Former Wilco member Jay Bennett dies*
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.
Late last month, Bennett posted on his MySpace page that he was to undergo hip replacement surgery, revealing that he had been living with a torn ACL since his time in Titanic Love Affair, and lacked health insurance. He was also completing work on his fifth solo effort, "Kicking at the Perfumed Air."
"This whole experience has really taught me to look both inward and outward for support, and I’ve learned things about myself that I thought I had completely figured out years ago," Bennett wrote on his MySpace page. "Family and friends have helped me to keep faith in a future that will actually be much more carefree than my constricted present state. I encourage you all to tell me stories of recovery, as they really do help."
Wilco are on tour in Spain, but a spokesperson for the band passed along a statement from 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. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends in this very difficult time."
-- Todd Martens
Photo: Wilco in 1996. Max Johnston, left, Ken Coomer, Tweedy, Bennett and John Stirratt. Credit: Warner Bros.
*Updated on May 25 to include comment from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.