LOS ANGELES TIMES: Multi-instrumentalist and former member of Wilco Jay Bennett died this weekend, according to a post on the website for Undertow Music Collective. He was 45. A cause of death was unknown. “We are profoundly saddened to report that our friend died in his sleep last night. Jay was a beautiful human being who will be missed,” read the update on Undertow. The company released his 2002 solo album, “Palace at 4 am (Part I).”
Representatives from the label and management firm had not responded to requests for comment as of Sunday evening, but the Chicago Sun-Times reached Bennett’s friend and collaborator Edward Burch. “Early this morning, Jay died in his sleep and an autopsy is being performed,” Burch told Jim DeRogatis.
In the late ‘80s, Bennett founded the rock band Titanic Love Affair in Urbana, Ill., which lasted into the mid-‘90s. He was best known for his seven years in adventurous rock act Wilco. Bennett split from the Chicago-based group in 2001, and since his departure had been pursuing a solo career, as well as operating Pieholden Suite Sound – named after a song on Wilco’s 1999 album “Summerteeth” — in Champaign , Ill.
Bennett released the solo effort “Whatever Happened I Apologize” via the Web late last year, and reported at that time that he was pursuing “another” master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Yet it was Bennett’s time in Wilco that won him the most acclaim.
He had a not-so-amicable split from the band in 2001, which was documented in the 2002 film “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and Greg Kot’s book “Wilco: Learning How to Die.” He did, however, play a major role in the band as a writer, producer and musician. The orchestrated pop of “Summerteeth” further stripped Wilco of its country-rock roots, and 2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” saw the band move into more atmospheric territory.
Bennett was asked to leave the group before “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” was released, and his relationship with Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy remained strained. In early May of this year, Bennett filed suit against his former band mate for breach of contract stemming from his participation in “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” Bennett was seeking damages in excess of $50,000, according to court papers. MORE
JEFF TWEEDY: We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him — as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band’s songs and evolution.
PHAWKER: We are shocked and saddened but not entirely surprised.
MAGNET: Bennett further ruffled feathers by enumerating his contributions to Wilco in the press. “Jay was very concerned about getting credit for what he did,” says Stirratt. “At the same time, in a lot of ways, Summerteeth was very much a Jay Bennett record.”
MAGNET: Then there were the drugs. There was a time when pills—mostly painkillers like Percocet and Vicodin—had a role in Wilco; this is a rock band after all. The pills made you feel warm and fuzzy and helped slow down the velocity of life on the road. They made you feel good onstage. It’s no accident Summerteeth sounds so druggy. At some point, according to sources in the Wilco camp, everybody stopped but Bennett—and that turned into a problem.
For the record, Bennett denies all of this. His explanation for his departure from the band is simple: He made a power grab and lost. “I tried to force an agenda,” he says. “I wanted to make a record that had more of the uptempo pop songs that got cut off the record. But [Tweedy] is the lyricist, and he was trying to make a statement. And I had a hard time seeing that because I was seeing things through my lens, which was, ‘You don’t leave uptempo pop songs off a record.’ I guess, in a way, I saw things the same way that Reprise did.” MORE
RELATED: But seriously, one of the hard lessons learned from all of this: Never write an unflinching, dirty-laundry-and-all, behind-the-scenes cover story about Bennett getting kicked out of Wilco when the guy sleeps on your girlfriend’s floor every time he and his new sidekick, Edward Burch, play in Philadelphia—which was, like, five times since that story was published. Trust me, it can make for some uncomfortable moments around the breakfast table. MORE
JAY BENNETT: I’ve been close to bedridden since I last “saw” y’all. After burying my proverbial head in the proverbial sand since last summer, I finally decided it was time I “face the music,” and find out what was causing the severe pain and immobility in my right leg. I have had a torn A.C.L. in that knee for many years (caused by a “daring,” well, uh, really just ill-planned, and poorly executed, stage jump at Seventh Street Entry in Minneapolis, with Titanic Love Affair), and suspected that time had most likely further worn down, or even torn loose some more cartilage, most likely causing premature arthritis. So, after much prompting from friends and loved ones (“Jay that limp is NOT getting any better”), bright and early one Monday morning I decided to simply open up the Yellow Pages, and find the first Orthopedic Medicine Clinic with an immediate opening and find out what a large part of me did not want to find out. MORE
GLORIOUS NOISE: Chicagoist ran a short article about Bennett’s new label’s efforts to raise enough money to press his recent album. Rock Proper’s approach had a number of contribution levels with varying returns on the investment. Anything from your name in the credits to private studio time with the man who made one of the best albums of this now not-so-new century. As of the posting of that article, they’d raised just $107. The title of the album is Whatever Happened I Apologize. MORE
KICKSTARTER: In November 2008, Jay Bennett (ex-Wilco, Titanic Love Affair), released his new album “Whatever Happened I Apologize”, for free, under a Creative Commons license on our netlabel Rock Proper. You are encouraged to download it, share it, remix it, etc. Free download. Recorded at Pieholden Suite Sounds, the album is quiet, intimate and sounds amazing. And upon release we received a mess of emails asking whether these lovely tunes would end up on vinyl. As a small emerging netlabel, we simply didn’t have the means to do so. Until we stumbled on Kickstarter. So this project is simply seeking funds to manufacture Jay Bennett’s “Whatever Happened I Apologize” on a 12″ 180 gram vinyl record. MORE
JAY BENNETT: Whatever Happened I Apologize