Jason Molina, R.I.P.
So sad to hear about Jason Molina’s passing. He was truly a talented songwriter and bandleader with a beautiful voice and a soul that belongs among the greats like Townes Van Zandt, Pablo Neruda, Will Oldham, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.
Molina’s perspective on art and music was shaped growing up in the rust belt, in Lorain, Ohio–a place some might call a cultural backwater. It is worth noting that the town also produced the great Toni Morrison, and Don Novello (aka Father Guido Sarducci). But, like so many talented minds growing up in culturally isolated places, Molina developed his literary and musical gifts with the potent touchstones of art arriving in his world rarely and from a long way off. This isolation, perhaps, breeds a Faulknerian muse and a penchant for rich imagery and a strange way of turning a phrase. Explaining his early approach to making music (in an 80’s “punk” band), he claims, “we didn’t have radios or magazines.” An exaggeration, maybe, but to the point: when you don’t have the luxury of a rich music scene, you make up your own version of whatever you’re trying to hack out of stone or wood or sound waves.
So his more mature forays into music with Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. took that perspective and moved on ahead. His muse shaped by isolation and the economic depression of the time and place of his origin, he wrought incandescent songs in a country-rock vein. The images and sounds off those great records of his flicker and shine like molten iron poured in a dark mill on the edge of a big, eerie lake. His voice–a Neil Young-like warble–was at its best, worthy of comparison to Jeff Buckley or Andrew Bird. And it was often at its best. Like that of Ohio author Sherwood Anderson, his writing was poetic, wistful and earthy.
If you dig Neil Young, Bonnie “Prince” Billy or Bright Eyes, do yourself a favor and check out his records. Many of them were issued by Secretly Canadian. There are a lot of odds and ends out there–singles, eps, things under different monikers like Songs: Albian, Songs: Radix and his own name. The cause of his death was organ failure (due to his long battle with alcoholism). A rich, productive life for a guy who was at least a little perpetually sad and broken inside, but a sad end to someone who would no doubt have continued to redefine himself and his music beautifully over a few more decades. He played a lot of sick shows. Sadly, that’s all we get.