Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Jay Bennett, RIP
Jay Bennett was not a founding member of Wilco, but he played an important role in moving them from a band with a cult following, to a band respected for it's rock and roll poetry, and complexity. He died Sunday.
He had a famously difficult relationship with Wilco founder Jeff Tweedy as they recorded what many feel is their breakthrough album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and this alienation, and his eventual dismissal from the band are played out in the great Wilco documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.
I saw him play with the band several times in the early days, and it seemed that his ultimate commitment to musicality and the song often kept a performance from unraveling because of the seething onstage rage displayed by Tweedy.
I once bumped into Tweedy and Bennett in the used CD section of the fine basement record store Turn It Up in Northampton MA. I had my head bent to the stacks, heading alphabetically towards "M" and the person to my right, also flipping his way alphabetically backwards toward "L" and we were about to perform the patented record-store pass when I looked up and noticed it was Bennett. I smiled and nodded and looked across the bins to see Tweedy checking out the "D's." My only surprise was that they were so short. They didn't stay long when they began to notice that I wasn't the only one looking up from the stacks to see what CDs they were checking out. Later that evening they performed a ragged glorious set with Gary Olsen of the Jayhawks in the great side-project band Golden Smog.
Bennett died in the hospital, in his sleep after hip surgery to repair damage he suffered early in his career in a stage dive while performing with his band Titanic Love Affair.