Jay Bennett

Sad to hear of the death of guitarist/keyboard player/singer/songwriter/mad genius Jay Bennett at age 45. I don’t want to be a hater here but like many others, his portrayal in the Wilco film, I Am Trying To Break Your Hearthas always been very problematic for me.

If you’ve seen the film it’s clear that Bennett had his issues. He talks too much, has an endless capacity for arguing over minutiae and can in general be scattered but insistent. Speaking from personal experience, an interview with both Tweedy and Bennett at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel just after Bennett joined, the man chain smoked and was astonishingly disheveled, but he was an amiable, mild–mannered guy. Unfortunately for Jay, Tweedy and the rest of the band oversaw the film’s editing and so Bennett comes off like an addled nutjob. In a strange way, the unbalanced portrait of Bennett, the way they piled it on, reflects badly on the remaining band members because the way Bennett is publically dismantled in the film makes them look more mean–spirited and small–minded than they really were. You can feel the band’s emotional support for Bennett slipping away as the film wears on and he loses a power struggle with Tweedy. The part in the film where Bennett says that no one opposes Tweedy because no one in the band wants to lose their cushy gig is hard to watch. Jay is obviously shocked and floundering at that point. Having your public disconnection from the band become the highlight of the film had to have been tough. Bottom Line: I think they humiliated him more than was necessary.

After Bennett’s exit from Wilco, there were whispers about he and Tweedy trading accusations about popping pills and being difficult to work with, but the truth I suspect will always lie somewhere in the middle. Jay was clearly never the same person after his brush with fame. Much bad blood remained between he and Tweedy. Last week, he filed suit against Wilco for $50,000 for royalties he claimed he was owed for Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and, believe it or not, his appearance in the film! His post–Wilco solo records were craggy and had their moments but were generally nowhere near the brilliance of his work with Wilco. A really accomplished musician, he was one of those guys who could play keyboards as well as he could play guitar. His electric guitar work in particular added a lot of much needed heft and balls to Wilco’s early sound. His engineering skills meant that the band’s records also began to sound infinitely better. Because of Bennett, studio wizardry, to use an overworked term, also became part of the band’s arsenal of talents. He was also the first virtuoso in a band that has now become a collection of them. A very talented guy who is gone way too soon.

JRManDude's picture

I concur. This guy may not have been much fun to hang with, but the movie made the rest of them look vindictive. The manager's gloating was especially shameful. Maybe the way they came off is the Sinatra lesson: just because you can play doesn't mean your good at anything else.

Jeff Glotzer's picture

What I dont understand is why people have connected any discussion of Wilco's politics, find everyone always reaches for the nadir of the group where their last, poor involvement of the group occurred. This is about the guy's death, and let's focus on the good- like Being There, and anything where this band has been together. I think now many people may change for good or for ill, to either sides of the camp as they have online- on Rolling Stone, and I'm sure many other sites. People either hate or love more.. I am trying do the latter. But like anybody you lived or been in a band with, it's hard putting up with each other over the years. I mean, puleeze, everyone has acted shameful in one's life, let's not continue to rehash the bad, though I appreciate you not mincing words either. Good reporting, but what happened here with his untimely death? Do we also blame Wilco for that as well?