Ever since I heard the name Jay Reatard around 2006, I was always intrigued with what he might sound like. Though with a name like that, I wasn’t sure how I could ever take him seriously. It wasn’t until two years later when I finally heard him on the Matador Singles ’08 listening copy CD that Matador Records sent to our fledgling record store (then-Fargin’ Bargains, a joke name that somehow stuck for several years), that I had the answer.
Once through “See/Saw”, I still wasn’t sure what I heard. My ears had perked up but had little or no point of reference. This was clearly punk rock but it had a strange pop sensibility in how each track was arranged. There were multiple parts, hardly complex but miles away from a simple three chord progression. Jay’s voice sounded like it came from a deranged muppet out of Meet the Feebles. Once the CD was over, all I knew was that this guy was brilliant.
Since my vinyl resurgence was just beginning, I ordered both Reatard’s first two solo releases, Blood Visions and Singles 06-07, from In the Red Records though F’n B’s. They were really good but MS08 was a huge step forward. I became obsessed as I started to acquire releases from Jay’s various side projects, and there were many.
I bought CDs from the Reatards, Destruction Unit, Terror Visions, Final Solutions, and Nervous Patterns (out-of-print and used from Hamazon). After the Reatards, the rest were barely listenable, challenging on the kind side. The only vinyl I could get was the self-titled Lost Sounds album. Other than the incredible “I Sit I Watch I Wait”, there wasn’t that much to write home about, if you are inclined to write home about things. Does anyone even write letters anymore?
When he came out with Watch Me Fall in ’09, it was clear that he was taking another leap forward creatively. He was Beatle-esque in constructing his songs with moving pieces layered on top of each other in “Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and “Wounded”. The album soared and it was clear that Jay was only just scratching the surface of what he could accomplish musically. But in a universe that craves balance, the rug was pulled out from under us all.
I was super bummed when he passed away on January 13, 2010. He was a year younger than me and had amassed a discography of sixteen full-length albums and a colossal amount of singles. Someone so prolific getting snuffed out in an instant by his own demons. He talked in a documentary about recording as much as he could because he didn’t know how long he had on Earth.
This brings me to two of my very favorite pieces. Jay had started his own label, Shattered, and started releasing other artists through there as well as giving away free tracks of his. A year after his death, the folks that ran the label and website offered two special releases and an exclusive T-shirt to Shattered Club members, both limited to 500 copies. The first is the item shown at the top, the Live At Golden Plains LP. The second (shown below) is the more sentimental as it is a single of the last two songs he recorded, just two days prior to his death.
“You Get No Love” is a decent track but the B-side, “I Am Growing” had the makings of another gem. It’s a simple demo with just vocals and guitar. Its ultimate shame and charm are the fact that it was recorded over another track and the original seeps through some. I have only played this once. It was one thing to hear it transferred to MP3 on my Zune (yes, I have a Zune). It’s another to actually lay the needle down. I like vinyl because listening to it is a more personal experience than the digital mediums. That’s the double-edged sword. It’s more difficult to actually put the needle to the record, play the music of someone so immensely gifted cut down in his prime, and remind yourself of your own wasted potential. A better adjusted person might take that as wake-up call to take control and ownership of their life. For someone like me, it’s just sad.
I talked about Nirvana in my last post. Why is listening to Jay Reatard sadder than that of Kurt Cobain? He died even younger and had achieved a much higher stratosphere of success. My only answer is that it’s all about proximity. I was only 15 when Cobain died, I was twice that when Jay died. So much more was in front of me then. I was also far more resilient, still full of hope. Also, owning the single feels like a responsibility. There are only 500 made available to the public and it’s the last output he will ever make. It feels like an invasion of his privacy, not unlike Kurt Cobain’s Journals. I have owned that as well but never read it. These are things I feel like I need to have but not to enjoy. I realize that may not make any sense but I never claimed to be relatable.
I do actually enjoy one thing I got from this set. In spite of ruining its value, I wear the T-shirt fairly regularly. Be it at the gym or the grocery store, I want people to be curious about the man and the artist. And that no matter how much time passes, I want everyone to know that I’m still Reatarded.