If someone told me two years ago that I'd be freshly returned from SXSW thinking and writing about Jason Molina, my guess-- my hope-- would have been that it was because I'd just seen him make a triumphant return in Austin. Fronting the Magnolia Electric Co. at a mid-sized venue on 6th, perhaps, forgotten by some during his time away getting healthy and sober, but still passionately loved by those who pack that room to hear the songs that have helped them through their own rough days-- "Didn't It Rain," "Just Be Simple," "Farewell Transmission," "What Comes After the Blues"-- everyone feeling so lucky to be there.
We all wish those were the circumstances, but of course they're not. Jason Molina died over the weekend at his home in Indianapolis from organ failure due to alcohol consumption. He was 39. He wasn't the most well-known musician, but one thing that the past 24 hours have certainly brought to light is that if you knew his music, you connected to it at a rare depth, and you probably transferred that love to the man himself, who wrote searing lines that often somehow managed to come across as bleak and hopeful. As frontman of Songs: Ohia and later The Magnolia Electric Co., Molina's voice became unmistakeable-- almost like a genre unto itself.
Molina had been battling alcoholism, perhaps as is so often the case, the result of the same demons that fueled his songs. He sounded guardedly hopeful in his last update, a year ago this May, saying in part:
"Treatment is good, getting to deal with a lot of things that even the music didn’t want to. I have not given up because you, my friends have not given up on me. I do still need your support however that takes shape, good vibes are worth more than you might think. Finally, there are actually some musical projects on the distant radar screen, but for those who understand, I am taking this in much smaller steps than I’m used to. Keep the lamps trimmed and burning!"
We knew any day now that we were going to catch word of a new M.E.C record in the works, which would maybe would mean Molina was in a good place.
His record company, Secretly Canadian, wrote touchingly about him. If you heard of the label as early as the mid to late 90's, chances are good it was because of Songs: Ohia. In a way the band served as the flagship act for the then fledgling label, and stayed with them for the comparatively rollicking sounds of Magnolia Electric Co., the name of both their final album in 2003 and the new band launched in 2005.
Nearly everyone I know is sad today, and the tributes in lyric and song have been pouring in through social media over the past several hours. Like me, most of them didn't know Jason Molina, but that didn't stop the stomach-punched feeling of losing someone you care about.
"The real truth about it is no one gets it right
The real truth about it is we’re all supposed to try
There ain’t no end to the sands I’ve been trying to cross
The real truth about it is my kind of life’s no better off
If I’ve got the maps or if I’m lost
The real truth about it is there ain’t no end to the desert I’ll cross
I’ve really known that all along"
- from "Farewell Transmission," Magnolia Electric Co.