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May 25, 2009 12:33 AM   Subscribe

Ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett has died.

The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that the 45-year-old Bennett died in his sleep in Urbana, Illinois, where he ran a recording studio.

Bennett was best known for his work as a multi-instrumentalist with Wilco. He joined the band shortly after the release of its debut album, A.M., and served as bandleader Jeff Tweedy's creative foil during the recording of the band's next two albums, Being There and Summerteeth.

During the recording of the band's fourth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the tension between Bennett and Tweedy reached a breaking point. Sam Jones' 2002 documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart depicted the worsening relationship between the two men and Bennett's eventual ejection from the band.

Since leaving Wilco, Bennett released five solo albums. Just a few weeks ago, Bennett filed suit against Tweedy for breach of contract, claiming that he never signed a release for his appearance in the Jones documentary. Bennett was seeking $50,000 in what he claimed were unpaid royalties from the film in order to pay for hip surgery. According to Pitchfork, Bennett was working on a sixth album at the time of his death.
posted by Rangeboy (67 comments total)

 
"Sam Jones' 2002 documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart depicted the worsening relationship between the two men was a crass and manipulative hatchet-job on Bennett who, while far from perfect, was portrayed as the lone villain trying to bring down the perfectly angelic Jeff Tweedy"

FTFY

That said, condolences. I like Wilco a lot, but it's a shame Bennett got such a raw deal out of the whole thing.

And needing a hip replacement at 45? WTF?
posted by bardic at 12:57 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by chillmost at 1:12 AM on May 25, 2009


RE: the hip replacement. The Sun-Times (linked in post) reports: "In late April, Bennett wrote on his MySpace blog about dealing with intense pain from a hip injury suffered during a dive from the stage while playing with Titanic Love Affair. He was preparing to have surgery, but was concerned about his lack of health insurance." Here's the whole entry, from his MySpace blog.
posted by now i'm piste at 1:14 AM on May 25, 2009


Bardic, while I would agree that matters within the band weren't as, uh...black and white as the film sometimes made them look, I wouldn't call the movie a hatchet job, either.

Also, the Sun-Times blog post says he needed a hip replacement because of an injury he sustained from a stage dive at a show with his pre-Wilco band, Titanic Love Affair.
posted by Rangeboy at 1:17 AM on May 25, 2009


Or what now i'm piste said.
posted by Rangeboy at 1:17 AM on May 25, 2009


Sad news. I liked his music and had pretty much stopped listening to Wilco after he left the band.

Is anyone else appalled that someone who played a successful band for many years ended up scrounging funds to deal with a debilitating but very treatable condition?
posted by fshgrl at 1:26 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is anyone else appalled that someone who played a successful band for many years ended up scrounging funds to deal with a debilitating but very treatable condition?

Yes, I am appalled at that. But I'd be just as appalled if he had played with an *unsuccessful* band for years, or had never played in any band at all.

And, RIP Jay Bennett.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:40 AM on May 25, 2009 [9 favorites]


Way, way too young.

If I may, there is the very real chance, based on the first comment, that this could turn into a sort of pro-Tweedy/pro-Bennett pissing contest. In my opinion (and I think this was the intent of the first comment), Bennett deserves better.

Though he's best known for his work with Wilco, his solo work, particularly his 2006 solo album The Magnificent Defeat, is largely excellent and unjustly ignored. I'll go out on a limb and say if you liked Bennett era Wilco, you'll likely enjoy his solo work as much.

Furthermore, Bennett was an accomplished session muscian and (if memory serves) a considerably talented producer and engineer.

Seriously, way too young.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:41 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 1:51 AM on May 25, 2009


This makes me very sad.
posted by basicchannel at 1:55 AM on May 25, 2009


Though he's best known for his work with Wilco, his solo work, particularly his 2006 solo album The Magnificent Defeat, is largely excellent and unjustly ignored. I'll go out on a limb and say if you liked Bennett era Wilco, you'll likely enjoy his solo work as much.


Saw him a few years ago and enjoyed his show a lot, in spite of not being familiar with his solo stuff. He made a significant contribution to my favourite band. Strong figures like Tweedy need another creative force in the band, to provide some balance.

Off to listen to My Darling, Pieholden Suite and She's A Jar.

RIP Jay.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:12 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by EatTheWeak at 3:08 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by brevator at 4:37 AM on May 25, 2009


. Wow, so sad. I should go look up his solo work, I didn't even know it existed. And what Joey says, there's no point in churning up a soap opera about Bennett vs. Tweedy.
posted by octothorpe at 5:25 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by drezdn at 5:36 AM on May 25, 2009


So sad. Indeed, Bennett-era Wilco is music closest to my heart.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 5:38 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by hector horace at 6:03 AM on May 25, 2009


Wow, this is quite shocking. RIP Jay.

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posted by jimmythefish at 6:03 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by joe lisboa at 6:36 AM on May 25, 2009


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One of my favourite Wilco tunes, My Darlin, is a Jay Bennett original that I understand he wrote about his newborn. Heartbreaking.
posted by Adam_S at 6:55 AM on May 25, 2009


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And yes, parts of the film I am Trying to Break Your Heart were a bit of a hatchet job.
posted by gcbv at 7:06 AM on May 25, 2009


What the fuck? Wow, that stinks. Like a bunch of other people have said, Bennett-era Wilco was the stretch that got the deepest under my skin. That hombre added a hell of a lot to the mix.

I happened to be hanging out at the Turf Club in St. Paul one night after he left Wilco; it's a neighborhood bar/club that has music every night, usually lower-level local bands. I looked over at the board to see who was playing that night, and just about shit my pants when I saw it was Jay Bennett. I was really, really shocked to see he was down to playing solo shows at places on the level of the Turf, but you better believe I stuck around to check it out. He was great.
posted by COBRA! at 7:12 AM on May 25, 2009


Far, far too young. Tragic. RIP.

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posted by dbiedny at 7:25 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by Outlawyr at 7:26 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by fingers_of_fire at 7:26 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:36 AM on May 25, 2009


Well, damn.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:52 AM on May 25, 2009


Far too young, indeed.

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posted by sapo at 8:37 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by mygothlaundry at 8:44 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by gingerbeer at 8:47 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by YoBananaBoy at 8:54 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by entropicamericana at 9:22 AM on May 25, 2009


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I am in a band part time with one of the producers of Being There and have crossed paths with the members of the whole Tupelo/Wilco/Bottle Rockets/Sunvolt collective on a number of occasions.

This morning has been a flurry of texts.
posted by sourwookie at 9:39 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by dw at 9:47 AM on May 25, 2009


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posted by MarvinTheCat at 9:50 AM on May 25, 2009


Well goddamit.

I was also recently appalled when, following Kristin Hersh's Twitter feed, I read that she'd badly cut her thumb but didn't go for sutures because she doesn't have health insurance. What the hell, America?

. and another one for all musicians just scraping by.
posted by jokeefe at 10:02 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't characterize it as a pissing contest. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart was indeed heartbreaking because it showed a band whose creative tensions brought forth an amazing album and who gutted themselves by dropping Bennett; the band now is a poor shadow of its former self and seems to be getting by only on the fumes of its hip cred. I had hoped for some kind of realization and reconciliation, and some kind of creative re-emergence. It's incredibly sad that Bennett is gone, and sad as well that the band will stay that way.
posted by troybob at 11:01 AM on May 25, 2009


I Am Trying to Break Your Heart is probably my favourite rock & roll documentary ever. I do agree that it's biased, but then again it tells the story of the Wilco of that time (during and following the recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). This also happened to be the time when Bennett -- for whatever reason -- stopped being a part of Wilco, so to a certain extent I feel it's natural that the film tends more toward the band's (i.e. Tweedy's) side of the story.

That said, I never understood why they wanted Bennett out. He was the kind of hypomanic musical adventurer/arranger I really identify with, while Tweedy always seemed more the sort of stoic songsmith, and they really complemented each other. I think Bennett was way more instrumental to Wilco's sound circa Being There, Summerteeth and YHF than people give him credit for.

People in the Kos thread really seem to emphasize the health insurance angle (one commenter terms it "murder by spreadsheet"). I wonder what information about this will emerge in the days to come, but if it's true then indeed:

WTF, America. I thought we were friends.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:07 AM on May 25, 2009


I can't believe it took reading about his death to realize that he was a big part of the three Wilco albums that I still listen to. I can't imagine how much pain he must have been in living with a fucked up leg for so long.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:21 AM on May 25, 2009


goddammit.

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posted by scody at 11:22 AM on May 25, 2009


I would feel a lot better about Live Nation surcharges if one of them paid into a health insurance fund for musicians. This sucks.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:32 AM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by rtha at 11:35 AM on May 25, 2009


I was also recently appalled when, following Kristin Hersh's Twitter feed, I read that she'd badly cut her thumb but didn't go for sutures because she doesn't have health insurance. What the hell, America?

If you read his MySpace post he did have health insurance but they wouldn't cover this because of some sounds-like-bullshit pre-existing condition excuse. Presumably they would give him pain killers though.
posted by fshgrl at 11:36 AM on May 25, 2009


Hi, I live in Urbana. I subscribe to the city's one newspaper. I just went through today's entire issue, and found nothing on his death. (Sunday's paper didn't have anything, either.) Searching the News-Gazette site (at the time of this comment) doesn't seem to turn anything up. I'll check everything again.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 12:28 PM on May 25, 2009


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I find it interesting and perhaps hopeful that this thread is edging toward being a discussion of health costs/insurance etc. As a non-American, let me just point out that the only way to really remedy situations such as this is some form of universal health care.

Full stop.

Please, Greatest-Nation-On-Earth, get your collective shit together and evolve.

ps. this will cost you a little more in taxes.
posted by philip-random at 12:36 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


So sad.

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(Incidentally, I also live in Urbana (just moved here within the past year) and had NO IDEA that Jay Bennett lived here and had a studio here!)
posted by rebel_rebel at 12:38 PM on May 25, 2009


Oh my god. Off to listen to Summerteeth, I suppose.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 12:42 PM on May 25, 2009


This is so sad. I was listening to Summerteeth and Being There all last week. I had forgotten how much I loved those albums when they first came out. That Bennett, Hersh, or anyone else should have to worry about health insurance is just obscene. If we have billions to pay for Wall Street bailouts and billions more for Forever Wars on Terror, we have the money to pay for universal health care.
posted by Karmadillo at 1:09 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


ny times obit
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:08 PM on May 25, 2009


I know it's not classy to use someone's death as a political springboard, but I really hope that something good comes from people learning his insurance company wouldn't cover him.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:47 PM on May 25, 2009


Please, Greatest-Nation-On-Earth, get your collective shit together and evolve.

Please be assured that

- you are (mostly) preaching to the converted on MeFi
- we are fucking trying
posted by jessamyn at 4:00 PM on May 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


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For the record I thought in the documentary Jay came off as the kind of uncompromisingly idealistic curmudgeon that all geniuses need around in order to extract greatness from thin air. I like people like Jay, even though they can be irritating, the world would be a more beautiful place if there were more like him.
posted by any major dude at 5:08 PM on May 25, 2009


This is very sad and it makes me angry, but I'm REALLY gonna be pissed when/if we find out that he passed as a result of an accident with his pain meds.

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Regarding health care, an ex-marine guy told me the other day that he uses the VA instead of Sharp, because "at least the VA gives a shit."
posted by snsranch at 5:09 PM on May 25, 2009


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posted by ameliajayne at 6:01 PM on May 25, 2009


The Jay Bennett track-by-track listing of instruments played on YHF

Also, "My Darlin'" was written in honor of his niece, not his own child.

R.I.P.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 6:40 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by Brody's chum at 6:45 PM on May 25, 2009


Today's Jay Bennett post on TapeOp.com
posted by lukievan at 7:56 PM on May 25, 2009


I own and enjoy all the Wilco albums he played on except A.M. RIP, JB.
posted by Devils Slide at 9:08 PM on May 25, 2009


Too sad.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:19 PM on May 25, 2009


Wilco at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on the Being There tour in 1997 is the single greatest rock & roll show I've ever attended. It was like the tightest bar band you ever saw was possessed by the spirit of your favourite recklessly careening punk band. Just unbelievable energy. I get goosebumps at the very mention.

Jay Bennett was a big part of that energy. For that night, for "California Stars" (the first song my wife and I danced together to at our wedding), and for much else besides:

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posted by gompa at 10:27 PM on May 25, 2009


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posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 10:29 PM on May 25, 2009


I own and enjoy all the Wilco albums he played on except A.M. RIP, JB.


I thought he joined after AM?

(You should get it, anyway - it's probably my favourite Wilco album at the moment).
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:53 PM on May 25, 2009


This is such sad news. The albums he played on are so wonderful. RIP.
posted by fstorr at 6:00 AM on May 26, 2009


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posted by LakesideOrion at 6:10 AM on May 26, 2009


WTF?

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posted by saulgoodman at 6:43 AM on May 26, 2009


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posted by washburn at 3:23 PM on May 26, 2009


excellent essay posted on the No Depression blog... uplifting even...
posted by dawson at 5:23 PM on May 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


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