Issue 22, Magazine

Jay Reatard: The Ballad of Jimmy Lee Lindsey, Jr.

Alex Moore :: Monday, November 2nd, 2009 4:00 pm

“I’ve been able to create in a vacuum until recently,” he says. “And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid that that vacuum is opening up and I’m not able to make things in such an anonymous way anymore.” But for all his expressed ambivalence about lost anonymity, he seems to feed off of the attention of people, to derive energy from being at the center of his world.

I’ve agreed to pick up dinner, and when we get to where we’re going I’m a little shocked to find us at what has got to be the nicest restaurant in Memphis. Nothing I’d seen in our quick walk led me to believe there was anything like this in the vicinity. Jay looks totally at home in his ripped, sleeveless shirt. He tells me his drummer Billy Hayes and his girlfriend will be joining us, and, catching my expression at the place, nudges me and says, “They know me here—they’ll hook it up.”

But when our waiter comes over, a big guy with a formidable moustache, he and Jay offer a tentative hello. “Oh shit, that’s awkward,” Jay says. “I’ve known that guy since we were kids. He wanted to play drums in this band I’m playing in, but he didn’t make it to his audition and I haven’t talked to him since. That’s how I am—if you can’t be professional, I’m not gonna fucking deal with you.” Some people possess a kind of self-contained intensity that makes being on their good side the greatest place in the world, and being on their bad side markedly less pleasant—as he tells the story Retard’s eyes flash with that unmistakable zeal.

Drummer Billy Hayes, a jolly giant in a Frankenberry t-shirt, arrives with his girlfriend, and more stories about Jay’s volatility ensue. There was the spat with a former manager, who believed that Jay owed him ten thousand dollars. “I told him, ’You want fucking ten grand from me, I am going to get a dump truck and fill it with ten grand in nickels, and dump that shit in front of your office. You still want it?’” He continues, laughing, “I don’t know where I would have found the dump truck, or that many nickels, but I would have done it—believe me.” Or there was the time a fan found his way onto Jay’s bad side, kicking his beloved Flying-V guitar. Jay tackled the fan to the ground and used the V at the end of his guitar to pin him to the stage by his neck. “He was turning purple,” Reatard regales, “It was awesome. Somebody sent me a picture of it.”

The waiter returns and Jay surprises me by asking if they have a nice bottle of Prosecco. They don’t. But they have a nice Brut, and next thing I know there’s a bucket of ice and bottle of champagne on our table, which Jay and I split, for no apparent reason, on a Tuesday evening. “Let’s get out of here,” Jay says as we kick the bottle, and he’s already waiting outside when the bill comes. The waiter, it turns out, has not hooked it up.

Another short walk through Jay’s neighborhood finds us at a bar where Jay knows the bartender. “That guy was in the Grifters,” Jay tells me. “Remember them? On Sub Pop? They were insane.” Some of Jay’s lost boys have met us at the bar, which is mostly empty otherwise. Patron Silver is flowing, and imported Belgian beer as viscous as molasses. Outside the bar, a couple of local kids congratulate Jay on his new record. One of them offers tentatively, “There’s a couple of really good, like, straight-up pop songs on there.” Not intending to sound like a wise-ass, but clearly a little drunk, I counter with, “Only a couple?” Jay’s eyes light up and he nudges Billy. “That’s great—did you hear what he just said?” I’ve clearly hit a nerve.

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2 Responses to “Jay Reatard: The Ballad of Jimmy Lee Lindsey, Jr.”
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