Memphis garage rocker Jay Reatard’s trademark white Flying V guitar hung behind his coffin during a memorial service on January 16th, and was buried with him the following day. “He was devoted to the Flying V and punk rock,” Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis tells Rolling Stone of the 29-year-old singer/guitarist who died of unknown causes at his home on January 13th. “I’ll miss Jay.”
Born Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr., Reatard began recording raw, low-fi garage-punk in his early teens and was signed to local label, Goner Records, at just 15. He went on to open for the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr., and made fans out of Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Beck. “Jay came from the same southern poverty that Elvis Presley and Junior Kimbrough came from,” says Scott Bomar, a local producer who’d known Reatard since he was a teen. “The guitar was his escape. He didn’t have a backup plan.”
“Even when Jay was still alive, we had to sort of keep our minds open for something like this to happen,” says Alijca Trout, a former bandmate and close friend. “Jay was very erratic and volatile with his own life. You never knew what was going to happen next.” Over the years, Reatard became notorious for his unpredictable performances — in 2008, he punched a fan who jumped onstage in Toronto, and last year in Austin, he swung his microphone stand at two fans who attacked him during a gig. Adds Bomar, “Jay is a guy who seemed to push the boundaries a lot with everything. And death was a subject he talked about a bit. It’s kind of like he knew he didn’t have much time.”
Reatard released more than 100 records during his career, including 22 full-lengths, as part of more than a half-dozen different bands, eventually branching out from the Stooges-style primitivism of his early work under the Reatards moniker, to the dark, corrosive synth-punk he recorded as a member of the Lost Sounds and the comparatively refined power-pop he crafted as a solo artist.
“Jay was a juggernaut of amazing musical ideas,” says Matador founder Chris Lombardi, who signed Reatard in 2007 and released Watch Me Fall last year. “He was a genius — a nihilistic genius but a genius nonetheless.”