The last — actually, the only — time I saw Jay Reatard, he was opening for the Pixies. He took the stage wordlessly, his face obscured entirely by strands of long, curly, blond hair. He didn’t speak to the crowd at all, save to shout out the title of each song as he and the band launched into it.
In the moment, we found his insolence — his complete failure to utter the obligatory words of respect to the legendary band he was opening for or even grace us with a “Hello” — exhilarating. At a time when punks tend to be nothing more than mild-mannered college grads in artfully torn clothing, Reatard kept the unruly spirit of ’77 alive. Now, we could read all the dark subtext in the world into that performance. But none of it obscures the simple truth that Jay Reatard was the real thing: Talented and tormented, prolific and self-sabotaging. We were nothing short of shocked and devastated to hear of his death yesterday at the horribly young age of 29.
Reatard reportedly died in his sleep, but at his age we doubt his demise could be called “natural.” He had a well-publicized history of drug abuse, violence, and emotionally instability. J. Bennett’s 2008 profile provides a portrait of the artist that moves beyond his reputation as a shit-starter to reveal, among other things, a smart and disciplined musician. Of all the prescient quotes we could pull out of it, this is the one we’d like most to remember Reatard by: “I take full responsibility for everything I’ve ever done… I’m not sorry for any of it.”
Now, rather than dissecting Reatard’s life story for deeper meanings or getting excessively sentimental — two things we guarantee you wouldn’t go over well with the object of our grief — we want to leave you with his real legacy: his music. Below, we’ve posted five of our favorite Jay Reatard videos and a free download of one his final recordings, a Nirvana cover.
Leave your best (or worst) memories of him in the comments.
Download: “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle”
“It Ain’t Gonna Save Me”
“Hammer I Miss You”
“I’m Watching You”
“Greed, Money Useless Children” and “Let It All Go”