Divine Fits A career in music is very susceptible to changes all the time.…
- Posted on Jan 13th 2011 10:15AM by Kenneth Partridge
Elizabeth Weinberg, Retna
"He seemed more stable and happier than I'd ever seen," Daniel tells Spinner. "He was always happy, and he was always a talkative guy, but he just seemed really centered and cool and chill the last time I saw him, so I was pretty shocked to hear two weeks later he was no longer with us."
Daniel and Reatard weren't close friends, but they did hang out the handful of times their bands played together. The first was on July 15, 2008, when Reatard supported Spoon at the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn, N.Y. Daniel had personally invited Reatard to open the show, having recently become a fan. Like many people, his first exposure to Reatard's music had come via the series of 7-inch singles he'd released throughout 2008 on Matador Records.
"That was really when I first started looking into him," Daniel says. "I remember looking at a bunch of the live videos online and feeling like ... I don't know. That's not how I usually learn about music. I remember for some reason being really turned on by looking at these live videos. It just felt like really great pop songs with a sort of very odd Midwestern punk sensibility to it."
Given Reatard's reputation, Daniel wasn't sure the two would get along. Three months earlier, in April 2008, Reatard had made headlines for punching out a fan in Toronto, and video of the incident quickly went viral. It wasn't Reatard's first such scrape-up, and throughout his career, as he served stints with the Reatards, Lost Sounds and numerous other side-project bands, releasing records at an almost superhuman clip, tales of violence and substance abuse had threatened to overshadow his music.
As it turned out, Daniel found Reatard affable and "really excited," a fry cry from the belligerent lout he'd been painted in the press.
"He was very likable and kind of crazed," Daniel says. "He was telling me how he had been up for, I don't know, 48 hours. He'd been on the road and they had this crazy schedule. He seemed to be enjoying himself. There was a little bit of after-show nuttiness going on. I'd never met him before. I just invited him to the show. I didn't know if he would be into us or into even talking to us. Sometimes opening bands don't really talk to each other. We got right along, and he came right into our dressing room and we ended up hanging out for a couple hours."
Daniel says Reatard's music has always reminded him of Pere Ubu, Devo and Guided by Voices, Midwestern artists who gave punk rock their own unique spin. Reatard often sang about hopelessness and death, and while Daniel doesn't doubt he was a troubled guy, he says the scraggly rocker never seemed angry or depressed.
"It must have been representative of his mindset," Daniel says of Reatard's lyrics. "I never hung out with him outside of a show, I don't think, but from getting to know him in that atmosphere, he was always the life of the party. My friend Conor Oberst, people always assume he's a completely depressed guy and he's always the life of the party. I'm sure it was in Jay."
Soon after Reatard's death, Spoon began covering 'No Time,' one of the singer's 2008 Matador singles. An emotionally raw acoustic number reminiscent of Nirvana's 'All Apologies,' the tune is rougher and simpler than the airtight indie-pop tunes Daniel tends to write. It's for this reason, he says, it's so much fun to play.
"Sometimes I think I try to complicate things without even realizing that's what I'm doing," Daniel says. "Something about playing that song made me realize how great something can be with just the most traditional approach, almost a Ramones-style, everyone-strumming-at-the-same-time, everyone-on-and-off-at-the-same-time kind of approach to performing a song. It's not something we do a lot, but we love playing that song and it's already affected a [Spoon] song or two."
Daniel says he and his bandmates won't be the only ones to keep Reatard's memory alive.
"People are always drawn to that kind of story," Daniel says. "I wouldn't be surprised if his legend continues to really grow. The most important thing is the records, and he left a lot of great records and a lot of great songs. I was always amazed how fast he was churning out songs, and they were all really high-quality songs. That's not easy to do in any state of mind."