Jay Bennett (1963-2009)

May 26, 2009 at 10:28 pm | Posted in Music, Art, Etcetera | Leave a comment

jay_bennett

Whenever it comes to writing blogposts in memoriam, there’s always the risk of slipping into cliche or mawkishness. This is especially true of artists, because it’s often hard to separate the cherished works they left behind from the singular, imperfect being who created it. I didn’t know Jay Bennett; like most people, my only exposure to him as a person was in a documentary that many feel didn’t reflect his better self. Nor do I know enough of his work to give a full assessment of all the music he produced in those tragically curtailed 45 years.

No, like a thousand sniffling indie kids who’re now rummaging through their record collection or penning their own tiny tributes, the reason I write this is to acknowledge his role in producing three of my favourite albums. When Bennett joined Wilco in 1994, he’d become part of a band which, for all its tuneful alt. country racket, lacked any real musical depth. In the years that followed, this prodigious multi-instrumentalist struck up a songwriting partnership with singer Jeff Tweedy which represents some of the band’s best material and led to greater critical & commercial success with each succeeding album. This all culminated in the quite magnificent Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, a superb melding of traditional American songcraft with experimental production: shortwave radio samples, bursts of noise, subtle flashes of feedback & dischord. From the songs he helped write to the wide range of instruments he played, Bennett’s fingerprints are all over that record, and regardless of the break-ups, lawsuits & health problems which followed, it stands as one of the great albums of the decade & a piece of work any musician would be proud of.

At this point, there’s not a great deal more that needs to be said, so I’ll leave you with three videos catching the band at their best. The first is a clip from the documentary which detailed Bennett’s departure from Wilco, but catches them here in less conflicted times. The second is the video to Jesus Etc, which Bennett co-wrote and stands as one of their best tunes, and another catches him on the keyboards during a live performance.

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