R.I.P. Jay Bennett

05/26/2009 12:28 PM |

969a/1243355273-jay.jpgA few years after a spat with Jeff Tweedy that led to what seemed like the entire music community turning on him, former Wilco multi-intstrumentalist Jay Bennett, 45, died in his sleep this weekend. The cause of death is still unknown, and an autopsy is being performed today. Tweedy released this statement through Wilco’s website, and if it seems a bit brief, it might have something to do with Bennett having recently filed a lawsuit claiming that Tweedy and Wilco owed him $50,000 in unpaid royalties.

We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him — as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band’s songs and evolution. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends in this very difficult time.

Gawker is speculating that Bennett’s death may have had something to do with him not having health insurance at a time when he needed a very expensive hip replacement surgery, which maybe seems a little bit confusing since I don’t think having a bad hip is often fatal. But Bennett has also struggled with drugs, and the idea that depression caused by not being able to afford necessary medical procedures could have gotten him back into old habits certainly seems plausible.

As evidenced in the film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, a documentary about the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Bennett was notorious tinkerer, as obsessive about sound and the possibilities of new recording techniques as anyone. There were some serious sour grapes when he was asked to leave, and the way he conducted himself was difficult to watch. It’d be foolish, though, to downplay the role he played in making YHF one of the landmark albums in the history of rock and roll.

2 Comment

  • As someone with a very personal connection to Summerteeth this hits kind of hard — Tweedy’s always seemed to absorb a lot from his collaborators, arguably to the point of sucking them dry, and it’s been my impression that Bennett, coming on as he did around the end of A.M., was a main influence on the complicated 60s pop orchestrations and melodies in early Wilco. Being There is a fun, rambunctious, youthful and exploratory record, and it seems to lead directly to the fascinating tension on Summerteeth, between the moodiness (a lot of it seemingly Tweedy’s) and the gorgeous singalong pop — all given focus by the perfectionism of the production (probably attributable to both Bennett and Tweedy, and maybe why the band wasn’t big enough for the both of them). I haven’t been fifteen in a while but it remains one of my favorite records; it seems foolish to divvy up credit for an album, so by way of defining Bennett’s legacy I’ll just say I’m very, very grateful for his role in that particular chemical reaction.

  • I feel sorta weird because thinking back to his role in “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” documentary, he was kind of a jerk, but then again, so was Tweedy. But it is sad about his death and the way he left. His mark on Wilco is very, very apparent and I’ll think of him whenever I listen to those earlier records.