Another bittersweet tale of a talented musician gone too soon, “Better Than Something: Jay Reatard” offers an uncommonly intimate portrait of the prolific garage-punk phenom who died of a drug/alcohol cocktail in 2010, just shy of his 30th birthday. What elevates the pic above the norm is a series of remarkably candid and eerily prescient interviews conducted by helmers Ian Markiewicz and Alex Hammond, who soft-pedal the circumstances of his abrupt demise but otherwise provide a thorough overview of the Memphis scene and Reatard’s prominent place therein. A must for fans, pic is a natural for fests and ancillary sales.
The natural-born musician, whose given name was Jimmy Lee Lindsay Jr., dropped out of school at 15 to concentrate on making music. After a voluminous series of limited-edition vinyl singles and lengthy touring stints fronting bands with names like the Retards, Lost Sounds and the Final Solutions, in 2006 he released his first solo LP, “Blood Visions,” under his unorthodox, self-deprecating stage name.
By 2008 he’d signed with Matador Records, which compiled the 45s he released that year on a single disc. His final album, “Watch Me Fall,” was released in August 2009.
Clearly a smart and articulate guy, Reatard comes across as a confident, driven perfectionist who inevitably inspired both fierce loyalty and lasting enmity. Performance footage from numerous international venues large and small reveal a charismatic performer with a distinctively melodic sound that combines the fury of punk with the catchiness of pop.
Helmers are thorough in their research, interviewing family members, band mates and industry types to demonstrate Reatard’s polarizing personality and sturdy legacy. Most poignant is the pic’s subject himself, who at one point muses, “I’m not going to be able to make records when I’m dead. I’m not dead right now, so I want to make records. It’s that simple, really.” And in the world of Jimmy Lee Lindsay Jr., it was.
Tech package is agreeably grungy as befits the musical aesthetic, with generous helpings of Reatard’s music that include previously unreleased and alternate versions of his songs.