I'm eagerly anticipating the Jason Molina memorial tonight at Radio Radio, although I know when I'm finally there, my anticipation will be quickly frozen into something darker, something sadder. I'm not sure what kind of show this will be. What I do know is that this may be one of the last chances to hear Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. songs live. Molina passed away last March in Indianapolis after long-term complications resulting from substance abuse.He was 39.
He was a stunning songwriter, and by all accounts, a kind, brilliant and generous person. I'd kept up with his health issues (see here a letter from his family in 2011 and from Jason himself in 2012), wondering when I'd get to see him play live again. Thousands more did the same. Finally, more news came out of the Molina camp -- not a tour announcement, not a new project, but news that he had been lost, and in my very own city. I remember feeling my heart constrict a bit as I stared at whatever site had published the news. It wasn't right.
Molina was a cornerstone of Secretly Canadian's roster. He released almost all of his albums on the Bloomington label, transitioning from the quiet, thoughtful, lonely Songs: Ohia releases to the roaring full band that was Magnolia Electric Co. around 2003. (In fact, the exact time he made this transition has always been a bit fuzzy; Songs: Ohia's last album was called Magnolia Electric Co., effectively launching some incarnation of the band. Molina later clarified that he considered Didn't It Rain the last Songs: Ohia record.).
"...After lots of planning, to that first playback of the mixes and the collective chill & glee we felt listening to it with Jason. He was very proud. He had done great work and he had done it taking big creative risks in the studio. It feels like a century ago. I'm convinced that the album - which Jason was so clear about from its conception - will stand up a century from now."
- Secretly Canadian co-founder Chris Swanson writes here about the production of Magnolia Electric Co., in celebration of its tenth anniversary reissue last year.
Before Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., Molina was in Spineriders. Misra Records, who reissued the then-young band's cassette Hello Future Tinglies after Molina's death, writes of the band, "Before Jason Molina was known as a beautiful, heart-wrenching songwriter, he was an angst-ridden teenage bass player." Funds from the reissue go to Musicians Emergency Medical Association.He collaborated with a variety of musicians and artists (in particular William Schaff, whose beautiful map you can see below). Some of these projects include a split with My Morning Jacket, a collaborative album with Will Oldham and Alasdair Roberts, and tracks with Scout Niblett, Glen Hansard and Rex.
Tonight the members of Magnolia Electric Co. will be joined by M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, a friend and tourmate. This is the third stop of four for the memorial concert series, which wraps up this weekend in Chicago.
Tributes from musicians who knew and loved Jason poured out after his death. Here are a select few.
I loved hearing Jason Molina sing. He was a genius at turning a phrase and making it into something more than the words in it. Jason was almost supernaturally prolific, and several times I watched him write an album's worth of songs in a weekend, recording them on the spot. Much of his recorded output with Magnolia Electric Co is the evidence of him and the band playing his songs for the very first time. It's amazing, really, that it was any good at all, much less so touching and fully realized.
- Steve Albini, posted in the Electrical Audio forums
He felt things deeply.
Bottomless Pit's first trips out east/west were due 100% to Mags taking us along for the ride. They wanted someone to do about a month of shows all told, as I recall.
We were, like, uh, how about if we cherry-pick the best three or four shows on each coast and you pay us like we're bringing an extra 100 people in, instead of the 30 we really know we're doing? And they went for it.
Our collective wounds were still fresh in the wake of Michael's death. We were still finding our sea legs, to say the least. It hurt to play.
We took to all of those guys instantly. They made us feel so completely welcome and at home. It was a very soft landing and a great way to get moving. I would have loved to have done more shows with them.
JMo was a hugely enthusiastic, lovable man. He was an unreconstructed weirdo. He was hilarious. Even when he was being a cranky bitch he was pretty funny. I saw him too drunk a couple of times. It was uncomfortable, and I know I didn't see him at his worst.
If that phone call had been "Molina is in town and not uncomfortably drunk" instead of "Molina is dead," we would have dropped everything and spent yesterday evening hanging out. We would have rather done that than made a record.
Dude slept, sweat, and bled music. I would call his obsession with his art pathological, but he had genuine pathologies and now is not the time to be glib.
He was a great writer. He was a great singer.
He didn't know when to quit in either art or life. Couldn't quit, more like it. But I'm not so sure music didn't rescue him and keep him afloat longer than he would have been without it.
I've missed him for a while, now with the unmistakeable extra knife-twist of finality.
Be good to each other. You never know, for better or worse, you never know.
- Tim Midyett from Bottomless Pit in Electrical Audio forums. Midyett also talks about Molina in my interview with him from last year.
I've been a little slow to process the news of Jason Molina's passing, though many of us that were aware of his trials knew that this was one potential outcome. I was a fan of his work first (which I remain to this day), and then we became friends and we traveled around the country together many times. As a fellow songwriter, his sheer force of will, his confidence and singularity of delivery, his prolificacy - these were inspiring and daunting in equal measure. But he was generous and self-effacing with his gift, and I am certain that he believed in the song as a powerful tool for change, a strong and magical force among the brotherhood of man. He was a rambler and a self-mythologizer in the best, most confounding ways - ways not at all disingenuous, fully convinced of, and welcoming to, the muse. He told me once that he was nervous that if he ever stopped writing - which he did prodigiously - he might walk away from music forever, as though he were simply a vessel. In this line of work, depression and intoxicants are job hazards. And if you're singing about the dark places of the soul, they're that much more magnetic. I talked to Jason a couple months ago. He sounded shaky but on the mend. I thought and hoped he was going to make it out alive. I know that his many friends - folks that were much closer to Jason than I was - are devastated and frustrated, and I'm trying to send good thoughts in their direction.
I recognized a kindred spirit in JMo, and now he's gone to that place of darkness and light that we all sing about so often. And he made it there first - again. Steady on your way, brother. Go easy.
- M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, on Facebook.
If it were not for Jason Molina, I may not have ended up on the Secretly Canadian record label. The guy practically twisted one arm behind my back, and with the other, walked me through the front door of where I am today. I am eternally grateful for the guidance, knowledge, influence, and inspiration he so graciously shared with me. The reissue of this album is dedicated to his life and legacy.
- Damien Jurado, in the notes of the reissue of Where Shall You Take Me, which he dedicated to Molina.
"It's Easier Now," covered by Mark Kozelek, from Weary Engine Blues. Packaged along with a print of a map by artist William Schaff, funds from this tribute compilation went to Molina's family. Will Oldham, Allo Darlin', Scout Niblett, John Vanderslice, Jeffrey Lewis, Damien Jurado, Kozelek and more contributed covers.
In that last letter [Molina] suggested that I make a Homerun Baker baseball painting. He explained to me that his father used to deliver newspapers to the Hall of Famer, and it was said that later in his life Baker paid for everything with Indian Head pennies. I made that painting last month with Jason in mind, but never told him I'd made it. I meant to. Every time I looked at it over in the corner I thought of him, reminded that I needed to write soon. I don't think reaching out would have changed history. I don't think the story would have changed. It's a matter of being left with the feeling of wishing I'd done something I just didn't do.
Connect when the feeling strikes. Work on loving. Work to avoid regret. Because a lot of the time it's hard to tell what the last time looks like.
- Will Johnson, on his blog.
A few of my favorite songs by Jason Molina
"Steve Albini's Blues," Songs: Ohia
"Lightning Risked It All," Songs: Ohia
"Each Star Marks a Day," Molina and Johnson
"Such Pretty Eyes for a Snake," Magnolia Electric Co.
"Blue Factory Flame," Songs: Ohia
"Cool Black Silk," Songs: Ohia
"The Big Game is Every Night," Magnolia Electric Co.
"Leave The City," Magnolia Electric Co.
"Farewell Transmissions," Songs: Ohia