Centro-matic's Will Johnson on Jay Bennett

Jay, Edward, Paul, Scott and I all got together for our first rehearsal in Jay’s Arlington Heights basement on Sunday, June 23, 2002. Some of us were just meeting for the first time, and others of us had long running friendships. The syrupy Chicago summer afternoons had well arrived, and we only had a couple of days to get ready for the first trek in support of “The Palace at 4am”. The room was a sweatbox, a mesmirizing musical laboratory of guitars, keyboards, amplifiers and curiosities. Tools, master tapes, coffee cans full of god knows what. In all, I quickly found we were surrounded by artifacts of constant pursuit, souvenirs and useful belongings from Jay’s long running and undamageable relationship with music. Felt like I could have hidden away in there behind, between, inside of something, and it might’ve been hours before anyone found me. The musician/fan factor split me down the middle viciously. It felt sensible and familiar, but in some ways I was just flat out geeked, suppressing the holy-shit! levels once every couple hours. I was playing drums with a musician that I’d respected from afar, that had played in bands I’d loved, and now was making his own unbelievably good creative path with his best friend. I championed Jay and Edward’s energy out of the gates, revelling in the momentum. Scott and I were right off the plane, worn and temperamental from the crowded meat grinders of D/FW and O’Hare, but, safe to say, honored to be thrown feet first into the experience. We were suddenly at camp. We rehearsed up more than a record’s worth of material over two and a half short days, and for two midsummer weeks afterward toured happily until our faces hurt from the laughter, the learning and newfound friendships. We were comfortable and confident in one another, and we played really, really long shows right out of the gates. Risks were taken, and we spent a good bit of time right on the fenceline that separated pulling it all off and total musical collapse. Some songs were played for the first time right there onstage, which became more often the rule rather than the exception. Sometimes we fell, and sometimes we held to our brief, sweaty and slightly smelly tradition of Shirtless Loadout. It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn sure spirited and inspired. I was where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do with the people I wanted to do it with.

There were three frenzied, but all-too-short tours with Jay and Edward over those next four months. The extended stories from those tours will have to find their own space and conduit for some other time. What we quickly found out was that it was always moving forward with Jay, with a tireless energy so often mixed with little sleep, but always, always with love. It didn’t matter if it was music or mathematics or a riddle or a lengthy van ride analysis of a complex joke. There were moments when the music, and even the type of friendship we shared felt chaotic, like it might transform or inexplicably fade, but it never did. The phone calls and encouraging voicemails rolled on afterward. The cdr’s exchanged and detailed song notes all continued over time, all with the undertone of hopefully playing, recording together again one day. It always felt as if the bridge had seen no water pass. To say it was like a rollercoaster is too easy. Thinking back, it was more like a musical tightwire act from which we were all somehow safe from falling. As we all got to know each other over the course of those tours, I quickly found comfort in the fact that once you were a friend with Jay, you were always a friend. I saw it happen with total strangers. Often. There was a consistent glow of beauty and melody in everything I saw him take on, and more than that, an undying foundation of caring and love for those around him. In the end, there was always time for others. And there was always a kind word. And more times than not, a bear hug to follow.

Rest your heavy head, friend. We will miss your voice, your friendship, and your music. We will miss your big, big heart.

Love you.
-will johnson