I’m trying to think of when I first stumbled upon Jay Reatard-I think it was either thru Pitchfork (yeah, I have no problem with admitting that) or perhaps it was a Bradford Cox interview where he praised Jay’s music. At the time, the easiest way to listen to a new band was through Myspace; I found his page and was kinda taken aback immediately. Here was a band that was seemingly stuck in the early 80’s punk lifestyle: xeroxed flyers, mosh pits, bloody fans and band members, all with a veneer of sneer. Listening to his music confirmed the impression. It reminded me greatly of the Circle Jerks, The Dickies, Big Boys, etc. (not that he ripped off these bands, mind you-actually, I can’t really remember what those bands sound like too well-it just reminded me of the entire aesthetic of that era.)
But around this time, both the Blood Visions record and his Singles 06-07 record was out and gaining a lotta traction. So I got those and tried to let them sink into my brain. It only took a few listens.
There’s something that I absolutely love about a melodic hook, and Jay had it down, in spades. Within a week I was completely turned around from thinking he was a poor facsimile of 80’s punk to recognizing he was a pop savant, of a peculiar fashion. I loved his urgency and his confrontation in his work, as well as his focus of death and girls and exes and overall mildly anarchic tones. I may be 37, but I still am a fan of angst in music. And this guy was a poster boy for that shit-crazyass shows and behavior all over the world. With increasing fame brought more wild stories. I saw him at Lenny’s and it was a maelstrom of a night. I hid out in a corner and thoroughly enjoyed the show.
Upon learning of his death, I have to admit I wasn’t too surprised, in the sense of it being another fucked up young person that has too much talent and not enough sense of what to do with it. It actually reminded me of a few friends that have passed on in a similar fashion-to me, dying of a drug overdose is just such a sad and shitty way to go out. It’s something I will never be able to get my head around. Was it too much fun? Or was it something more despondent and nefarious? We’ll never know. I was bummed for a couple weeks and played his music often.
A documentary was made of his life and showed at the Earl last night. Millie and I went to view it, and I admit was pretty skeptical of how it would play out. Does a young dude like this have enough to offer in the way of a full-length feature? Does he deserve it? And more importantly, is the film substantive enough to offer to the public? His music is one thing, but 90 minutes of film is another thing entirely.
I have to say I was mostly pleased with the movie, thankfully. There’s a grip of live footage that is pretty amazing, which isn’t too much of a surprise. And the interview footage of him is good as well; he illuminated fairly well the things that made him who he is (broken homes, growing up poor, drugs, finding punk at that sweet spot of adolescence), and he also was an often hilarious dude. He reminds me of so many of my friends throughout my life (and like I said, some of them have died as well). The friend and bandmate interviews were a bit depressing; I wish some of them could have reached out to him when it was obvious he needed help. But who wants to help a total asshole that is acting out in an effort to keep them at bay from his real issues?
The real clincher for me was his younger sister. It was a bit soul-crushing to see her so happy to talk about her older brother, the one that raised her and changed her diapers when their mother wasn’t at home. She seemed pretty small-town simple, if not naive, and there was a moment or two when one could tell she was still hurting. This is all my projection-maybe he was never around, or was an asshole to her just like he could be with almost everyone else-but she deserves to have a rad older brother around, telling her what’s up with the world around her and helping her in the way that he never had in his own life. Instead, she has posters and flyers and his guitar, and that’s so unfortunate.