News Bits: Jay Bennett Dead

bennett1This is old news now, but with word of his death I just want to say that Jay Bennett is somebody I sort of forgot about in the last several years. The unfortunate thing for his legacy is that he will always be remembered primarily (in the public eye at least) as the guy who Jeff Tweedy kicked out of Wilco in a very public way. That’s really sad for Bennett and for Tweedy because it doesn’t really all seem to have been as black and white as that. As someone who played in a few bands back in the day, I can bear witness to the messiness of intra-band relationships. Great friendships and creative partnerships can become strained over the weirdest and most unexpected things, and the blame is never quite so clear cut as it seems to the onlooker.

It’s really sad that the last word on Bennett’s life was that lawsuit against Tweedy. It makes Bennett look like a jerk and a sore loser, but I don’t really think that’s true or appropriate. I think you had a guy reaching to keep his dreams alive when hefty medical bills threatened to destroy everything he had. It’s just speculation on my part, but Bennett never seemed to harbor all that much bitterness toward Tweedy after he was kicked out of Wilco, and I want to think that although his motives may not have been the purest they nevertheless seemed necessary and inevitable to a guy who had fallen on extremely hard times. 

bennett2Anyway, not to dwell too much on all that stuff, I just wanted to post a little tribute to the late, great Jay Bennett, a musician and artist whose legacy is far greater than the credit he is likely to get. All you really have to do is read the liner notes to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to see that he co-wrote 8 of the 11 songs on there and all you need to do is read this article to see that he contributed greatly to the sound of the album. The popular accounts all say it was a Tweedy/O’Rourke affair, but I sometimes wonder if that’s overdoing it a bit?

Bennett was a major creative force behind two other great records in Wilco’s catalog, Being There and Summerteeth, and there’s no doubt he made significant contributions to the Mermaid Avenue records as well. One can easily make the case that Wilco’s first great period ended with Bennett’s departure.

All in all, my favorite Wilco w/ Bennett work is the group of demos recorded for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Since Bennett later recorded versions of many of these songs himself, it’s safe to say that he carried much of the songwriting duties. Personal favorites are “Cars Can’t Escape”, “Venus Stopped the Train”, and “Alone (Shakin’ Sugar)”, although there are several others that are worth hearing.

Here’s a few other interesting Bennett links:

Impromptu “Department Store” Interview with Bennett a few months after leaving Wilco – most moving is his tribute to Ken “I Was Wilco’s First Drummer” Coomer, with Bennett regretfully admitting the part he played in showing Coomer (apparently a good friend) the door

Download full album Whatever Happened I Apologize (free and legal) – just released it this year too, pretty good record

21 Reasons Why Jay Bennett Should Be Back In Wilco – interesting facts here, they claim Bennett is responsible for the melody of the awesome “California Stars”

Remembering Jay Bennett

Last of all, I’ll close with an upbeat little rarity of Bennett’s from back in the day, the silly little song “Junior.” To me, there’s nothing finer to close a tribute to the guy than to say that here was a man who never took himself too seriously, a guy who did it all for the joy of rock and roll, and a guy who I pray will rest in peace.


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