“When I die / put my bones in an empty street / to remind me of how it used to be / Don’t write my name on a stone / Bring a Coleman lantern and a radio / Cleveland game and two fishing poles / and watch with me from the shore“
Jason Molina passed away Saturday the 16th of March, 2013, apparently from complications associated with alcoholism. Secretly Canadian’s website says only that he died from natural causes. That he was ill was well-known.
In May 0f 2012 Jason posted a note to the Magnolia Electric Co. website explaining that, after a canceled tour and a long absence, he was out of the hospital, getting treatment, and writing songs again. Just a few months later, Autumn Bird Songs was released on Graveface Records as part of a book collecting William Schaff’s artwork. It looked like Jason was coming back. On Saturday I told my fiancée that I thought we’d hear a new album from him soon.
And then I got the news from Jon Whitney this morning and I felt sick.
Jason Molina is one of my favorite musicians. Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. two of my favorite bands. I remember buying the first MECo. album during a visit to California and listening to it for the first time while driving over the Bay Bridge. I was blown away. It’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard and after ten years and hundreds of spins it still sounds just as fresh and as powerful as the first time.
As an undergrad I would often take the long way home from night classes so I could smoke cigarettes and listen to more of Axxess & Ace in my car. The more country roads I had to drive down, the better. The long, flat stretches of road and Songs: Ohia seemed made for each other. I memorized lyrics, laughed to “Captain Badass,” and did what I could to find earlier albums. For whatever reason, I never saw them play in Illinois. If they played near St. Louis, I didn’t know about it.
When I moved to South Carolina, Molina’s music came with me. I made sure I knew right where his CDs were so that I could unpack them first. After it came out, What Comes After the Blues blasted from my speakers on the long dark drives back from work for at least two or three months in a row. “The Night Shift Lullaby” was like an anthem on the worst nights. “Hammer Down” the music I finally relaxed to. When I couldn’t listen to Blues anymore, I just switched to another Songs: Ohia record. “Ring the Bell” and “Blue Chicago Moon” got lots of early morning play around that time. I fell asleep to them more nights than I can count.
The first time I met Jason Molina was at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA on October the 1st, 2005. There’s a good recording of that show on Archive.org—and I remember it for a lot of reasons. I meant to have Jason sign my copy of Didn’t It Rain, but I decided not to ask. I don’t know why. Jason was always happy to sign things for fans and talk with them. Instead, the record sat in the car and warped in the warm night air. When I saw him in the venue and finally managed to say hi, a short time before MECo. went on, all I could do was tell him that I was from the Midwest and that I liked his music. He said “thank you” and smiled, and he talked to me for a minute. I don’t remember about what exactly, but I do remember he was incredibly nice to me and had a lot to say about the club. I heard “No Moon on the Water” for the first time that night and consequently spent many hours searching for good Magnolia bootlegs. I also remember that I offered to buy him a drink.
I next saw the Company after I moved to Boston, once in 2007 and again in 2009. Both times at the Middle East Club downstairs, in Cambridge. Fading Trails had just come out and Sojourner wasn’t far off. A large part of 2007 and 2008 was spent listening to those records. I was thrilled to finally get a studio version of “No Moon on the Water” and happy to get a peek at how Jason assembled Fading Trails from different recording sessions.
And then Josephine came out. In the review I wrote for Brainwashed I said it “might be the best Magnolia Electric Co. record since the group’s 2003 debut.” It’s damn close. Those Sojourner records are killer too, and darker sounding now than I thought they were then. But the point is that Jason was writing some of his best music a full 13 years into his recording career, despite the fact that he wrote and recorded countless songs, most of which never made it to record.
Whatever Josephine’s status among the other MECo. records, the show the band put on at the Middle East Club on July 17th, 2009 was definitely the best I’d ever seen or heard from them. They had more energy and finesse than at previous shows, a heavier sound that suited them very well, and Jason looked more confident on stage. He yelled and smiled and doused the Cambridge crowd with tea half-way through the set. It was like he was possessed.
When “John Henry Split My Heart” started, the crowd nearly came unglued. I jumped up and down like an idiot. It was an energizing, ecstatic moment in an otherwise difficult year. God willing, I’ll never forget it.
There are other private reasons I love his music so much. Things I’d rather not talk too much about and that probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense anyway. But few people wrote music as close to my heart as Jason Molina’s. I said thank you for it a few times. I wish I would have said more.
Safe travels Jason. For the record, the light came shining through just fine. You’ll be missed.