Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jay Bennett Sues Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, The Internet Freaks Out

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2009 at 7:39 AM

[Update, May 25: Sad news to report -- Jay Bennett, R.I.P.]

Now that swine flu hysteria appears to be waning, news organizations must be trying to figure out how to fill space. How else to describe the beyond-comprehensive coverage of the breach-of-contract lawsuit ex-Wilco member/one-time Undertow artist Jay Bennett filed against songwriting darling/Belleville native Jeff Tweedy? Soon after Keegan passed me the Belleville News-Democrat blurb on the filing, I saw the story on Idolator, the Associated Press and Pitchfork -- and later in the day, on Pollstar, Chicagoist and (bizarrely) NYC media blog Gawker.

You can read PDFs of the entire lawsuit here and here, but in a nutshell, Bennett is seeking $50,000-plus in royalties earned on Wilco music he helped create from 1994 to 2001 -- the years he recorded with the band, up through Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- and for his appearance in the 2002 documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. According to the Chicago Tribune:

[The lawsuit] concedes that Bennett was paid during his years in the group, but only in "infrequent partial payments" equivalent to 15 percent of the band's income from sales and performances.

Bennett claims Tweedy did not compensate him for his appearance in "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," which documented the creative process behind "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" in 2000 and captured a scene of Tweedy and Bennett bickering over the mixing of "Heavy Metal Drummer."

The suit argues that Bennett was never paid for his role and that Tweedy "never obtained the necessary releases for the use of Bennett's performance in the film."

Some are speculating that Bennett's need for a hip replacement is driving this lawsuit -- while others point out that the filing itself states that Bennett never signed a 1995 contract other Wilco members did (even though the suit states he was held accountable to the terms of the contract). Meanwhile, Tweedy responded to Paste via his publicist:

"I know exactly as much as everyone else does. I've read the news and I honestly have no idea what these claims are based on. It was such a long time ago. Aside from everything else, I'm being sued for not paying someone for appearing in a movie I didn't produce. Go figure. I am truly sad it has come to this. I am equally convinced, however, that I have done nothing wrong and that this will be handled fairly and swiftly."

Either way, the passionate banter -- and ferocious taking of sides, not to mention character-defaming -- in the comments of every story I've read is staggering. Who knew the Jay-Jeff divide that would light the Internet's ire would involve Bennett, and not Farrar? And funny how Roy Kasten's Jay Bennett critpick from a few years ago seems so prescient:

In case you missed the movie, Wilco, Inc., is an entity directed by CEO Jeff Tweedy and CFO Tony Margherita -- which means, among other things, that Jay Bennett had to go. OK, it's not that simple, but by the end of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the guitarist, songwriter and engineer who was pushing Wilco beyond alt-country into psychedelic, genre-fucked pop was out of the tape-loop and alone with his own talents.


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