January 14, 2010

Jay Reatard, 1980–2010

As you fans are aware, I use the BQT as a forum to briefly (and trivially) remember departed celebrities, routinely throwing in a question or two about a recent deceased person's career. (Even if I'm not a particular fan, though I honored the great Rodney Dangerfield with a four-parter.) But sadly, Jay Reatard—who was found dead yesterday at the age of 29 (drugs, it seems)—is a little too obscure for our quiz purposes. So this is what he gets:

I came to NYC to be a music writer, having been a serious music geek in high school and college, but in recent years I've almost completely lost touch with new music. So it's very rare when a contemporary artist excites me beyond a buzzy single or two. Jay Reatard's 2006 release, Blood Visions—a loose concept album about a stalker—was an exception, and almost certainly my favorite release of the past decade. Reatard (Jimmy Lee Lindsey—it makes more sense when you know that he was once in a band called the Reatards) was a true garage rock dirtball, a high-school dropout loser from Memphis who began recording thousands of songs, and playing in dozens of sleazebag bands, at the age of 15, mainly because he was bored. But Reatard had a real gift, an incredible knack for writing bull's-eye melodies and framing them in potently cutting guitar-rock noise. I found this so rare in the '00s, as I found myself disappointed again and again by the noodly, self-involved obscurists who passed for innovative rock & roll through the decade (sorry, I can dig Animal Collective as artists, but whoever calls that "rock" needs to listen to another Chuck Berry record).

Reatard played live in NYC a lot—his shows were legendarily nuts—and I always put off seeing him, figuring there'd always be a next time; there's a lot on YouTube, but it's hardly the same.

Some music: The unrelentingly brilliant "My Shadow":

Here's a proper video he filmed last year, "It Ain't Gonna Save Me"—if you think the title is depressingly prophetic, just listen to the lyrics of the ending refrain:

You can hear more on his MySpace page; try "Oh, It's Such a Shame." It's also worth reading this article, to discover what a poetically fucked-up, yet totally unexceptional, life this man lived. Sorry, Mr. Reatard.

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