty damn impressive length of time to avoid the road. Nobody really knows why, although speculation has ranged from a fear of flying to the death of a lighting guy on her one and only tour in 1979.

Since then, Bush has only performed a couple of one off shows in the '80s and a handful of appearances with notable collaborators like Peter Gabriel and David Gilmour. Her most recent one was 11 years ago in 2002, supporting David on "Comfortably Numb." In 2011, she said she might like to play again one day, but it hasn't happened yet.

1. Jandek Houston's own weirdest hometown hero Jandek has built a career on reclusive isolation, preserving an intense private life that has never mingled with his career as an active recording artist. No one knows much about Jandek's real life outside of music except what little detail can be gleaned from his lyrics.

Though he began releasing at least one album per year in 1978, it wasn't until 2004 that Jandek decided to make his first live appearance, and even then in Glasgow, Scotland of all places. His first performance in Houston was in 2009. To this day, he plays a few shows per year and no more.

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