I remember the day Marvin Gaye died. I was only ten years old, but I remember my friend Mark's father telling us that Gaye was dead. I didn't know his music at the time, but perhaps it was my burgeoning love for music that left a mark. I still remember exactly where I was sitting.
Amazingly, 25 years later, very few of my favorites have passed away. Johnny Cash was a tough one, but Cash's music never hit me to the core like my favorites. There's music I like and then there's music that drives deep. The latter camp is crowded by the artists I post about relentlessly on this blog: Wilco, Bruce Springsteen, Damien Jurado, Nick Drake, Richard Buckner and a few others.
To say that 1994-1996 was a turning point in my life would be somewhat of an understatement. I grew up with Springsteen, Uncle Tupelo was the prologue, but it was Wilco that really changed me. I remember working in Manhattan and hearing that vinyl copies of Wilco's second record, Being There, had been bouncing around prior to release. I called every record store in the phone book. I finally found one in Hoboken that had a copy. I begged the guy to hold it for me. I dropped everything and hopped on the Path train.
It was really Wilco's second, third and fourth records that solidified them as my favorite band, perhaps ever. Jeff Tweedy was the man behind the mike, and usually the pen, but the guitarist he brought on before the recording of Being There, Jay Bennett, changed not only Wilco, but Jeff Tweedy. Shelved were the alt.country ballads that Tweedy could write while napping, and introduced were an array of sounds, crashes, beeps, organs, and gorgeous harmonies that turned Wilco from a good band to one of the world's best. Bennett evidently wrote the music to the stunning "California Stars." He wrote "My Darling" for his niece. He was the second force that Jeff Tweedy needed, and has never been able to replace.
This evening I learned that Jay Bennett died last night. Ever since his dismissal/departure from Wilco on July 4, 2001, I've wondered about Jay. I was disgusted when Wilco's manager Tony Managherita basically scoffed at Bennett's prospects in the film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, but unfortunately, Marghertia was right. Bennett's career floundered without Jeff. He released one great record, The Palace at 4am, with his buddy Ed Burch, though few took notice.
I met Jay Bennett once up in Boston in 1995 or so. It was before a Wilco set and he seemed like a nice guy. He offered me a shot of tequila. I think I accepted. But it was watching Jay and Jeff work together that made them one of the most important rock pairings in recent memory. But following his exit, as Wilco reached the masses following the publicity and critical praise behind Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jay Bennett fell off the radar, but not my radar. His contributions to Wilco, and at the risk of sounding dramatic, my life, won't soon be forgotten. Jay Bennett was 45.