IN 2009, filmmakers Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz released Waiting for Something, a 20-minute documentary about Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr.—better known as Jay Reatard. Interviewing the punk-garage musician at home in Memphis, Tennessee, the filmmakers exposed Reatard more intimately than he had been in any other forum, revealing a prolific, gifted, troubled artist on the verge of a commercial breakthrough.
Reatard died suddenly, of cocaine toxicity and alcohol, at age 29 in January of 2010—leaving behind a sprawling legacy of albums, singles, and EPs that he'd released over the previous decade under a huge variety of names. His death was awful, to say the least, but perhaps most painful in the way that his intense, provocative version of rock 'n' roll seemed to practically predestine it. Better Than Something: Jay Reatard, the excellent feature-length documentary that Hammond and Markiewicz wove from their initial short, proves that this perception is very far away from the truth; Reatard had a painful upbringing and a difficult life, but not for one second did he buy into the worn-out myth of living fast and leaving a pretty corpse.
What Hammond and Markiewicz have done in Better Than Something is dig deeper with their existing interview footage of Reatard, supplanting it with live performances and interviews with family and friends. They don't attempt to explain Reatard's death, but neither do they gloss over his problems with alcohol and crack abuse. The result is a devastatingly good documentary that's as fine a tribute to Reatard as one could hope for—a tasteful, comprehensive, human look at a guy who had trouble connecting with other people but no problems communicating through music. It's a must-see for anyone who's a Jay Reatard fan; if you're not one, you will be after watching Better Than Something.