Posthumous reissue of Jay Reatard's first recordings on Goner offers a glimpse into the fury and joy of a songwriting genius.
The world of music is still suffering, by and large, from the loss of Jay Reatard. His death created an exodus of the kind of candid punk spirit which is falsely traded in malls across the shallow suburban landscape. Jay’s aesthetic was pure inner-city; he took no survivors and refused to tread water. This was evidenced in his consistent, and consistently pleasing, artistic output. The idea of waiting two years between releases was a foreign one for the man formally known as James Lee Lindsey Jr. Amidst an onslaught of 7” singles and full-lengths recorded with a number of acts, it might become tough for many to fully ingest the sonic language that was Jay Reatard. Which is why Goner Records’ re-issue of Teenage Hate with the Fuck Elvis Here’s the Reatards cassette is such an important release. Now, a world longing for Reatard’s snot-nosed aesthetic can understand how the man got started fronting the Reatards, a three-piece, at the ripe age of 18. Coincidentally enough, it’s an understanding which would serve the above-mentioned mallrats quite well.
Even at the age of 18, as is evidenced on Teenage Hate, Reatard could not be bothered with the future. His world was an insanely immediate one. Every one of the tracks on this release live with the kind of sonic fury which can’t be faked and must be swallowed immediately to be effective. (The longest of the tracks clocks in at 3:06, though the majority of the 39 tracks clock in at under two minutes.)
Though Reatard presents a fairly grim sonic landscape on Teenage Hate, what with the punishing stomp of classics like “Down In Flames” and “Stace”, listeners can still hear a different side of Reatard. Far away from the pressures of constant touring, in-your-face interviews and being held under the microscope of the hipsters of the world, we hear a boy so impassioned about the music he is making that his voice routinely cracks and creaks with joy.
Therein may be the true beauty of the Teenage Hate with the Fuck Elvis Here’s the Reatards reissue. While so many music fans still try to make sense of Reatard’s death, we are offered a chance to hear the man sounding happy. Sure, there may be a naive and obvious charm to the poor recording quality of many of the tracks, but it’s how Jay would have wanted it.
“Oh, here we go baby / we came to rock and roll”, proclaims Reatard, before the twisted groove of “Give It to Me” kicks in. It’s quite a telling line that may very well explain the enduring power of the Teenage Hate reissue. To understand a man and a musician, we must first understand where he came from. To understand why Reatard was taken from the world so quickly, fans must indulge the brutal, piercing, but more often than not melodically-charged assault of tracks like “Old News Baby”, “Chuck Taylors All Star Blues” and “You Ain’t No Fun No Mo”. Reatard appeared on the Memphis scene like a comet from a world many musicians could only wish to be sent from. Like all comets, he made his impact and disappeared.
Teenage Hate expresses the beginnings of Jay Reatard with the kind of clarity many missing him desired to see. Here was a boy on the verge of becoming a man. Pissed off with the world around him, he clearly had the maturity to express this anger with punchy songwriting. What remains truly important about the release is how happy he was at being able to do just that. Listen up kids; now’s your chance to get out of the malls and hear a voice definitely worth listening to.