Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Goodbye, Jay

As many, if not most, of you know by now, the eminently talented musician and producer Jay Bennett has passed away. For years I have been a big fan of Bennett, both in terms of what he brought to Wilco and what he did before and after his tenure with the band. I also appreciated, as a fellow Son of Illinois, the role he played in the music community around the University of Illinois, especially with his recording studio in Urbana.

Jay's death saddened me, though after a few moments of thinking about it, I guess I wasn't absolutely shocked. Everything I knew about the guy's recent past indicated he was in a difficult position, from health problems to money needs (related to the health problems), culminating in his recent decision to sue Wilco/Jeff Tweedy for unpaid sums related to the documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, which many have acknowledged portrayed Jay in an unflattering light.

A close watching of that film, however, shows that while Jay might've been high-strung and sometimes obnoxious, he was truly the talent behind that band at that moment. Over the last several years, I have had a dynamic relationship with Wilco, but most of the dynamics the last few years have gone steadily downhill. It has been well known for quite some time that Jeff Tweedy is a diva, but only recently have I realized his most important characteristic: dude is a vampire.

Seriously, lets think about this. I started off as an Uncle Tupelo fan way back when, and at first when they broke up I was semi-excited, as I got two similar sounding bands for the price of one: Son Volt and Wilco. Son Volt stayed the same, sound-wise, over time, and when they broke up, Jay Farrar stayed the same for a while longer. Wilco, however, evolved. At first they kept up with a Farrar-esque style, minus the barroom drawling and lyrics, of course, but when Bennett came into the band they became immediately more complex, sophisticated, and excellent. This was the band I came to love, with Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Eventually, after Tweedy had sucked the musical soul out of Bennett (like he had with Farrar) and got all he needed, he kicked him out and continued to make Jay Bennett style music, sans Jay (again, like he had with Farrar). After a while, Wilco lost their steam, and Tweedy brought in the also awesome Nels Cline. I hope someone in Cline's family watched the documentary and warned the dude, as my bet is it is only a matter of time before Tweedy leeches all he can get from him and "changes musical direction" again.

I've known since the first time I attended a Wilco show that Tweedy was a whiny dick, having to listen to his rants about the audience talking and his passive-aggressive stage banter for many shows and several years before I finally made up my mind not to go to any more Wilco shows. Now, after reading Tweedy's asshole-ish comment about Bennett's death (which was delayed because the band was touring in Spain and "could not be reached" - what there are no fucking cell phones and laptops in Spain?), I'm totally done with the dude and anything related to him. Tweedy's statement (italics are mine) reads:

"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."

Accuse me of over-reading the document, but seriously, Tweedy, did you need to passive-aggressively diss Bennett after he died, too? I mean, what is this "as we remember him" nonsense - a barely-subtle way of saying he wasn't really that way, or at least not all the time? Why not just say "Jay was a truly unique and gifted human being," and leave out all the double-speak? And giving Jay credit for "significant contributions" to the band's evolution -- why, that's mighty big of you, Jeff. By significant contributions, I assume you mean reinventing the band for you, and by evolution I assume you are referring to the fact that you kicked him out when you couldn't stand to be the second-most talented guy in your own band any longer.

But this post shouldn't be about Tweedy, it should be about Jay. Goodbye, Jay - you were an unbelievable artist and your work and spirit will be missed.


Sandusky said...

Dude, if Tweedy "sucked the musical soul" out of Farrar, he didn't do a very good job. It's true that Tweedy learned a lot from Farrar, but your analogy certainly doesn't give much credit to Tweedy, and I know that wasn't your intention.

CB said...

You have a good point, Sandusky. The analogy I used isn't perfect - I don't mean to imply Tweedy took all the talent Farrar and Bennett had and then left them empty and talent-less. Rather I think he took/borrowed what he could from their sound and then moved on, unceremoniously and sometimes spitefully. Tweedy does deserve a good amount of credit, though at this point in his career, I'm not really sure how much of what he's done is his own versus what he's taken from past bandmates. He's a decent songwriter, though it seems my favorite songs are written by other people.

Anyway, good call on the analogy. I'm too lazy to change it in the original post, though.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for saying what needs to be said.