The return of Chicago cult musician Jan Terri

Bizarro cult music personality Jan Terri mounts a comeback.

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  • Courtesy of the artist

  • Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

“You know you’re talking to a dead person, right?” Jan Terri says, bunching up her face into a squinty-eyed smile. If you believe comments and rumors posted on message boards and blogs, Terri—surely one of Chicago’s oddest ’90s outsider music figures—died around 2002. “They say it was cancer,” the ostensibly healthy 51-year-old tells me last week with a giggle, petting her beloved fluffy white dog, Denny. (She pronounces the disease can-sew; among Terri’s many charming quirks is a speech impediment in which her Rs come out as Ws.)


Though the Internet prematurely killed off Terri in the early aughties, YouTube’s emergence raised her from the dead. A few grainy, cheaply shot music videos Terri made to go with tracks from her two albums—1993’s Baby Blues and ’94’s High Risk—went viral. For viewers with an appreciation for camp, the clips for earworms like “Get Down Goblin” (featuring Terri and some beauty-parlor friends dancing around a haunted house) and “Journey to Mars” (in which O’Hare’s neon-lit tunnel subs for a Martian landscape) were the finest so-bad-they’re-good videos. For others, the footage was simply bad: out-of-time lip-synching, heinous editing, home-video production quality—too awful even to be appreciated ironically. “Worst music video ever” is what one YouTuber titled his 2006 post of Terri’s heartbreak anthem “Losing You.”


“I do read comments people write on YouTube,” says Terri, who is a gnome-like five-foot-nothing and radiates a childlike innocence. “They said I look like a person who cleans toilets. I didn’t like that. I think I look like a short Dolly Parton with a little Sally Field thrown in there.”


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