Jason Molina was never famous.
But then, he didn't need to be. It seems that each song, each release from the American artisan found its way to those who needed them, becoming part of their emotional framework in the process.
Dark, brooding Americana shot through with an illuminating sense of humanity, Molina's work under his own name – and also with the Songs: Ohio and Magnolia Electric Co. monikers – represent some of the most challenging, surprising and enlightening material to ever come our way.
Tragically, Jason Molina passed away in March this year following years of alcohol related illness. Samantha Crain first heard the songwriter's work as a teenager, and his output has formed an integral part both in her own life and the way in which she approaches songwriting. An emotional tribute, you can read it in full below…
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I found 'The Lioness' in a bargain bin at Size Records in Oklahoma City when I was 17. The cover looked weird: purple sky, palm trees… no lion. I had to get back to Shawnee and I had to pee so I grabbed it and paid the man five bucks and some change.
Back then, in high school, before being a touring musician that writes records had even entered my brain, I was a music loving kid with a cool car (1967 Ford Mustang, cherry red), not many friends, and a penchant for driving around – just driving around Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties with no destination, burning gas and time. I got going on Interstate 40 and once I was clear of Midwest City, past the air force base, I popped the disc in the cheap blue neon glowing after market CD player in the car. It was dawn, my speakers were cranked loud – and then I heard it.
The heavy sparse chords of 'The Black Crow' rang through me, filling all the dark air in the cab of the car. Then his voice, this Jason Molina guy, yelps out, sounding like he is lying on the concrete outside a gas station at night, bleeding out of a wound. Tears immediately welled in the corners of my eyes, my heart rate slowed and then sped up, my hands clenched the steering wheel tighter. For seven minutes, this song terrified and comforted me. I decided against going straight home after the first play of the album finished. I reset to track one and headed north on Highway 18 towards Chandler. The otherworldly 'Being In Love' put me in a trance and matched the gentle rocking of my old car moving down the road.
Arriving home that night, parting with my new consort, was a reluctant event. Ever since then, I've been buying Jason Molina, Songs: Ohia, and Magnolia Electric Co. records. I dived into his world littered with blue hues, ghosts, lightning, rain, dark roads, moons, and deserts. It was a world that I felt a part of, the world I existed in, and he explained it, he sang its painful anthems. And when I started writing songs, I began speaking to Jason through a fictional camaraderie, replying to him in my own music. Sharing my own cries from that black planet, the stories I dreamed of in that shadow land.
I imagine we are great confidants, but in truth, I have never met him living and breathing. His music alone ambushes me to the point of conversation. I feel I must answer him, console him, walk with him, scold him, commiserate with him. He has been the single most influential musician to me and I am overwhelmed with sadness at his passing.
I had felt something additional in the past year while listening to his records, something different and eerie, almost anticipatory of his death. It felt like I was hearing the music of a ghost and so, last year, I wrote 'For the Miner' pleading with him "don't go now". That song is largely my response to his songs 'Pyramid Electric Co.' and 'Don’t It Look Like Rain'. If he had come this far, if he had waded through this much blackness, I think I assumed he could lord over it, that he could exist in that crepuscule and be its poet, but still see the good and the light on the outside.
Perhaps I expected too much of him. I even feel guilty in a strange way. I loved his music, his pleading voice, his jangly guitar, his winced face, and – most of all – his candor. I am, in a huge way, a musician because I wanted to connect with him in his own language.
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Samantha Crain is set to play London's Slaughtered Lamb on February 18th.
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