Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rest in peace: Jason Molina, 1973-2013

I know I'm a few weeks behind on this one, but I just found out about Molina's death today and it's put a real damper on my night. I had just started listening to his music last month after a long break and was trying to find out what he's been doing lately...and then I found out. Secretly Canadian's site had mentioned awhile ago that he was trying to kick various bad habits, but I took that as a good sign. Guess not. Fuck.

For those of you not familiar with Jason Molina's work, he was a brilliant songwriter and guitarist who stumbled out of some beshitted Rust Belt town (somewhere in Ohio, I think) in the mid-'90s with his first project, Songs: Ohia. Since then he released a slew of records, sometimes under the S.O. moniker, sometimes as Magnolia Electric Co., sometimes solo. Magnolia Electric Co. was a great band, and I strongly urge you to check out their music-in particular, 2003's brilliant "Farewell Transmission," a wonderful piece of Neil Young-style, free range country-rock majesty. But it was his Songs: Ohia work that I always loved the best, and that's what I'll focus on here.

I first heard The Lioness around 2003/04, when I started working at a record store in Evanston, Illinois. I was probably whining about some girl I was in like with when my co-worker, who manfully suffered my puerile ravings for years, threw it on and said "nah man, this dude knows real heartbreak" or some such wisdom. I could rant and rave for several paragraphs about how much that album means to me, as well as Ghost Tropic. Instead, all I'll say is that even my acne-encrusted 17-year old self could recognize the genius of that LP: its beauty, its lush melancholy and baroque brooding. For my money it's one of the best LPs of the '00s, or any decade. Turn to it when your way gets dark, your girl/boyfriend leaves you, and there's miles to walk with only a bottle of whiskey to accompany you.

There's always a temptation when writing about the dead  to revel in romantic, maudlin purple prose. That's especially true when mourning someone whose art exuded as much personal torment as Molina's. That would be an insult to this guy. His music was humorous, fun, and brought a smile to my face as much as it was something I could drink myself to sleep with. Whatever personal problems Molina struggled with, his music never reveled in self-pity. At the risk of sounding overly familiar with someone I never met, Molina-from his music and the interviews I've read-seemed like a guy you could get quietly wasted with at your local dive bar, talking about Hank Williams or what it's like growing up in the Midwest.

Anyway. I'll sign off this obituary by posting the version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" that Kevin Debroux did as a tribute to Brendan Annesley last year. There's no organic connection between the song, Kevin, Brendan, or Molina. Kevin and Molina, however, came out of a vaguely similar milieux (Siberian exodus excepted in Kevin's case): the Midwest independent music scene. That isn't an identifiable scene, but writing on another continent, thousands of miles from anyone familiar with the American Midwest, it feels like one. Also, Molina and Annesley have this in common: While dying too soon, they both did something beautiful and memorable with their time on earth. As nihilistic as I usually am, both Jason Molina and Brendan Annesley should be an inspiration and warning to all of you: an inspiration because of what they did; a warning, because you never know when you're gonna go (especially if your taste in booze and drugs runs as a strong as mine does).

Good night and good luck, Jason Molina.

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