I have to admit that the news of Jay Bennett’s passing still has really me reeling hard. An immensely talented, unique and vital artist– gone. Yeah, we all know the story– Jay wore out his welcome as a member of Wilco, as far as Jeff Tweedy was concerned, and got the boot. They had heated differences over musical styles and the future of the band. It’s an old and familiar tale that often ends in separation.
That being said, I truly believe this to be true– If everyone involved has the same exact ideas and vision, then someone is obsolete. Artistic tension can be healthy, and sure can create sweet music– like “Cars Can’t Escape” which some say Tweedy left off Yankee Foxtrot Hotel just to spite Jay. At the end of the day, a lot of this stuff boils down to a swordfight– whose is bigger. Tweedy won, Jay was done. Wilco is Tweedy’s band anyway. Always has and always will be.
What also struck me hard about Jay’s passing is that it profoundly underscores that the healthcare system in this country needs fixin’ yesterday. Seriously. When will it finally matter enough that we actually do something about it? You think of someone like Jay Bennett, a fairly well-known and successful musician having to suffer in pain like that– putting off a major surgery for lack of insurance that for all we know could have contributed to his death. How many others are in pain or at risk? There are countless families in America that either simply don’t have access or can’t afford it. It makes me think that we as a country have some major priorities out of whack here. We’re bailing out corporations that perhaps don’t merit being rescued because of their own mismanagement, greed and obsolescence– obsolescence that in a lot of ways is healthy and necessary for the market to correct itself and weed out that which is inferior, unhealthy or unsustainable. Maybe we’re standing in the way of progress and evolution. Gasoline-powered automobiles and printed newspapers simply aren’t going to be as big in the very near future as they once were– I think we all realize that. Throwing money at them and trying to prop it up to save jobs isn’t going to stop the wheels of change, it’s just delaying the inevitable pain. It doesn’t seem right at all that the government is playing God when it comes to the car companies, and the taxpayers are footing the bill– a lot of whom have either crappy coverage or no insurance at all. What are we really saving, and at what cost? Let these companies deal with fate and the results of their action or inactions like the rest of humanity. If you get lazy and greedy, and fail to innovate and stay relevant– the world just isn’t going to wait for you to catch up. It doesn’t owe you that courtesy. It’s about merit. You have to go out and earn your spot everyday, or deal with the consequences.
On a lighter note– I’ve noticed Jeff Tweedy seems to be taking on a strong resemblance to boxing great Roberto Duran. I’ve always been a big Roberto Duran fan. Sugar Ray Leonard was such a no class, show-boatin’ punk.
i remember when I Am Trying To Break Your Heart came out, me and my bandmates went out to see it. i wasn’t familiar with wilco- still not(my alt-country tendencies veer towards sparklehorse)- but my drummer and guitarist were huge fans. the thing that struck me about that film was that jay was literally all about the music and was totally separate from the label politics and pressures that were eating away at tweedy. he was indeed a vital force as an artist.
by the way, if you haven’t downloaded it yet, you owe it to yourself to check out Dark Night of the Soul- the collaboration between sparklehorse and danger mouse. it’s definitely worth a listen.
The first and only time I saw SparkleHorse, they opened for Son Volt at the Blind Pig In Ann Arbor years ago. I’ve never heard anything so slow rock so hard.
Another fantastic post.
Speaking of downloads, and genius, don’t miss the free download of Jay’s last album, over at the label. . .
Thanks for the tip on the download.
I could not disagree more with this popular notion that Wilco is “Jeff Tweedy’s band.” I’m not trying to blame you here JP, because I have seen this written everywhere, and I’m sure I’ll see it a hundred more times. But, if you look at the Wilco discography from the first album, which was prior to Bennett joining the group (I believe he entered the fold on the tour for it), up through Being There, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel, and everything following Bennett’s firing, the only albums that really matter, the ones that have a lasting effect, that will be remembered years from now, are the ones that Bennett was involved with. The trilogy that I just mentioned by name. So I have to insist that Wilco WAS Bennett and Tweedy’s band, and is now a band running on fumes. To be truly creative and inspired Tweedy needs someone he can compete with, see Uncle Tupelo, otherwise he writes uninspired drivel about raking leaves and tries to convince people that it’s relevant because it’s “krautrock.”
Tweedy is, and has been since he joined, the strong-arm leader of Wilco. He’s a controlling dude that seems to resent competing talent like Bennett, whom he did a textbook job on in terms of marginalizing and then dismissing him. He didn’t want that creative tension, he wanted it to be his show and have role players, not equals. I’m a Bennett fan, and when I say it’s Tweedy’s band, I say it as matter-of-fact, not proudly.
am still a Tupelo, SonVolt fan. Never ventured beyond AM from Wilco.
Just how I roll.
I hear ya’. Aside from Wilce– Uncle Tupelo, like you said, also the Jayhawks, and especially Golden Smog for me.
I believe the same is true of Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown. Ryan was/is such a control freak. One story I remember growing up was him throwing a tantrum on stage at the Kansas City show firing everyone but his fiddle player, Caitlyn Cary, sending everyone else packing and finished the tour that way. Never had the same line-up from one album to the next. Ryan was better with the tension of Whiskeytown, though maybe not as commercially successful. Though I’m a big fan of his solo work, Heartbreaker (his first solo album) still holds as his best work.
Anyone ever see those T-shirts floating around Raleigh that said “I was the drummer for Whiskeytown” ?
As a huge design geek but more a music geek ( from wilco and sun volt to hip hop to zydeco to samba..whatever) who worked in the music industry by night but found himself in the fashion industry by day (worked for PRL designing the Madison Ave windows for 3 years until 08/08 when I left to work for Rock the Vote on the election) I have yet to run across a blog that resonates the way yours does. Thank you.
Your blog is always great, but this Bennett-related piece gets my first comment on it. Spot on, and thanks to Sean for the link to the album.