Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Portrait of Jay Bennett, in Wilco's rock heyday

When I heard the musician Jay Bennett had died at age 45, I remembered I sketched Wilco live in New York City at Irving Plaza during the band's heydey as a melodic rock unit. This is a closeup with Jay and bandleader Jeff Tweedy. (I couldn't get my camera to focus up close on just Jay without getting blurry.)

Widening out, we bring in then drummer Ken Coomer. Jay was part of the band that fired Ken before the band later fired Jay. I'm only a passing admirer of the band, but every rock fan somehow knows the personnel vicissitudes of Wilco.

Pulling out further, we let bassist John Stirrat into the picture. I remember first hearing of John around the St. Louis music scene when he was with Blue Mountain. I assume that was when and how Tweedy met him. When Tweedy split from Uncle Tupelo, where he had played bass, to form Wilco, he jumped on guitar and nabbed John Stirrat as his bassist and has stuck with him.

Here is the whole band that night. Wish I had dated the damn thing. I'm assuming the other guy is Max Johnston, who (again) the indie scene in St. Louis knew as "Michelle Shocked's brother" when he first started tagging along on Uncle Tupelo gigs.

I have known most of these guys, to some extent, at one time or another, but never Jay Bennett. It's almost weird that I didn't get to know him. My musical partner Elijah Shaw knew him well. We were together that night at Irving Plaza and were expected to visit with the band backstage (which was really upstairs, as I recall), but we never made it. I can't remember why not - something better to do than visit with a band that was buzzing on that loopy gig adrenaline, I guess.

Jay later formed a duet with Edward Burch, who is married to an old friend of Lij's and mine from college band days. Our band was first called Enormous Richard, and an early live favorite of ours was a portrait song called "Tribal Rachel". That's Rachel Leibowitz, who married Edward Burch. I sent Rachel a note of condolence to pass along to her husband via an old email address she may not even be checking anymore. I haven't heard back yet. I am truly sorry for their loss.

Jay Bennett was a vastly talented musician. He had a talent for adding parts to songs that sounded like they had always been there. I am not saying his parts were predictable - they were essential and sounded effortless, though I know they were carefully wrought.

I would say I always wanted to work with him, but it's not true - only because Lij has so many of the same musical qualities, and I still (thank God) have access to Lij and his many talents. Like Jay, Lij can play any instrument he picks up, he can always imagine a part you wouldn't want the song to live without once you have heard it, and he can also record, mix, and master the song while he is at it.

When I think of the enormous emptiness I would feel if I couldn't work with Lij anymore or enjoy his company, then I can imagine how Edward Burch must feel to lose Jay Bennett. I am sorry for their loss and I wish Jay Bennett were still alive.


Dana Smith said...

that's a cool drawing...

Edward Burch said...

Thanks, Chris.

BTW, I enjoyed the CDs you sent to Rachel back when we still lived in Illinois.