Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr., the prolific punk songwriter better known as Jay Reatard, was found dead in his Memphis home early Wednesday morning. He was 29.
His sudden, as-of-yet unexplained death derails what was one of the most promising young careers in the independent music world. Lindsey had a relentless talent for recording, honed since the age of fifteen. The teenager’s first demo-tape efforts, sent to his local punk inspiration, The Oblivians, saw release on Goner Records in 1998 under the name The Reatards. In the years since, Lindsey released dozens of DIY albums and singles across a wide assortment of labels, billed to an assortment of side-projects and assumed names (Lost Sounds, Bad Times, Nervous Patterns, Angry Angles, Final Solutions, etc.).
Though long known in DIY circles, his recent solo work had lifted him to a new level of acclaim and notoriety. Blood Visions, released in 2006 by In the Red Records, was his first to feature studio production and carry the Jay Reatard moniker. The record’s brash, violent subject matter and crackling noise belied the sweet, buried melodies perpetually filtered through Reatard’s faux-English accent.
As a songwriter he was formidably prolific: he purportedly spent long stretches writing one full song every day. 2008 saw the release of two separate singles compilations, one containing those recorded for In the Red throughout 2006 and 2007, and another collecting the limited edition 2008 singles that served as the his first work for Matador Records. By 2009, Reatard had released his first solo record for Matador, the critically acclaimed Watch Me Fall. With so much material released in such a short time, the rapid refinement of Reatard’s craft was on accelerated display. Increasingly, his songs had become showcases for subtly realized lyrical neurosis and cracked tunefulness reminiscent of the early Buzzcocks or the golden fuzz of 80s Kiwi pop.
Reatard toured aggressively in support of his solo releases, gaining a reputation as a kinetic showman and a surly tough guy. Footage of him completely clobbering an unruly fan on-stage achieved instant immortality in 2008. Talking to The Onion‘s AV Club last year, he pondered his agitating presence:
“I have a reputation for being kind of abrasive, or an asshole, but I think people are used to musicians looking outside of themselves for validation, and needing people to like them, because they’re trying to fill some fucking void because Mommy didn’t give them enough attention when they were kids. People can’t get over somebody making music because they enjoy it, and not having some ulterior motive, like trying to get laid or trying to get the entire world to adore them. If I ever get to the point where I can get the entire world to adore me, I’m done, because my whole game is me against the world. If too many people are into it, fuck, it just might kill it.”
Reatard had returned to Memphis following a series of support gigs for the reunited Pixies. Local police have opened an investigation into the circumstances of his death.
Rest in peace, Jay.
“It Ain’t Gonna Save Me”
“I’m Watching You”
“Oh It’s Such a Shame”
Er, throwing a girl off his stage: