From biker festivals to weddings, the Los Angeles-based band Crystal Antlers…
- Posted on Jan 13th 2011 9:30AM by Kenneth Partridge
Jen Maler, Retna
"I remember being really shocked about that," Bell tells Spinner, reflecting on the one-year anniversary of Reatard's death. "It was sort of ironic. I think the first Reatards record was something about 'F--- Elvis.'"
Indeed, Reatard -- a hyper-prolific songwriter who, over the course of his decade-long career, released stacks of music as a member of numerous bands -- made his debut with the self-recorded cassette 'F--- Elvis, Here's the Reatards.' In those days, the Reatards consisted mostly of just Jay, although Greg Cartwright of Memphis garage godheads the Oblivians helped out on drums.
By 1998, Reatard had recruited a pair of sidemen and released 'Teen Hate,' the first proper Reatards full-length. Bell has been a fan since those early days, and as a teenager growing up in California, he saw Reatard as a kindred spirit: a garage rocker who resisted straight-up genre revivalism and created his own unique aesthetic.
"It was the sloppiness of the whole thing," Bell says. "It felt like what I was doing. It was really easy to relate to because it was simple, straightforward stuff. It sounded like some kids in a garage and very sincere, which I always appreciated."
Once Crystal Antlers got going in the late '00s, Bell had the chance to meet Reatard several times. In March 2008, he did sound for a show the late rocker played at the California bowling alley Eagle Rock Lanes. By then, Reatard had earned a reputation as a volatile live performer, and on this particular evening, he didn't disappoint. As Bell recalls, Reatard had a bit of an altercation with scheduled opener Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout, who showed up late and wound up playing last.
"Mr. Free had a lot of silly antics and would go out into the audience while the band kind of 'freaked out,'" Bell remembers. "I guess something about that bothered Jay, maybe he thought they were being disrespectful or something, so he started pushing Mr. Free around kind of violently, like he wanted to start a fight. Mr. Free handled it by acting even more ridiculous and getting almost naked. I think Jay just took off after that."
Despite the sensationalist tales of violence and drug abuse that dogged Reatard throughout his career, Bell says he was surprised to hear of the musician's death -- the result of an apparent drug and alcohol overdose.
"I was definitely shocked and I was pretty disturbed by it," Bells says. "But I mean there's a lot of people involved in playing music that live excessive lifestyles a lot of times. Things like this happen. I'm friends with a lot of guys, old punk-rock guys in San Francisco, and there's only a handful of them left. They talk about all these people they used to know and everybody is dead. There's so much tragedy a lot of times with musicians."
Reatard may be gone, but Bell suspects he won't soon be forgotten.
"Any time a musician dies when they're young, when they die in their prime, they're sort of remembered that way," Bell says. "He did so much during such a short amount of time. I was looking at the catalog he put out last night, and there's so many different bands, so many different records. People are really going to have a chance to explore all the different stuff he did. He really did do a lifetime -- what for a lot of people is a lifetime's worth of music -- in that short amount of time."