THOUGH his name seemed vaguely familiar, I had never heard the music of Jason Molina, till I read the news of his recent death in the Guardian website. Today, I am totally hooked to his songs, wondering how I missed out on someone who’s easily one of the best songwriters of the past two decades.
Jason died on March 16 at the young age of 39, following organ failure caused by excessive consumption of alcohol. He recorded songs under his own name, or under the group names Songs: Ohia or Magnolia Electric Co, where he invited different guest artistes.
Honestly, I might not have read the Guardian article seriously, but a couple of lines instantly grabbed my attention, as writer Everett True described Jason as “a singer-songwriter of singular grace” and that “everything he created had a beautiful handmade feel.”
Naturally, such free-flowing accolades aren’t meant to be taken lightly. I keep reading more about Jason, and soon heard his song ‘The Dark Don’t Hide It’, which instantly hit me with its jangling alternative rock electric guitars, a country pedal steel guitar in the backdrop, and the lines:
Something held me down and made me make a promise
That I wouldn’t tell when the truth forgets about us
But saying it now comes easily
After finding out how you’ve been using me
At least the dark don’t hide it¸ At least the dark don’t hide it
Hugely impressed, I heard his other songs, first on YouTube, and then on http://live.magnoliaelectricco.com which is streaming his entire catalogue for a limited period. There were many gems – ‘Almost Was Good Enough’, ‘Long Desert Train’, ‘Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go’, ‘The Harvest Law’, ‘Didn’t It Rain’, ‘Northstar Blues’, ‘Ring The Bell’, ‘Farewell Transmission’, ‘Song For The Road’, ‘Such Pretty Eyes For A Snake’ and the strangely-titled ‘Honey, Watch Your Ass’. And there are numerous songs I am yet to hear.
It’s just the third day since I’ve immersed myself in Jason’s music, but a few thoughts come to mind. To begin with, how does one describe his sound? He’s been categorised as alternative folk-rock or indie-rock, but that’s because of the obvious blend of alternative rock and country/ folk that one finds in many tunes, with a good mix of electric and acoustic.
Lyrically, many songs may remind you of Leonard Cohen, moreso because they are melancholic and dark, and yet leave you with a sense of hope, and in some cases, even a smile. Influences of Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley also seem evident in the words, and the overall sound would make you think of Tim Hardin, Nick Drake or Jeff Buckley, and at times even Neil Young.
Whatever, there’s a certain uniqueness in Jason’s music that makes it so effective, so endearing, so ethereal. At the same time, he was really prolific, releasing 19 albums, six EPs and man singles since 1996, including an album in collaboration with Will Johnson. Some of his albums, like “What Comes After The Blues’, ‘Magnolia Electric Co’, ‘The Lioness’, ‘Axcess & Ace’, ‘Didn’t It Rain’ and ‘Autumn Bird Songs’, are filled with songs that can only be termed as outstanding.
Still, in the larger scheme of things, Jason Molina never got the recognition he deserved. The masses barely knew about him. Part of the reason may be that he was never on any of the major record companies. His indie label Secretly Canadian has obviously done a lot not only to promote his music, but also to raise funds for his treatment. Yet, his audience seems limited to a select group, who all swear by his music, at least going by some of the tributes one has read in blogs and on YouTube.
Jason had been in terrible health for the past few years, doing his round of rehabs. Yet, he kept writing music till the very end. His chronic alcoholism was well-known. And though one can’t say it for sure, one would assume that his personal condition and mental framework were reflected very clearly in the songs he wrote.
It’s strange, of course, that one gets to hear a genius like him only after his death. A similar thing happened with singer-songwriter Terry Callier (see earlier blog). A great singer every which way, he wasn’t too well-known among the masses, but after he passed away in October 2012, his songs suddenly hit the airwaves. Personally, I had heard a few Callier songs before, but actually discovered his music only after he died.
Jason had a huge amount of talent, which needs to be showcased and spread to the serious listener at this stage. To people who follow words and meaning, to those who want their music to have depth and substance.
A good way to start is with the song ‘Long Desert Train’. Just a gentle acoustic guitar and a heavenly voice. One may simply search the song on YouTube, but it would also be ideal to check out its words, which I am reproducing below in its entirety.
This is Jason Molina at his best. And this is only one of them. What imagination, really. Hopefully, more and more people will discover this magician.
Long Desert Train/ Jason Molina, from the album ‘Pyramid Electric Co’
You used to love a lot of things
You used to love talking
This you never told me about
If it’s what your eyes were saying
I already figured it out
I could just tell it was bad
I couldn’t tell how bad
You never took off your shades
And you stayed like that for days
I guess your pain never weakened
Your cool blood started burning
Scorching most of us in the flames
But there are things you can’t change
There are things you can’t change
You called that the curse of a human’s life
That you couldn’t change
Said you’d never be old enough
Or young enough
Well you were to us
You wanted silence by itself
Just the word
You wanted peace by itself
Just to learn
There were things you couldn’t change
You got the dull pounding rain
You got the last car in the long desert train
You almost made it
You almost made it again