Thursday, January 14, 2010

Requiem For A Reatard

When I first heard rumors of the passing of Jimmy Lee Lindsay, better known to the world as Jay Reatard, I assumed it was some nasty internet prank. With the recent Chuck Biscuits fiasco fresh in my memory and factoring in JR's propensity toward message board and Twitter feuds, it seemed like the most plausible explanation.

Sadly, the rumors turned out to be true. While many insensitively chimed in with some variance of "I'm not surprised," I have to say that I was. While the press deemed Jay Reatard as confrontational and self-destructive, I always felt that was a bit blown out of proportion for the sake of good copy. I saw him play at Cakeshop a few years back and he angrily confronted a fan, who had slam danced all over his pedals. Under the circumstances, "Get the fuck off my shit" seemed like a reasonable response. I figured that other scrapes he'd been in since were retaliations to much more pronounced baiting. I even thought urinating on his own bandmate while on stage was well within the realms of acceptable rockstar behavior.

There are certainly those more qualified than me to eulogize Jay Reatard. I didn't know the man. I'm not as familiar with his extremely prolific recording career as some. In fact, most of his formative work didn't do much for me. Upon hearing the Reatards many years ago, I was fairly unimpressed. It wasn't until a friend turned me on to Blood Visions shortly after its release that I finally recognized the guy as a considerable talent. I illegally downloaded Blood Visions upon recommendation and was instantly blown away. Mr. Reatard seemed to synthesize everything I love about punk rock in that one record, combining the angularity of Wire, the irreverence of Angry Samoans and the raw fury and velocity of bands like the Pagans and the Saints. After the album ended, I promptly got in my car, drove to the nearest shop and bought a concrete copy. I can't name another album that moved me to equal measures.

Blood Visions slowly gained momentum as a major release by a vital artist. Along with the praise, Mr. Reatard seemed to garner criticism from two opposing viewpoints. (Shot by both sides, as it were.) Some punk purists considered him a sellout, as he became more popular and his material became more melodic. Others dismissed his music outright as retrogressive trash. I can't speculate if any of these conflicts led to his demise.

What I can say is that I found his music incredibly exciting. His more recent "pop" direction may have lacked the immediate impact of his prior work but better showcased his ample skills as a songwriter. It also proved that Jay Reatard was not one content to rest on his laurels and simply churn out whatever made him famous in the first place, as so many lesser artists do.

In my review of his most recent album, Watch Me Fall, I opined that Jay Reatard had made a "reverse In Utero." I had no idea that similarly, its creator would be gone less than a year after its release. Watch Me Fall left me wondering what he'd do next. It's a great shame that the world will never know.

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