Like everything these days, word of Jay Bennett‘s death trickled out in digital drops. First was a Facebook message I saw quoting a Via Chicago bulletin board post that “someone in New York named Jay Bennett had died.” Assuming it was a simple name coincidence I didn’t immediately think much of it. I did a Google news search just to be sure, but the only articles that came up were about Bennett’s recent lawsuit against Wilco and a short article on his new label’s experiment with raising funds to release his next album. No obits. No news otherwise.
Then the stream of text messages and emails came.
Undertow Records was the first official source I saw confirm Bennett’s death. I didn’t even see it at first, I read about it in emails. Undertow Released Bennett’s first post-Wilco effort, a collaboration with longtime friend and sometime collaborator, Edward Burch, titled The Palace at 4:00am.
Burch confirmed Bennett’s death for the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Jim DeRogatis Sunday evening.
“Early this morning, Jay died in his sleep and an autopsy is being performed,” Burch is quoted as saying on DeRogatis’ blog. “The family is in mourning and is unavailable for comment at this time.”
Throughout the day fans grappled in digital real-time with the news as confirmation spread. Twitter streams became a virtual record party dedicated to Bennett’s catalog with fans posting condolences and listing what songs were NP (“Now Playing”) to help console them. Wilco is not a HUGE band and Bennett has retained only a segment of that fanbase so we’re not talking about a mass cultural moment but his passing has affected a number of people very deeply and the fact that it’s all online for the world to see proves it.
Bennett’s post-Wilco years have not been great. It could not have been easy for him to see Wilco catapult to new heights largely on the strength of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the last album he made with them and on which he played such a huge role. Wilco has certainly done fine without Jay Bennett but one has to wonder how possible any of it would have been had he NEVER been part of the band?
The circumstances of Jay Bennett’s death are as yet not known publicly. Internet rumors of course abound. Fans know he’d recently announced plans to have hip replacement surgery (documented in a MySpace blog post) to correct what he said was an injury sustained years ago, possibly the result of an ill-planned and executed stage dive. We also know he was uninsured. That fact led many people to question the timing of his lawsuit against Jeff Tweedy and Wilcorp. Was he broke? Was he desperate? Was he bitter and vengeful? Does any of this have anything to do with his death? Right now, we don’t know.
Chicagoist ran a short article about Bennett’s new label’s efforts to raise enough money to press his recent album. Rock Proper‘s approach had a number of contribution levels with varying returns on the investment. Anything from your name in the credits to private studio time with the man who made one of the best albums of this now not-so-new century. As of the posting of that article, they’d raised just $107. The title of the album is Whatever Happened I Apologize
Glorious Noise had been in contact with Jay Bennett over the last several weeks. Through emails and text messages we’ve been engaged in a conversation about his current affairs and trying to schedule a formal interview. Our last communication with Jay was a series of text messages on May 13. We had a phone interview set up for that evening but as Chicago reeled from sever thunderstorms and rain, Jay Bennett was bailing out his basement.
Hey Derek I hate to do this…I’ve been battling a basement flood and leaking roof since 4 am…loads of fun…and now we have round two of severe weather on the way…I am just beat…oh yeah…I don’t have electricity, phone or cable…and this is the first time today this phone just might work…it has been insane w/o electricity I have to bucket out the sump pump…damn near fell off the roof…can we pleas touch base tomorrow…I’m really sorry.”
Jay Bennett was largely responsible for some of the most important music in my life. The Wilco albums to which he contributed arguably represent the best run of ANY band in recent memory. He helped transform Wilco from the less interesting outcome of Uncle Tupelo to the best band in America.
Godspeed, Jay Bennett.
Jeff Tweedy Responds to News of Jay Bennett’s Death: “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.”
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The Jay Bennett track-by-track listing of instruments played on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Wilco: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki
33 thoughts on “Ex-Wilco Jay Bennett Dead at 45”
what a shock to wake up to.
he passed far to young.
definitely a talent that will be missed.
Wow. I saw a friend on FB have an RIP for him and I couldn’t believe it and hunted down info, then came here. This totally blew me away.
So so so sad.
So it’s not known if his death was a result from the surgery? I just kind of assumed that and a couple of comments on Via Chicago alluded to that. Did he even have surgery yet? I remember seeing a couple of recent photos of Jay and it looked like he had put on a lot of weight. Did he still smoke? I’m wondering if it was a heart related issue, especially considering the stress it sounds like he was going under as of late.
Lots of assumptions and conjecture, but as of late last night I couldn’t find any confirmation on cause of death.
I just can’t believe this. How incredibly heartbreaking…
so sad, he was a great foil to jeff tweedy and seemed to keep him in check musically…but he was also wonderful on his own
Wow. I’m honestly stunned. Unbelievable. We’ll miss you, Jay.
I didn’t see the news/messages until this afternoon. What a huge bummer. Now my dreams of an ex-Wilco supergroup will never happen.
Anyone who has seen I Am Trying to Break Your Heart can’t but help realize what a masterful artist Bennett was as his workmanship had the kind of obsession that it takes to create more than the ordinary.
Flaps Up, Jay…
Len Kasper, the television play-by-play announcer for the Cubs, just mentioned Jay Bennett and lamented his loss during the game.
wow, i’m stunned by this. this is heartbreaking – he was a true artist.
Jay was extremely under rated and will be sorely missed…
I am having this discussion with friends on another board but I would put Wilco’s three-record run with Jay Bennett up against most any other band’s. Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is as good or better than anything going.
The Beatles: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper – White Album, Abbey Road, Let it Be
Stones: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St.
The Who: My Generation, A Quick One, The Who Sell Out, Tommy
Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blond on Blond
Who else? Best three-record runs. Wilco’s ranks with them all.
Neil Young: On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night, Zuma.
Neil: Of course!
The Clash: The Clash, Give ’em Enough Rope, London Calling.
The Talking Heads: Talking Heads: 77, More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, Remain in Light. But Wilco’s 3-record run is right up there, especially if you consider the Mermaid Avenues in-between.
I saw WILCO about 5 or 6 years ago in Nashville, while on a business trip, trying to ease a lonely night in a hotel room, and luckily found myself a front row ticket to the headlining Cheryl Crow concert, with WILCO and Michael Penn opening. All I remember, to this date, though all three acts were great that evening, was the brilliant charisma of Jay Bennett on stage, focused and enjoying being a rock star. And he did rock. His work alone on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot should be honored for it’s artistic fortitude. An incredibly interesting, confusing and fun loving talent, I’ll miss on planet Earth. In the WILCO documentary, Jay pleads his rediculous case to Tweedy, while mixing, “I just want you to understand me.” Tweedy responds something like , “Okay, but I don’t have to understand you all the time.”
Two great artists hammering it out for the love of their personal art. But I hope Tweedy can see, all these years later, that maybe Jay needed his approval right then, in the thick of it all. That’s all. No need to kick him out, just try to understand that he cared about the music as much as you did Jeff. I think he would have stayed with the band had that scene played out differently.
I had a dream of Jay producing my music one day,….darn it.
Jharp, that Sheryl Crow/Michael Penn/Wilco tour was back in 1997. 12 years ago! Time sure flies, doesn’t it?
Thanks Jake. You’re right. I just realized that I am 53 years old and I was indeed 41 when I saw that show. Time does fly. Damn,……R.I.P Jay
The first time I saw Wilco was after hearing Mermaid Avenue (and instantly became a huge fan – still one of my favorite sessions). Not knowing anything about them, I was completely surprised/delighted to see one guy going rockstar-apeshit the entire show; jumping, spinning, rocking out in a big way. That guy of course was Jay, and I more or less lost interest in Wilco after he left. He was an awesome performer and a real musician’s musician. I hope at some point he got to know how much of an impact he made on people. Thanks Jay.
More on this in the Tribune from Greg Kot:
Jay also I believe was the sole writer of “My Darling” but I think that album (ST) was credited to Wilco as a group effort if what my promo copy says is to believed.
I loved Jay, his pop sensibility and his musical acumen blew me away, as did the fact that he was a fan who loved music. He was very approachable. I interviewed him in ’99 and met him in person a couple years later after a show with Ed Burch and Kelly Hogan. Recently he said that he only made about $150 from all his time in Wilco, aside from the usual per diems and tour support. He will be greatly missed – he could have been one of those great elder statesmen producers.
“The Who: My Generation, A Quick One, The Who Sell Out, Tommy”
I would go the other chronological direction with that Who list: Tommy, Live At Leeds, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia
Obviously I know nothing about this – so thats why I ask.
Do you guys think Wilco pulls in a lot of cash for past royalties…and do you think he was getting the shaft from Tweedy?
I mean it sounds like he had it tough financially and couldn’t even get health insurance. Or was he just making poor financial decisions? I hate to think Tweedy is like that, but who knows.
One function of the suit was to answer that question and to get full accounting of any and all royalties or payments that would have been required to be split among the members of Wilco. I have no idea whether or not Wilco/Tweedy received any such payment.
I doubt if Wilco has ever recouped their advances. Nevertheless, Bennett and Tweedy should both be receiving publishing royalties from the songs they wrote… Right?
I think this sheds light on a crummy situation for probably most musicians, is lack of health insurance. Entertainers live that kind of life, with little or no benefits of any kind. I believe the acting community has created some sort of fund for that sort of thing, for their union members,…but I am not sure if musician unions ever developed that.
I doubt any royalties earned would solve his lack of insurance issues. That’s huge $$$’s. It’s a common problem for most regular folks, but I think extremely common for musicians to just go without.
i hold jay’s stretch in wilco over the three albums in the same esteem as the following bands/artists with fantastic three album stretches…
minutemen – what makes a man start fire?, buzz or howl under the influence of heat, double nickels on the dime
the pixies – surfer rosa/come on pilgrim, doolitle, bossanova
radiohead – bends, ok computer, kid a
bob dylan – blood on the tracks, basement tapes, desire (i like 70’s dylan better than 60’s dylan)
bonnie “prince” billy – i see a darkness, ease down the road, master and everyone
the ramones – the ramones, leave home, rocket to russia
the replacements – hottenanny, let it be, tim (honestly, it could stretch back to sorry ma… and forward to pleased to meet me)
new order – low life, brotherhood, technique
flying burrito brothers – gilded palace of sin, burrito deluxe and gram’s solo gp and onward to grevious angel – yeah, i’m cheating here, so what?)
grateful dead – live/dead, working man’s dead, american beauty (yeah, one’s a live album, but it helped define the dead live experience with the first release of dark star anywhere on record.)
rem – fables of the reconstruction, lifes rich pageant, document
the verve – storm in heaven, a northern soul, urban hymns
the flaming lips – clouds taste metallic, the soft bulletin, yoshimi battles the pink robots (i don’t count zaireeka, because it was a sound experiment that i couldn’t listen to properly without four systems. i don’t count it at a proper album.)
urge overkill – supersonic storybook, saturation, exit the dragon (i’m still a sucker for u.o.)
dinosaur jr. – you’re living all over me, bug, green mind
sonic youth – sister, daydream nation, goo
ditto on beatles, stones, neil, and who, of course.
vitas…you have it down.
Thank God someone mentioned the minutemen, REM, the replacements, DINO jr, sonic youth and the lips…let us not forget
fIREHOSE (ragin’ full on, ifn’, from Ohio)
Meat Puppets (MPII, Up on th eSun , Out My Way)
Guided By Voices (Bee thousand, alien lanes, under the bushes under the stars)
Pavement (slanted Enchanted, Crooked rain Crooked Rain, wowie Zowie)
Lots of great muisc out there.
I understand the Wilco stuff, but hell there have been lots of 3 album runs, depending on your tatste. Ever hear of Cheap Trick (cheap trick, in color, heaven tonight)
I think its more appropriate to put them in the with their contemporaries..I mean comparing them with the beatles and the Stones is a stretch, same with all the old school classic rock bands. I agree.. three great albums, but not the impact that the old hats wrote. You need those to get to Wilco.
Can’t believe I didn’t think of Elliott Smith immediately: Elliott Smith, Either/Or, XO.
By the way, my original comment on this is not to say that Wilco’s three-record run is BETTER than any of those classic rock bands but to say I’d stack them up against those bands. And I still would. Musically, Wilco’s three-run is as good as any band I can think of. Mind you, that’s entirely subjective but that’s also the point of this site.