The terrible news that singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer/former Wilco cohort Jay Bennett died in his sleep at age 45 over the weekend will both draw attention to his most recent solo album, Whatever Happened I Apologize and make that record extraordinarily hard to listen to. Though there’s occasional adornment–a drum-machine drive-by, say–most often it’s just his guitar and his voice, pouring directly into your ear, intimate, but the way a barfight or a head-butt is intimate.
I know him mostly the way I imagine most people do, as Jeff Tweedy’s foil, an integral aspect of Wilco’s best records. (His easy harmonies on “She’s a Jar”, off Summerteeth, my favorite, were particularly resonant live, and particularly hard to deal with now.) The sparseness of Whatever Happened has the same grim melancholy that made cult figures of Mark Eitzel or Richard Buckner; if we’re picking one song here to give you uncomfortable pause this morning, let’s go with “Hank,” which begins “”How would Hank say/The things I have to say/I guess I’ll never know” and goes on like that, praising Hank Williams as a way of highlighting Jay’s own faults (he’d play it too fast, use too many words, screw it up), repeating that refrain, “I guess I’ll never know,” as many times as it takes until you realize we’ll never know either.