Today we say goodbye to the talented Jay Bennett, who brought a wonderful depth of sound to some of Wilco's best-loved records — particularly my favorites, Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Bennett left the band in 2001, but his influence remains stamped on its sound.
Jay Bennett died in his sleep Saturday night, of causes yet to be determined. He was 45. Bennett suffered chronic hip pain for many years, having injured himself from a dive off a stage in the '90s when he was performing with his band Titanic Love Affair.
I'm going to spend the rest of my night listening to his work. His love of music came through in every sound he explored: pump organ, prepared piano, Wurlitzer, Omnichord, Mellotron, piano loops, guitars and Leslie banjos — and that's just on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot!
Below is a note to fans he wrote on his MySpace page. It's dated Friday, April 24, 2009:
I feel like I really need to check in and explain my long absence from myspace, and tell you all this little story with a sense of humor and an overall feeling of positive energy, gained from knowing that I am now moving in the right direction. 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. I braced myself for a diagnosis of additional minor knee surgery to remove some "floating" cartilage, and told myself that maybe all I needed was a cortisone shot or two, or something like that...but, something deep down inside was telling me this could well be something bigger and badder (or else why would I have "run" from it for so long). I DID NOT brace myself for THE diagnosis of the need for a complete hip replacement (ball and socket, if you will). I just about fainted when I saw the X-Rays of that hip....holy &%$#*, what a mess I had made. The doctor sized me up at 5'9" (well actually, now a bit shorter than that on one side) and concluded that most likely I was not a basketball player, yet recognized the damage as that typically caused by repetitive high impact sports activity. Well, I knew in a heartbeat that could mean only one thing.... and, yes, you guessed it—-a decade plus of multiple nightly stage jumps and various other rock and roll theatrics had finally taken a toll that I could no longer merely "deal with," or ignore, even if I were to change my evil ways (baby). As I dizzily drove home (a drive I can barely remember), I alternately rode waves of the power derived from finally having the knowledge I had both craved and avoided, and of the fear of an uncertain future.
Well, it turns out that these types of injuries don't really heal themselves, as I naively told myself might just magically happen, if I rested that leg, used a cane for a while, and lost a bit of weight. So, major surgery it was to be...the only glitch, I am among our nations under-insured (my previous injury to that leg was listed as a pre-existing condition, and any injury that could be linked to the same root cause, I was told would not be covered). Some time passed as I contemplated my next "move,"—-how to come up with the money to pay for the surgery "out of pocket," and as I brainstormed, my hip finally decided to lock up, and the pain got worse. So I began the arduous, or more accurately, extremely time consuming and endlessly frustrating, process of finding a surgeon and hospital that would perhaps "cut me a deal," be willing to bargain/barter a bit, or at least allow me to make installment payments. As it turns out, this is possible, but also difficult to arrange, if you can not come up with a sizable down payment as a show good faith, etc. I have been saving as much money as possible ever since I made this new commitment to my health, my future, and my quality of life, and have sold off some vintage recording gear, whose monetary collectors value now far outweighs it's functional value. As time has passed my mobility has continued to erode, to the extent that, for quite some time now, it has even been difficult to sit at the computer for more than just a few minutes—-as I only own an ancient, yet reliable (don't get mad at me baby), old Dell desk top PC, I can't lie on the couch with a lap top and leisurely engage in the cyber world as I had so enjoyed since I made the commitment to enter the 21st century (or at least the late 20th) and interact with all of the wonderful people who have chosen to be my friends on myspace. And, even if I have said it enough already, I'll just keep saying it over and over again; what an thoroughly enjoyable experience it has been, it's like hanging out at a bar talking to folks with similar interests, swapping stories, answering questions, asking questions, getting to know people, reacquainting myself with old cronies, all without having to shout above the music (which I hate, unless of course it is of my choosing)...and I really have missed these interactions on so many levels. I know that I owe many of you mails (my trips to ye olde Dell are painful and now almost non-existent...this note was hand written and transcribed). I also owe some of you input on music that you have sent to me, for these transgressions, I apologize, but trust that you will understand.
I have posted some of the music I have been able to work on during this time period. I have labeled some of the songs as "demos," but you never know with me which ones might just morph into "real" CD versions. The new songs are definitely still "works in progress," and, as always I value any and all input, as I have gained so much from the outside perspective you all have shared with me over the past year—-so, don't hold back now. I also put up some new photos, just for yuks...only one of me, though (seriously, who needs to see another picture of me?). Most of my "photos" are still my little online art galley of my paintings and drawings. Perhaps I could have an art opening at the hospital.
I still don't know exactly when my surgery will be, but I have learned a good deal about the procedure, and that has helped to make me MUCH less fearful. The double dose of anxiety caused by the pain, and the quite natural fear of the invasive surgery itself, really had me in its grip for a while, but now it only comes in waves. Once I am able to get a down payment of sorts together and actually have the surgery performed, I have been told that I then have only about six to eight weeks of physical therapy before I should be operating at approximately 80% capacity—-these types of joint replacements have come light years in the past five years or so. The way I look at it, I'm functioning WAY below 80% right now, so what do I have to lose? Except a limp, some pain, some anxiety, and some weight. In many ways, I'm really looking forward to it, and wish I could go in tomorrow.
I will keep you all posted as I learn more, as I'm really Jonesing to get this over with, AND to finish up "Kicking at the Perfumed Air" (the CD that just doesn't seem to want to get finished). I will continue to stay as active as I possibly can, making music, and staying in touch with all of you (my friends), as the surgery approaches, and later, whilst I am recovering. With any luck, by mid-summer, I should be a new man (albeit bionic—-"we can rebuild him") 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. 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...if you don't mind. All in all, I'm "in a really good place" right now; I'm just waiting until I can make it all happen. Thanks so much to all of you for downloading "Whatever happened I Apologize," I really hope that you enjoyed it. I greatly appreciated all of the feedback you all gave me—-keep it coming on the new stuff, if you feel like it. Again, apologies for my absence, I honestly do care about staying true to my promise to maintain open and interactive relationships with all of you "out there," wherever you may be.
Peace, Love, and Understanding,
Jay Walter Bennett