Music does many things. It can make you dance, it can make you cry, it can make you sing along through joy or loneliness or redemption. Jason Molina’s music was often more complex than a simple dance or expression of sadness. His music was strung through layers of grief and pain and sunlight and understanding; rarely an easy ride, but with a depth and richness than few others can reach, sung by a voice that spoke to you with a bare humanity, with beauty and gorgeous closeness.
My own involvement with Molina’s music was through a sole record; 2003’s Magnolia Electric Company (by Songs: Ohia). I loved big chunks of that record, but something scared me away from delving deeper into his work. Quite why, I don’t know – sometimes, with bands, I get the fear that I’ve already heard their best work and anything else from them will be a crushing disappointment1. So, on seeing a headline yesterday in Drowned In Sound titled “Jason Molina: Farewell Transmission”, my first thought was “Excellent, he’s got a new record out, about time I tried some of his other music”.
Sadly, the article was about how he had finally succumbed to the alcoholism that had dogged him for many years, and he had died at the age of 39. Many musicians struggle with demons; with most of them, the music helps to pull them through and find some way to come to terms with what’s inside. With Jason, the music simply wasn’t enough. Sometimes there are places in the soul that music cannot touch, cannot heal. The standard rock stories of redemption and old age, or glamourous fast living followed by a less glamourous fast death, don’t apply here. The drink took him over years, through numerous interventions and clinics, through friends and family giving their all to save a man they loved. That wasn’t enough either.
The kids are put to bed, the chicken is roasting in the oven. I’m going to go downstairs and listen again to the whole of Magnolia Electric Company, for the third time in as many days. For all of you out there with demons like Jason’s, I hope that the music can reach them, and calm them, even for a little while.
1 If, from this statement, you get a strong whiff of neuroticism with underlying tones of ASD, you’re not the only one, chum.