“Jay was what few people have the capacity to be. He created an undeniably classic album that contained so much pain transferred to tape in such an explosive way that it made you feel different after hearing it. He was transgressive and honest. His flaws were something he focused on and overdubbed and distorted until they made you forget who he really was– a person with feelings and a good heart. He loved music and worked hard from a young age to pursue it. He was a self-made and unmade man. I am truly sickened to see him go.”
Bradford Cox (Deerhunter)
I don’t know why I’m writing this right now, but I just feel like I have to. I need to release this confusion. I need to try and understand. Jay Reatard is dead. The news hit me hard, possibly harder than any other death to one of my music heroes. With Kurt Cobain and Elliot Smith, you always sensed that it could all end any day. When Johnny Cash died, it was sad, yet not unexpected, what with old age and all. But Jay was at the top of his game. He wasn’t an aging legend nor a suicidal recluse (at least not to my knowledge). He was a guy who still had so much more to offer; he stood at the doorstep of greatness. “Watch Me Fall” was one of the best albums of 2009, and now I find myself questioning how I couldn’t have put it at the top of my best albums list. Maybe I just became accustomed to his amazing music that seemed to flow out effortlessly like an endless, melodic stream. Maybe I just took advantage of his genius. Maybe we all did.
This summer, you couldn’t escape Michael Jackson fever, which always irritated me. The guy hasn’t been relevent for decades, yet when he died, everyone forgot about the pedophilia charges and the mediocre albums of the 90s, convincing themselves that Michael still mattered.
Jay Reatard still matters – God damn it. He was changing the way we look at classic punk rock, building from the foundation that the Ramones laid long ago and showing that a simple pop-punk song could be so much more. He was an extremely talented guy, heck, he played every instrument on almost every song off all his albums. I feel no shame in stating that he’s one of the best songwriters of the past ten years, and I’m not just saying that because I’m lost in some type of post-death trauma (just check my kind words about him on both of my “Best of 2009” lists). Unfortunately, you won’t be hearing much of anything about Jay’s death on major news networks (unless the rumblings of homicide come true, then they’ll have something to exploit, which we know they do so well).
Fortunately, I had the honor of seeing Jay Reatard perform less than two years ago at South by Southwest. I would go on to name it the best show of the week. Here’s a snippet of what I wrote:
We had reached that moment in the week where you’re so exhausted from standing and drinking that your legs feel like they could buckle any moment. I needed a kick-start, and if classic punk couldn’t do it, my goal of waking up was hopeless. The instant Jay Reatard and his band of afro haired misfits took the stage the crowd broke into a fist pumping mosh pit. Throwing caution to the wind, we all joined in, bouncing and po-going around as the upbeat punk rock blew out of the speakers. As I watched Jay thrash away through fast paced song after fast paced song, I tried to remember the last time I attended a good old-fashioned punk show. I couldn’t recall, but as the adrenaline pumped through my heart, I knew it had been a long time coming.
I have no doubt that Jay’s legacy will live on. Just like other unappreciated artists of the past who died too soon (Nick Drake anyone?) ten years from now people will look back with wonder at Jay’s intricate, masterful approach to pop-punk. His YouTube performances, which are already something of lore, will continue building the legend, the aura of Jay Reatard. Until then, those of us who knew him and his music intimately will mourn his death. For now, he is ours to miss. There’s enough time ahead of us for him to be given the respect from others he so greatly deserves.
It ain’t gonna save me, no how
All is lost there is no hope, All is lost you can’t go home,
All is lost there is no hope for me.
“It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” Jay Reatard