Slow Down Clown’s Vitek Goyel pens an obituary to the late songwriter Jason Molina.
Jason Molina is dead.
That sentence might not mean anything to you, but when I saw the news flash on various social media sites yesterday, my heart sank.
“Jason Molina… Dead… Aged 39… Organ failure due to years of alcohol abuse… Died alone…”
If you Google his name, or read articles surrounding his death, you’ll notice a lot of words used repeatedly. “Prolific” is one of those words. He wrote a LOT, under the moniker Songs: Ohia and in his band Magnolia Electric Co. He released dozens of albums, EPs, singles and outtakes. He changed band names mid-stream, he named his band after a song, or was it the other way around? Who knows! But through it all, one thing stuck – that voice. That “coo”. He harnessed Neil Young and Will Oldham in equal measure, and mixed beer-soaked classic rock with sullen singer-songwriter bleakness. Pedal steel guitars, stars, the moon, wolves, owls – it was a heady and supernatural blend. He sang the “blues”, but not as one would imagine. This was not Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson, but this was a pain that seemed just as real if not more. It sounded honest. Jason Molina embodied that pain. There was no bullshit.
In retrospect, it’s easy to say that one could see it coming. Not unlike Elliott Smith, whose lyrics can be read into as prophetic in light of his suicide, Molina’s battles with alcoholism started to come to light over the last few years, and forced him to step away from the music world in 2009 and enter rehab. His family made posts online soliciting donations to Molina’s medical/rehabilitation fund as the musician did not have any health insurance. After a long period of silence, he emerged late last year and posted a note to his fans. He said he was getting better, but it was a slow process. He was living on a farm, raising chickens and trying to heal himself. He said he had received lots of letters from friends and fans, and that they helped “more than you can imagine”.
I read that note just last week. I had put Molina out of my mind recently, for the most part, barring when one of his songs would come up on my shuffled playlist. But I missed his music, and I wanted to see if there was any update on his situation. I saw the note, and instantly felt a burning desire to write him a letter. I thought maybe I could write him about my hopes and fears, and about how we can hold each others’ hands in the dark – across unspeakable distances and universes. I never met the man, but I always held his music so incredibly close. His music soundtracked a period of my life shrouded in desolation and loneliness. When he sang “Alone with the Owls howling “Pain, Pain Pain”", I was there, howling along. Having his music with me made that sadness all the more bearable. It inspired me to reach out and grab an acoustic guitar, and mold my own sorrow into something fragile, yet pure and straight from the heart. I wanted to tell him all of that, and what it meant to me. When I read his note, I scribbled down the PO Box to which to send my letter. I wanted to write to him, and tell him about my life. How I lived alone in Bangalore and how I was at the brink. How I moved back home, started a band, got married and crawled out of that darkness. I wanted to write him and tell him that everything would be okay. Sadly, I never wrote the letter. When I heard that he died, I knew that I would never get that chance to reach out to him. When I read that he died, my heart broke.
The Darkness is a bitch. It’s a cruel sucking void from which no light escapes, but the traces of rays that do escape emit a glow so radiant, that it soothes ones soul to bask in it. Molina’s light enveloped me for several years, before I had cast it aside. I had moved towards a different light. What hits home for me is to hear the sound of a man losing grip over life itself. It’s all there, right in the music. It’s there for all to see – the public flagellation that we rally around so that we don’t need to lacerate our own selves. It’s much easier to watch that pain from a distance. It’s much easier to say “that’s not me”.
To lose oneself to the bottle is tough. It’s tough because it’s about being aware and in the know and yet feeling so utterly powerless to those forces. It’s tough because it’s killing yourself, slowly and willingly. It’s tough because the road is hard – any musician will tell you this. It’s not glamorous. It’s not the fairy tale we grew up to believe. It’s countless nights, alone with the demons. After the show is over, after the bar is closed, after everyone is gone, all that’s left is you and the ghosts. Molina had a lot of ghosts, and he mentions them repeatedly in his songs. They become partners, lovers and friends. Finally, they become all that’s left. And then you’re gone.
He was found dead alone in his home, with nothing in his pockets except a cellphone with just one saved number – his grandmother’s. He died alone, but the quiet world will mourn the loss of a truly gifted “blues” singer. Maybe in death more people will discover his music and talent. One thing is for sure, it’s for the ages. And with a heavy heart, we must bid adieu.