A 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.