Immensely sad news out of Illinois tonight: Former Wilco member Jay Bennett has died of unknown causes at the much-too-young age of 45. He passed away in his sleep early Sunday morning and an autopsy is being performed, according to a statement from his friend and sometime collaborator Edward Burch.
During the seven years he played in Wilco, Bennett played a major role in that band's evolution from alternative-country to more sophisticated art-pop. But his time in Wilco ended badly, forcibly removed in a series of events covered in the movie "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." Earlier this month, Bennett sued Wilco's Jeff Tweedy alleging breach of contract and unpaid royalties.
After leaving Wilco, Bennett made some fine records, especially 2002's lovely "The Palace at 4am (Part I)." But he could be frustrating, too. I remember seeing an absolute train wreck of a show in Chapel Hill where Bennett talked between songs a lot more than he played (and it wasn't exactly entertaining talk).
Not too far into the show, people started leaving. Bennett didn't seem to care. "Good night," he called out to one departing couple as he lit a cigarette. "Be sure and tell everybody about what a great time you had!"
It was like he couldn't help it, and incredibly depressing. I left early that night, too. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna fire up "The Palace at 4am" and try to think more about that and less about the last show of his I saw. And you can find some videos here to try and do the same.