Smile Politely

Jay Bennett & A Boombox

I have resolved an ethical dilemma. I’ve decided to share some musical recordings that might otherwise disappear forever. The other option was to leave them in my basement, and let them die with me.

It’s Jay Bennett’s music.

Jay gave me this music decades ago. He never directed me to publish it. He never said I shouldn’t.

(Scroll down to the embedded YouTube video if you just want to hear the music. Then come back for more in Part Two.)

After resolving the dilemma, I started writing a simple script to introduce the songs published here, and explain why I’ve had them for nearly 30 years.

I failed.

Instead, I wrote a long and meandering history of my relationship to Jay. If I could just say Jay Bennett was a friend of mine, I wouldn’t need phrases like “a long and meandering history of my relationship to Jay.” But it’s Jay Bennett, so it has to be more complicated than that.

Jay Bennett, photo by Robert Loerzel

I assume some people will be angered by my decision. I expect some people will be offended by something I write, that it’s unflattering toward Jay or self-indulgent. I’ll take those slings & arrows. It’s 2017. You can’t say “welcome” these days without starting an argument.

I intended to provide some background, but I ended up remembering stories I thought worthy of sharing. So it wound up being a damn-near-book-length treatise. Read a few paragraphs, check your favorite apps, then come back and read some more. It goes on for a while.

I figure it’s important because it’s part of the Jay Bennett legacy.

Another person who believes in furthering the Jay Bennett legacy is Janis Bennett, his mom. She’s living in Arizona now. Her husband died five months after Jay. All of them got to witness America’s reinventing election. Otherwise, it was a bad 2009.

Janis reports that Ben Clarke and Mike DeWine are also involved with Jay Bennett archives. She says Mike Hazelrigg has unreleased material, and is “wondering what to do with the memories.”

I’ve had this music since the 1980s, first on cassette tape. Jay was a substitute teacher at Urbana Junior High School during my 9th grade year. He was a full-time faculty member (math) during the next year. My band (Little Engine) played gigs with his band  (Titanic Love Affair) while we were still in high school, at clubs like Trito’s Uptown, Mabel’s and Chin’s Wok n’ Roll Cafe. TLA was the headline act for our junior year after-prom party at the U of I Ice Arena. On that occasion, I sang “Paperback Writer” with them.

So I knew Jay, off and on, from my middle teen years until his death. He was on the road for much of that time, but I saw him every now and then.

Years ago, I digitized these songs. It never occurred to me to ask Jay whether he wanted it published. I always figured he’d do it himself if he were interested. And then he died.

The other day, I hauled a box of tapes up from the basement. I hooked up a cassette deck to a desktop running Windows 10. I set to digitizing whatever was left to digitize from my life’s inscrutable collection of News From Lake Wobegon, rough mixes of my own albums, maybe even the time I interviewed KRS-1 for a radio story that never ran.

I looked at the Jay tapes, recognized them as something I’d already digitized, set them back in the box… and then realized that I had some recordings that I can’t find anywhere on the web.

One collection is Jay capturing song ideas on a boombox. It’s just him and a guitar (and in one case, a female duet partner… but who?!). The other collection features studio recordings by Titanic Love Affair, circa 1988. This was the original lineup, with Jay singing and playing guitar, Ken Hartz on bass, and Rob Sweeney on drums.

Jay’s Boombox Recordings

Recording song snippets on a boombox was the typical method for preserving ideas. Recording band practices in one’s basement reminded the band of the new songs they’d begun to generate. In this case, Jay recorded snippets of songs multiple times, and you’ll have to listen a few times to figure out whether anything changed, and why he recorded seemingly identical snippets more than once.

I can’t remember exactly why I acquired these songs & snippets.  I wanted a copy of the studio stuff. Little Engine covered a few of those songs, or at least played them in practice. But why did Jay give me the boombox recordings?

Another question: Why a boombox? Jay had a TEAC four-track reel-to-reel which I used to record some songs during college in the early 90s. So if he’d wanted better sound quality, he could have recorded his ideas on that machine. The sound of the record/stop button is distinctive here. Thus, I infer he recorded these snippets only to preserve something for future reference. It takes minutes to set up a reel-to-reel, and less than a second to press “record” on a boombox.

Stay tuned for part two, coming soon.

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