As I was in the home stretch of laying out this very issue, I heard that Jay Bennet, 45, formerly of Wilco, had passed away.
The official cause of death still (as of press time) hadn’t been released, but that hasn’t stopped the blog world from taking guesses and surprisingly, but sadly still, for once, people are not blaming drugs — at least not the blogs that I read. No, even more sad than a tale ending from drugs, is one ending from not having drugs.
See, Bennett has been sick for some time, and he had written on his blog earlier this year, that he was in need of hip replacement surgery, but unable to cover the costs since he lacked health insurance.
Bennet had recently filed a lawsuit against Jeff Tweedy of Wilco for breach of contract and $50,000 in unpaid royalties, and that, it is supposed, was motivated by Bennett’s declining health and need to cover his medical bills.
That is a true tragedy and even more sad is the fact that Bennett is not even close to being alone here. There are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of musicians around this country who couldn’t afford so much as a glance from a doctor.
I think so many of us have the perception that musicians are loaded and that simple basics like being able to repair your body are a given, but the true fact is that very, very few of the musicians we all see regulary have the ability to insure themselves.
One organization based in Boulder is helping to change that, though. The Basic Fund (thebasicfund.org), helps to raise funds to pay for artists’ health insurance. It’s a cause that is beyond noble and one that more people need to help support.
I hate to turn Bennett’s passing into a plug for any organization, but I hope that maybe a few people who were inspired by the Wilco albums that Bennett worked on (Being There, Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) might take five minutes of their time and $10 out of their pocket and contribute to the fund.
With the industry in the shape that it’s in, things like this aren’t going to change any time soon. No one is going to drop some magical, giant sack of cash for musician health insurance.
I think Bennett would be truly celebrated by anyone who chooses to help, and hopefully the next musician who needs help getting something excruciatingly painful fixed, won’t have to choose between food, rent and medical assistance.
Thanks for the great songs, Jay.
See you at the shows.