H/t to Mark Hoobler for pointing us to this tribute to the late Jay Bennett (who died in his sleep this weekend) by NPR blogger Bob Boilen.
If you’ve seen I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, you know the gist of Bennett’s creative differences with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. (Greg Kot’s excellent Wilco: Learning How To Die goes into more detail. You can read a review of the book here, penned by one-half of Voreblog for the Nashville Scene many moons ago.) Bennett has a not-very-flattering scene late in the documentary — after he has been let go from the band — in which he uses the phrase “To quote myself” during a self-absorbed lament bemoaning his dismissal. (We occasionally use this line to spoof ourselves on those occasions when we fear we’ve taken ourselves too seriously.) “Jeff was threatened by me, it’s clear,” Bennett adds before launching into an I-was-going-to-break-up-with-you-until-you-broke-up-with-me-first explanation of his final, unhappy days with Wilco. Watching concert footage of the band performing “I Got You (At The End Of The Century)” shortly before Bennett’s dismissal, you catch glimpses of why Jay no longer fit. While the rest of the band tackles the song straight on, Bennett seems more self-conscious of himself as a rock star, given to exaggerated posing during a guitar solo.
The thing is, Wilco was always better with Jay Bennett than without. The band’s heyday lines up with Bennett’s stint as a multi-instrumentalist. Bennett played, among others, guitar, banjo, bass, mellotron, pump organ, drums, synthesizer, harmonica and Wurlitzer. Someone in the documentary refers to Bennett as a “mad scientist” in the studio, and like many mad scientists, he had a certain genius. Bennett may not have been Tweedy’s equal (he wasn’t), but without him the band has yet to release anything as fantastic as Being There, Summerteeth or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
R.I.P., Jay. And thanks for the tunes.
Back in February, Glorious Noise came up with 21 Reasons Why Jay Bennett Should Be Back In Wilco, one of which is simply “dreadlocks” (because it “helps balance Tweedy’s inherent honky-ness”). We have no comment.