It's definitely a shock not many people were expecting, but the passing of Memphis rock'n'roll icon Jay Reatard this week really shook the foundations of our little corner of the world and reminds us all of the fragile states of human existence. Of course, anyone who's ever met Jay knows he was always quite the character, and upon meeting him along with King Louie, for the first time in the Summer of 1998 in Bloomington/Normal, IL for the now-legendary Bad Times show that went down at the Gallery, it was like we immediately knew he was going to leave an incredible mark on modern music, even at age 17.
We had just got our very first run of Horizontal Action stickers the previous week, and we were so elated that Jay, Louie and Eric Oblivian all stuck them to the asses of their jeans right before they started the Bad Times set. Yes, it sounds stupid twelve years later, but it was enough to get excited about back then, I definitely remember that. The Bad Times were a delightful mess of sweat, teenage hate and a Friction cover played with ear-deafening distortion, but their 'Glitter Boys' song managed to turn me into a Gary Glitter fan before the night was over, and I'm really, really glad I still have a copy of the show. We had no idea what was next, Teengenerate and the Oblivians had just broke up, we hadn't heard the Clone Defects yet, and punk music in general was in a state of disarray that was soon to be remedied by Jay and his never-ending energetic spurts of creativity. So this kid's solo-project band is doing a cover of Freestone's "Bummer Bitch," huh? Sounds good to us!
I bought a copy of the first Reatards 7" from Eric's merch box that night and recall bringing it back to Chicago and blasting it in everyone's face. And when the debut Reatards album arrived in the mail a few months later, it really knocked everyone back, even the legions of devoted Oblivians fans, who warmed up to it quick, but still got scared a little by the emerging nihilism starting to poke through. Jay's vicious delivery was honing its own edge fast and it was hard to wait to see what happened next as a string of classic singles were released to the drooling masses on Blahhhl, Empty, and Solid Sex Lovie Doll.
By this time, we had really got the ball rolling on Horizontal Action, and staying in touch with the Goner camp down south, we organized the first Chicago Blackout Fest (The Dirtbombs, The Hookers, Reatards and The Whittingtons, which was canceled), and booked the Reatards and Persuaders their first Chicago show at the notorious Big Horse Lounge on Milwaukee Avenue (now a fancy Greek tapas restaurant). This was during the era when indie rock and pop punk had the area on lockdown, booking-wise so we thought the Mexican restaurant right around the corner would be a great spot.
Also, we'd heard that Jay was starting to make a troublesome name for himself by apparently offending one of the German members of the Empty Records company, taking extreme flack for using the derogatory 'Kraut-Lover' term in reference. Not many people may remember this little instance, but for those who do, it was the first of many "music industry" feather-rufflings/confrontations that Jay was involved in, and a sure sign of his sprouting magnetism for conflict and immersion in turmoil which would compound many times over the next decade. Somehow all the fights, arguments and agitation all made the music even better, as time went on, we'd clearly see.
That first Reatards/Persuaders Chicago show went bonkers, Canderson got all the now-classic photos, and later on, back at the HA homestead, Uncle Ted and Larry Loudmouth rounded up the bands for their first of many insanely drunk/offensive interviews that surfaced in the magazine. Needless to say, a fist-fist erupted during the last round of interview questions, that resulted in a few smashed faces, but as far as a first interview went, we were off to a great start and so was Jay. And even as more interview/fights took place a few years later (see Lost Sounds controversial interview in HA #8), we always gravitated toward Jay and whatever band he was operating with at the time.
It's sad to see him go, but his long list of accomplishments for such a short time on earth will be cherished for the ages, and plus Jay would think you were pretty lame for being so sad anyway, I'm sure. So cheer up, put on a few of his records and enjoy yourself.
Here's his bio that went along with his first string of solo recordings in 2007, which still holds up pretty well, we think:
Few people will be able to look back on their adolescence and see such an influential catalog of gutter-level hits, destroyed disco balls, straight-up copy cats, and legions of obsessed fans like Jay Reatard already can. Since his initial sprout of teenage turbulence as documented when he was only seventeen on his first solo 7" on Goner Records ten years ago, he'd already been convinced that he could do it all himself by playing all the instruments, and never allowing any margin for compromise.
Following through the several feral outlets he's been involved in over the years, from the primal hysteria of The Reatards to the more recent Final Solutions and Angry Angles, he's always been an integral part of the most exciting live shows of anyone else he's shared the stage with. Jay's deviceful song writing has also been the most dynamically visceral of his peers, and from the drastic 180 degree art/punk stance the Lost Sounds established upon their first appearance in the late 90s, to the creatively above-par and melodically intricate songs that fill his debut solo album, it's anyone's guess what comes next. That is the true sign of an original, and despite the long string of dead punk band carcasses behind him, you'd be a real fool to think he can't still throw a curve, or unearth a new identity for his musical manifesto. As anyone who's been in multiple bands soon realizes, having more than one inventive outlet has to come with a price, and despite all the current Memphis groups he's a part of (usually three or four), it's Jay's core intuition to be steering the ship, and you can clearly see and hear that on his solo record is where he truly shines the brightest. Never content to sit still, he's always motivated to keep going in the direction of his next musical impulses, regardless of passing trends and flimsy fashion statements. He's done his homework, repeatedly broke new ground, exposed us all to music we thought we'd never like, and he's paid his dues triplefold, so it's with great anticipation that we get to hear what comes next out of this Southern marvel's endless woven stream of underground gold. -todd killings / 2007
RIP from all of us at VoT / HoZac / Horizontal Action
all photos by Canderson c. 1998-2008
And for a stunning slide show of Canderson's Jay Reatard photos from 1998-2008, please check this LINK.
Jay Reatard story on Memphis' Fox news: