Memphis Punk Rocker Jay Reatard Dead at 29
Shermon Wilmot, the head of Memphis’s Shangri-La Records, described the young Jamie Lee Lindsey as “almost like this Elvis-type figure but angrier,” in an interview for “Waiting For Something,” a documentary about the artist. He probably didn’t envision that the 24-minute film, released in advance of the singer’s new record, would serve as a sort of epitaph.
Lindsey, a punk rocker better known by his stage name Jay Reatard, was found dead in his sleep on the morning of Jan. 13, 2010. While the official cause of death has yet to be announced, friends of Lindsey say he had recently complained of flu-like symptoms.
“Jay was as full of life as anyone we’ve ever met, and responsible for so many memorable moments as a person and artist,” Lindsey’s record label Matador said in a statement released on January 13.
In a way, Lindsey’s death was the final sad note of a tragic tale, as it came at a time when many perceived he was on the verge of hitting the big time. Lindsey had been something of an outsider his entire life. He grew up in an impoverished neighborhood and began his music career after dropping out of school in eighth grade.
“I was completely incapable of learning in that environment,” he said in an interview for “Waiting For Something.” Indeed, his stage name was inspired by what his middle school classmates would call him, the out-of-control, attention-craving fuck-up among them.
Unique for his artistic spontaneity, Lindsey earned a reputation as a prolific songwriter and a blistering performer. He released hundreds of songs in his career, many of which were recorded off the cuff at his home. He became famous for his legendary energetic live sets in which he refused to stop between songs for applause out of the philosophy that music as an art form shouldn’t be dependent on the approval of its audience.
On Aug. 4, 2009, Lindsey released “Watch Me Fall,” claiming the album’s lyrics are centered on, among other things, his growing fear of death. It was generally hailed by critics for both its more accessible sound and for the musical growth it displayed. Regardless of whether he would have in fact achieved Elvis-like status, the true tragedy is that we will never know the man’s real potential.