On a day meant to remember all the people who have served this country, news is breaking about the death of Jay Bennett, the former member of Wilco who contributed greatly to, arguably, the band's best three-record run.
I'm going to be fuzzy on the dates, but the time was back in 2002, and Bennett and collaborator Edward Burch had recently released the very, very good "The Palace at 4 a.m." The duo were preparing to play a show at one of Boston's smaller clubs, while Wilco, the group that booted him from their ranks no more than a year ago, was absolutely blowing up and performing at a much bigger venue a day or two later.
I was supposed to meet Bennett to talk about "The Palace" and starting his solo career. The piece was to run in a local zine, as part of a package with stuff on Wilco. I got to a local bar with the idea that I had maybe 30 minutes with Jay, and that he really didn't want to talk about the Wilco experience, except his contributions on what was then one of the most lauded records in recent memory, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."
I remember I was actually kind of nervous, which is odd for me. I had to talked Jay once before, backstage at a Newport Folk Festival, and he wasn't exactly chatty. I figured, under the circumstances, he wasn't going to be again. Boy was I wrong.
We actually spent about two hours drinking and talking. It got to the point where we had to leave unfinished beer on the table to run over to the club because it was getting close to showtime. It was a great interview, one of the best I've ever done. Jay was candid, talkative, honest and, really, just a nice guy.
At that point, Wilco was indisputably my favorite band. I loved them. I couldn't believe they got rid of Bennett. He was a huge contributor to "Summerteeth," an amazing, amazing record. I really wanted to get Bennett's side of the story, which he'd barely given out at that point.
The ironic thing is that my editor on the piece didn't really care that I got such a big part of the story; he really only wanted a short piece to augment the big one about Wilco. Most of my story ended up on the cutting room floor. But I'll always have that interview. I know it sounds cheesy and like I'm only writing this now because he's dead, but, at the time, I was a 23-year-old guy without many long interviews with famous musicians under my belt. That interview gave me a lot of confidence, and I've told this to many people over the years.
So while people are out barbecuing and celebrating the holiday, hopefully some of you will remember Jay Bennett, a guy that, no matter how he died, leaves behind a significant contribution to, inarguably, two of the greatest records of the past 20 years. And he made some very underrated solo discs.
Here's a clip of Bennett and Wilco's frontman Jeff Tweedy playing together as a duo years ago. Enjoy.