The singer-songwriter, who died last year at 39, gave voice to despair and solitude, and to a lonely pursuit of the comfort and strength necessary to face each day. – Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
Influential singer-songwriter Jason Molina fluctuated effortlessly from bluesy rock, gospel tinged folk, lo-fi indie, and alternative-country, punctuated with bursts of occasional trumpet, and soaring background vocal harmonies. During a 17 year relationship that started in the pre-internet 1990s with underground music label Secretly Canadian, he transitioned from home recordings to music recorded under the names Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co., solo work, and collaborations with My Morning Jacket, Will Oldham, Will Johnson, and Glen Hansard. He was extremely prolific and created a discography that spans over a dozen studio albums. Tragically the Rust Belt Ohio native passed away in Indiana in 2013.
Main stream recognition eluded him, but he was tremendously popular among his fiercely devoted fans, fellow musicians, and music critics. Molina composed heartbreaking melancholic reflections on lost love, loneliness, beauty, sorrow, hope and, yearnings for redemption. Chris Swanson the head of his record label said that Molina was able to make a decent living with his art. “He never needed to make a breakthrough record. He could indulge his muse without having to think about commercial reality.”
Leading music website Pitchfork explained, “If you’ve heard a Jason Molina song, you know he used music to express dark concerns about the nature of life and death. And when I played some of his older material over the last few days, it sounded newly complicated, almost as though he was warning us of something. Sung in a broken croak of a voice, his songs were reports from a lonesome valley. He had scouted ahead and was haunted by what he saw. Molina’s life was inevitably bound up in his art. That’s what gave his songs their troubling power. That’s what made us come along for the long drive.”
Country musician and collaborator Lawrence Peters explained to Chicago Reader the quality of his work, “He can get down into the basement covered in life’s emotions and heartsickness. Then bring it all upstairs into the light. He can touch that darkness and that depth and that sorrow and that tenderness.”
A touring road musician, Molina dropped off the radar in 2009. It surfaced that he was battling depression and severe alcoholism. He didn’t have medical insurance, and his family asked for donations to help cover the mounting bills for hospital and rehab stays needed for his attempts at recovery. Before the end things seemed promising. Molina had purchased a new guitar, and set up a recording space in his apartment, but his physical health had greatly deteriorated. He passed away due to complications from drinking and organ failure.
In an obituary Guardian said, “There was a magic about Molina’s music – simple, direct, plaintive – as his songs conjured up cold moonlight, the guitar picking out gentle beauty amid the red sky’s forked lightning; burnt out shipbuilding and the distant clatter of busy steel forges; and the drifting of aimless youth.”
To raise money for his estate and to introduce his musical legacy to a wider audience there are several musical tribute albums including Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina featuring My Morning Jacket. Part of the proceeds for the tribute went to charity MusiCares. Culture and music writer Erin Osmon conducted 3 years of extensive research to document his life in her first book, the authorized biography Jason Molina: Riding with the Ghost, set to be released this spring.
Some people don’t know they’re stars no matter how bright they shine. To reignite, or to nurture your artistic and creative pursuits, here are 14 quotes from Jason Molina to help assess your passion.
“How can I be the only one whose heart refused to try?” – Jason Molina
“No one has to be alright all of the time.” – Jason Molina
“It is slow going, but it is going.” – Jason Molina
“I try to be of the world, rather than just observing it.” – Jason Molina
“From a guy that still doesn’t have his foot in the world, I feel pretty grounded as long as I have music.” – Jason Molina
“I try to do collaborations with as many artists as possible. It’s really excellent and fun to actually work with another songwriter.” – Jason Molina
“I really enjoy recording right after a tour. We’re tired, but the songs are really lived in by then.” – Jason Molina
“The consistency – either the theme from record to record, or the band, the different musicians – it really varies. So if I get criticism, I don’t worry about that, because I’m still being creative.” – Jason Molina
“I always lived by railroads, and I would find places to just look at the horizon, and I always expected there was something somewhere else. And sometimes I think that’s more a metaphysical somewhere else rather than just to get out of the town.” – Jason Molina
“I write about eight hours a day, and I throw away most of what I write.” – Jason Molina
“I feel a lot of guilt about the freedom that being an artist provides. I ask myself, ‘Why am I not the guy emptying the trash, why am I the guy who is watching the guy empty the trash?'” – Jason Molina
“I have not given up because you, my friends have not given up on me.” – Jason Molina
“I know that a working class background is something that is romanticized by music and art writers, but anyone from this kind of past can see its glamorization as fraudulent.” – Jason Molina
“Music for me is not really a reaction to everyday events. It’s something that I pursue. Music is my blood.” – Jason Molina
Author: Tara Collum
Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the co-creator of a forthcoming web serial about twins in a small town. She believes it is never too late to be the person you are meant to be. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun