Just found out that Jay Bennett, the brilliant former member of Wilco, died on May 24. That was about three weeks ago. Don’t know how I missed that one, though in my defense I don’t listen to NPR as much these days since I made my car iPod-compatible, and it probably wasn’t very big news anyway outside of the blogosphere. Still, it came as a shock. Bennett was 45 years old.
It wasn’t a nice death, either. Details about the exact cause have yet to be released, but what we do know is that Bennett needed hip replacement surgery and couldn’t afford it because he had no health insurance. Fucking hell, man! If we’re not going to have free health care in this country, couldn’t we at least have some sort of Genius Fund to keep these people alive and working?
Ever since I started listening to them in college, Wilco has been my favorite folk-rock band of all time. Bennett joined the group in 1994, bringing with him formidable multi-instrumental talents. His love of Woody Guthrie helped bring about the band’s amazing collaboration with Billy Bragg on Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 1 and 2, which produced some of my favorite Wilco songs: Blood of the Lamb, California Stars and Remember the Mountain Bed. He also made significant contributions to the band’s breakthrough albums, Being There, Summerteeth andYankee Hotel Foxtrot.
What most people know about Bennett they know from I’m Trying to Break Your Heart, a documentary that chronicles the recording sessions for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This is when Bennett’s relationship with Wilco soured, and he was fired from the band in 2001. Despite the tension, the film remains a loving tribute to the man’s passions and to his genius.
Here’s a cool video for California Stars. RIP Jay Bennett…