There are legends everybody talks about and then there are those who remain unsung.
In the case of Memphis punk singer/guitarist Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr.—aka Jay Reatard—not even his untimely death made this guy a household name. Go ahead—ask someone sitting next to you while you're reading this if they've heard of him. Get a blank stare? Point made.
That's unfortunate though, because Reatard was one of the most prolific punk rockers of his day. By blending pop with punk, he made the genre accessible. It also didn't hurt that they guy was super likeable. His formula kept at least a sliver of punk rock relevant during its waning years.
The good news is whether or not you—or that person sitting next to you, know who Jay Reatard was, this past year saw the release of one of the most amazingly insightful and personal music documentaries ever made, the Reatard retrospective, Better Than Something.
Primarily, what makes it awesome is the fact that even though Reatard didn't live long—dying of a cocaine overdose at 29—and even though he was really known in only serious music lover circles, there is a ton of Reatard footage out there.
Directed by Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz, Better Than Something goes just about everywhere with Reatard. Viewers dive headfirst into vault footage of Reatard's early punk rock shows in Memphis with bands like Lost Sounds. The shows are dark and fitful—quite epic. If you've ever wondered what the underground punk rock scene is like, this movie will answer that for you tenfold.
But the movie is so much more than just old video of concerts. There are interviews with those who knew him best, scenes of him just chilling with friends in bars and, at one point, Reatard, on a porch swing, recounts the time he bit a pigeon's head off while on stage. You read the part up top about the cocaine overdose, right?
One of the truly special moments in the movie comes when Retard takes the film crew on a mini tour of his old Memphis neighborhoods. More than just a Reatard history lesson, the viewer gains crazy insight into the city of Memphis itself. Reatard pulls a shocker of a story out when he describes a brutal gang rape that happened at the duplex he lived in.
It's not all seriousness, though. Viewers will find themselves chuckling at Reatard's near-perfect comedic timing. During the opening scene, a French interviewer asks Reatard if he's angry when he's performing. Reatard, in disbelief, replies by telling him that he's actually happy when he's on stage and that it's interviews like that one that make him angry.
Don't balk at the idea of watching this movie simply because you're not a punk fan. This documentary is truly for everyone. It has all the makings of a thoughtful tragedy you might see at the theater. The only difference—this one is real.