Better Than Something: Jay Reatard
After debuting as a work-in-progress at the On Location: Memphis film festival last spring and premiering as a completed work at Indie Memphis last fall, Better Than Something, the documentary portrait of late Memphis musician Jay Lindsey, aka Jay Reatard, gets a local theatrical run this week.
It was primarily filmed as a short in April 2009 but then expanded into a feature following Reatard's January 2010 death. The bittersweet film opens, smartly, with a tart, revealing French TV appearance from 2008.
"I take myself very seriously, hence my name," a sardonic Reatard tells his interviewer, who responds, "You feel angry when you're onstage. Are you still angry?" This prompts a deflated, utterly honest answer: "No, I feel happy when I'm onstage. I feel angry when I do shit like this."
That was Lindsey — "bad boy" surface and principled, often disappointed, suffer-no-fools core. Better Than Something humanizes Lindsey, as he gives a tour of the houses he lived in as a Memphis youth and tells some rough stories of things that happened in them (including the origin of his great Lost Sounds song "1620 Echles St."), then hangs out, happily, with old friends at Midtown bar the Lamplighter. Interview subjects include some Memphians who knew him best, such as Lost Sounds bandmate and former girlfriend Alicja Trout and producer Scott Bomar.
Better Than Something doesn't get into the details of Lindsey's death, but it doesn't shy away from his problems, either. One friend talks about smoking crack with Lindsey, a story Lindsey essentially confirms with regret and rueful amusement, while a Matador Records associate complains of fans trying to get close to Lindsey with offers of drugs.
The film concludes movingly, with Lindsey explaining that his unusually prolific catalog of recordings was born of a desire to document his life. "I try to make as much as I can with the time that I have," he says. "I just make music because I'm afraid of everything else, I guess."
Opens Friday, March 2nd, at Studio on the Square