Jason Molina, RIP: We Have Lost One of the Great Songwriters
Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company died after years of alcohol addiction at the age of 39 on Saturday, March 16, 2013.
He was born in a factory town in Ohio. Industry was in his blood; it was in his songs. When some of us were in grade school, he was staring down the white lines of the interstate, booking shows from payphones, sleeping on floors and playing empty rooms.
Jason was one of the original artists on the legendary Secretly Canadian record label. Early recordings saw high, spectral vocals over uncomplicated instrumentation. Over time, his art evolved into a raw exposure of often cryptic emotion. The minimal Songs: Ohia existed from 1996 up until Jason began his Magnolia Electric Company project in 2003. With a firm and talented backing band, M.E.C. blurred the line between the din of Midwestern folk scions the Palace Brothers and On the Beach-era Neil Young.
Jason Molina never allowed the influence of current trends, writers, or popularity to define his sound. He was the sound. His lupine voice, characteristic guitar stylings and the introspective lyricism remained consistent through all eras of his prolific creative life. He released seven albums as Songs: Ohia and five albums as Magnolia Electric Company, not to mention countless EPs, splits, and singles. His work inspired an entire generation of songwriters and his life embodied the definition of a songwriter: apt, uncontrollable, limitless, and poignant.
Industry, like illness, eventually takes a toll on an entity. At some point, production ceases. For Jason's body, that day was Saturday. It had been several years since he had been "together."
In 2009, he cancelled a tour with Will Johnson. in 2011, his label, Secretly Canadian, made a blog post updating his fans on his status. Jason had been in and out of rehab for two years in England and the US. The post ends with a hopeful salutation that he was, "living on a farm in West Virginia, raising goats and chickens, and looking forward to making great music again."
About two months later, Henry Owings of Chunklet posted a sobering monologue concluding that "Jason Molina is an addict." A close friend to Molina, Mr. Owings made a plea to the universe to relieve Jason of his sickness, and encouraged awareness from family, friends and colleagues. In 2012, he released an album entitled "Autumn Bird Songs," a collection of delicate and lilting tunes, providing hope that perhaps Jason was coming back around to life.
The next post Owings made was on March 16, informing the world that Jason Molina, "cashed out on Saturday night in Indianapolis with nothing but a cell phone in his pocket with only his grandmother's number on it."
Owings was making a point. We are personally responsible for the people we love. If you or someone you know is struggling, do not expect a therapist or anonymous support groups to pick up the slack. Have a talk with them. Explore why they are destroying themselves, what voices they are trying to silence or what pain they are trying to extinguish.
Jason Molina lived an arduous, adventurous and industrious life. The industriousness was inherent, but so were his demons. "JMO" never stopped working -- the demons just interfered with his ability to produce. He had a stunning and lasting effect on countless individuals, drawing portraits of true emotion and consequently drawing listeners in. His art and catalog will live on long after his body is entombed.