Wednesday, April 24, 2013

For Jason Molina

The back catalog Jason Molina is prolific to say the least, but my favorite thing he ever released was a little bonus CD that came with the vinyl pressing of Songs: Ohia’s The Magnolia Electric Company. It’s a stolen favorite, because I was only really made aware of its existence by a tour diary John Vanderslice put up on his blog in the mid 00s that sung the disc’s praises. His entries routinely featured quotes from the album. Every single line lifted was the most sad, gorgeous, poignant thing I’d ever read.

Everything you hated me for
Honey, there was so much more
I just didn’t get busted

Right in the guts. That is a line that has stuck with me all these years and whenever I hear “Just be Simple,” whatever version, I always make sure to make the room or whomever I’m with quiet so I can let it hit me again. It haunts me over time, the way all of his songs haunt me over time. The way all of his songs are haunted and populated by ghosts and the blues. Lonely highways and the moon. Always the moon figuring prominently; a sort of mythical figure haunting the land, maintaining order in its coming and going.

Mama here comes midnight with the dead moon in its jaws
Looks like the big star’s about to fall

I have bonded with many men over Jason Molina. Our mutual appreciation is well known. We were the guys who would make a special effort to go to his shows every time he came through town. That weird looking guy with the huge eyebrows and either a t-shirt or a fancy button up western shirt with a bolo tie. Always with that huge beastly man with the curly hair rocking out next to him with a fundamental righteousness that made your spine tingle. As if his conviction gave all the songs that extra push they needed to break your heart. At their core these songs feel designed to be played solo by a sad lonely man with nothing but an acoustic guitar and the blues, but the backing band he’d found in Magnolia Electric Company his songs took on a violent power. They went from the blues to being straight up mythic. And sure Molina is dead now and his band dies with him but my memories of seeing them live all those times, just rocking out with such a beautiful purity, those memories are still so fresh and that’s where the sadness creeps in from.

Now count every rhododendron in this cool mountain light
I made more mistakes than that just tonight
So all of you folks in heaven not too busy ringing the bell
Some of us down here ain’t doing very well
Some of us with our windows open at the Southern Cross Motel

When a sad songwriter dies I feel like the instinct is to reevaluate his catalog. It’s not like any effort is required, it just becomes requisite every time you drop the needle. It’s obvious that there are much greater tragedies than the death of a man. In just this past week alone—a solid month plus since Molina’s death—there has been a marathon bombing and a fertilizer factory explosion. People die tragically every day and hopefully those people have someone there to mourn for them. I can’t help but mourn for Molina though I didn’t know him personally. His songs are his own little eulogy to himself now and while I feel like maybe some might read into them and look for a cry for help, I don’t know if Molina could have been helped. It’s a sweet concept but deep down some things are just so wrong they just eat you up and eventually destroy you. And it’s heartbreaking that Molina was eaten up and destroyed by alcoholism and I wish I could go back in Jeff Mangum’s would-be time machine and save him. We all do, I’m sure. Even if it meant giving up the tremendous catalog of blues with which he graced the world.