Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Remembering Bennett.

Remembering Bennett.

I was among the first to post the confirmed news that Jay Bennett died Sunday night after following the story through numerous emails sent to me, Tweets observed, back and forth DM conversations, discussions with GalPal, and message boards read. I was hoping it was just a terrible rumor set off by misinformation passed around a sort of reunion of the Champaign-Urbana old school music scene, but as we all sadly learned, it wasn't.

I didn't really know Jay. I only ran into the guy a handful of times but each time I did he was friendly and funny. When he left Wilco I was stunned, and then I grew into one of the loudest local voices to lament his departure with each new Wilco disc, upset that his McCartney was lost to Tweedy's Lennon. In retrospect it could have happened no other way, but I was let down by Wilco's recorded output (though I admit their live shows just grew better and better as the band morphed into what it is now) and knew that the main reason those records sounded so flat was because Bennett's touch had been lost to the band. No one can deny that Bennet was an absolute virtuoso when it came to manipulating a studio.

Solo, Bennett was musically uneven. I still throw on his debut, The Palace at 4 AM, from time to time. The following discs all held glimpses of what I thought Bennett was best at, unexpectedly twisted yet lush pop, and each had its nuggets. And it saddens me that every obituary about the man has to do with legal proceedings that finally upset even the most stalwart Bennett defenders (myself included).

What people need to remember is that he was a musical genius in the right setting. And he was, by all accounts of folks I know who were much closer to him than I, a prodigiously gifted and incredibly rare soul, and genuinely sweet guy.

The last time I saw Jay was at a benefit show he was playing. He was just getting off stage and had obviously just had the time of his life. He was glistening, smiling, and 100% in his element, and that's the way I want to, and will, remember him.

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