UPDATED TUESDAY AFTERNOON: CORONER'S REPORT INCONCLUSIVE
UPDATED MONDAY MORNING: STATEMENT FROM JEFF TWEEDY
Jay Bennett, a rock musician with deep ties to Chicago best known as a former member of Wilco, died early Sunday morning in downstate Urbana, where he had been running a recording studio, according to a spokesman for his family.
The singer and multi-instrumentalist was 45 years old.
"Early this morning, Jay died in his sleep and an autopsy is being performed," said Edward Burch, a friend and musician who collaborated with Bennett on the
2005 2002 album "The Palace at 4 a.m." "The family is in mourning and is unavailable for comment at this time."
UPDATE: Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup told the Associated Press on Tuesday that further testing is needed to determine Bennett's cause of death.
Northrup said Bennett was found unresponsive at his Urbana home Sunday and pronounced dead at a hospital later in the day. Preliminary autopsy results are pending histology and toxicology tests, he added.
Born in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows, Bennett began playing in bands as a teenager. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned multiple degrees in secondary education, math and political science. In between, he co-founded the Replacements-like power-pop band Titanic Love Affair, which released three albums during the alternative-rock heyday between 1991 and 1996, when it was dropped from its label.
Bennett was working at a VCR repair shop in Champaign when he was tapped to join Wilco as it toured in support of its first album, "A.M." A talented arranger and versatile musician who could play virtually any instrument he picked up, from mandolin to Mellotron, Bennett formed a fruitful partnership with Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy. His contributions over a seven-year period were key to the albums that resulted in the band's national breakthrough, including "Being There" (1996), "Summerteeth" (1999) and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (2002).
Relations between Bennett and Tweedy, both painstaking perfectionists, soured during the latter recording, as documented in the film "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," and Bennett left the band. Earlier this month, Bennett filed a lawsuit against Tweedy for breach of contract and unpaid artist's royalties, stemming in part from his role in the film.
In late April, Bennett wrote on his MySpace blog about dealing with intense pain from a hip injury suffered during a dive from the stage while playing with Titanic Love Affair. He was preparing to have surgery, but was concerned about his lack of health insurance. However, he also was looking forward to finishing his fifth solo album, "Kicking at the Perfumed Air," at his studio, Pieholden Suites, named after the song on "Summerteeth" that best encapsulates his talents as an arranger.
"This whole experience [with the hip pain] has really taught me to look both inward and outward for support, and I've learned things about myself that I thought I had completely figured out years ago," Bennett wrote. "Family and friends have helped me to keep faith in a future that will actually be much more carefree than my constricted present state. I encourage you all to tell me stories of recovery, as they really do help... All in all, I'm 'in a really good place' right now; I'm just waiting until I can make it all happen."
Bennett's former bandmates in Wilco are touring in Spain and could not be reached for comment. But Burch said he had spoken to bassist John Stirratt, and the band was "broken up" about the news.
"He was an extremely talented musician and a great person, and I'll miss him terribly," Burch added.
UPDATE: Wilco publicist Deb Bernardini released the following statement from Tweedy:
"We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him -- as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band's songs and evolution. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends in this very difficult time."
UPDATE: The Undertow Music Collective, Bennett's label and management, released the following statement Wednesday morning:
Our good friend Jay Walter Bennett left us this weekend. As news hits the wires so instantaneously these days, we thought it was important to share some thoughts about our friend and brother before any rumors got out of hand.
First, let it be known that Jay was in a really good place these past few years. He had returned to the area he loved--the "Twin Cities," Champaign-Urbana--and resurrected his studio, Pieholden Suite Sound, with the assistance of many dear friends and allies. Jay had been busy making music. He recently had released an intimate record entitled "Whatever Happened I Apologize," and he was looking forward to wrapping up his new work, "Kicking at the Perfumed Air." Proud of finishing a trilogy of records, including "Bigger Than Blue," "The Beloved Enemy," and "The Magnificent Defeat," Jay loved the balanced yet ironic album titles. He was also looking forward to engineering and releasing Titanic Love Affair's previously unreleased record, as well as starting work on "The Palace at 4 a.m. Part II," the follow-up to his post-Wilco debut with Edward Burch. "Jay the Academic" had also reemerged, pursuing his umpteenth degree at the University of Illinois, and he was thrilled to be t aking graduate classes again.
As many of you may be aware, Jay had finally found the courage to put his Wilco issues out into the public forum. After a long, four-year process (and therefore very much unrelated to his impending hip surgery), formal filings against Wilco were finally initiated. This task was very emotional for Jay. He was a "lover," and this confrontation was not easy for him. With the exception of his final period in Wilco, Jay looked back on his time in the band with great fondness and pride. While he was dismayed that some people may have formed a narrow perception of him via the "documentary," all who truly knew him understood that with most entertainment media, editing is usually constructed for dramatic effect and presents only a small part of a larger, more complex reality.
So, please spend some time this week engaging in Jay's favorite passions: listen to a Nick Lowe album, watch some Mythbusters on Discovery, play Warren Zevon's "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," rent Pay It Forward (one of his favorite movies), write a song with the TV on and the sound off, and focus on how Jay always concluded his communications: