Really sad news came out today - Jay Bennett passed away yesterday in his sleep. I'm a big fan and have always felt like he got a raw deal the way he was portrayed in the Wilco documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.
I thought about Bennett a lot last week while finally watching the latest Wilco DVD, Ashes of American Flags. No offense to the current lineup, but for my money, Bennett's tenure in the band was their creative peak (to date anyway). The first time I heard Summerteeth I was blown away and barely recognized it as the same band that had made AM and Being There. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was the first time Bennett contributed substantially to the songwriting. If you saw Wilco back in those days, you know they were a great live rock 'n' roll band too.
Bennett was also a major contributor to my second favorite Wilco record, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Tensions began to flare up during the mixing phase when Tweedy brought in Jim O'Rourke. Bennett was fired shortly thereafter.
Bennett recently posted a really sad Myspace post about his need for hip replacement surgery and his lack of insurance. Probably not coincidentally, he recently filed a lawsuit against Wilco for unpaid royalties. Sad shit.
I haven't heard most of Bennett's post-Wilco material, but one track I love is "California Breezes" which was written by Bennett, but recorded by David Vandervelde:
There are breezes that might keep you warm
And I must let you go
And these breezes they might heal your heart
But you would never know
There is good behind every door