Monday, May 25, 2009

Misunderstood; or, in memoriam j.w.b.

Playing the studio wizard a la Dave Barbe to Jeff Tweedy's driven founding visionary from out of an earlier famous indie band a la Bob Mould, Jay Bennett and Barbe probably never got quite their full due for immense contributions to their band's output. Bennett's recent lawsuit, now probably moot whatever its merits might have been, suggested as much.

In Wilco's recording history, there's a great leap forward between the debut A. M. and the follow-up Being There. It's easy to forget after Uncle Tupelo broke up that Farrar and Son Volt were the early critical favorites despite putting out their debut second. Seems like many folks were in some kind of Tra(n)ce.While Farrar continued to twiddle on Straightaways, Tweedy found a new co-llaborator and rushed out a double sold as a single, Being There, in 1996. Wilco never looked back critically or commercially. Son Volt where are you now?

So Wha'appen? Two words—Jay Bennett: multi-instrumentalist, maximal partaker in Greil's "Weird Old America" vibe, obsessive perfectionist studio engineer, but what ears. In retrospect Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's massive critical presence was all about the production business model narrative and not so much the music itself. Never a good thing. I have plenty of friends who love the new Wilco version 3.0.1b and from what I've seen and heard they are a mighty fine and tight band live but the records seem much of a muchness; not fresh and new while still partaking of a nativist musical tradition dating back into the 18th century. That's what Bennett brought to the table and that's why he always will be the "SOUL" of Wilco to me!

I've been pleased to discover some critical movement re-assessing the whole Tweedy v. Bennett thing post-I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. Read esp. the two Chicago "beat" writers, Kot and DeRogatis to see the Sound Opinions coalescing.

So simply I'll close with this after Willie The Shakes

Friends, Amer'cans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Bennett, not to praise him.
The feedback that men do lives after them;
The melody oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Bennett. The noble Tweedy
Hath told you Bennett was slacktivist:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Bennett answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Tweedy and the rest--
For Tweedy is an reasonable man;
So are they all, all reasonable men--
Come I to speak in Bennett's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Tweedy says he was slacktivist;
And Tweedy is an reasonable man.
He hath brought many fans home to Live Nation
Whose very fees did general coffers fill:
Did this in Bennett seem slacktivist?
When that the poor have cried, Bennett hath wept:
Slacktivism should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Tweedy says he was slacktivist;
And Tweedy is an reasonable man.
You all did see that on the Inner Loop
I thrice presented him a Golden gong,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this slacktivism?
Yet Tweedy says he was slacktivist;
And, sure, he is an reasonable man.
I speak not to disprove what Tweedy spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is [breaking] in the coffin there with Bennett,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

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