KooA History & Background of U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” & Why It Is Still Relevant

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I do not like Jimmy Fallon. It hasn’t always been this way, but since that infamous night when he let candidate Donald Trump off the hook without asking political questions or having a discussion making him look more “human” was the night my opinion of Fallon changed. Then, there was U2’s appearance a couple of weeks ago that did nothing to change my opinion of Fallon, but it was much needed for a show that lacks political backbone catering to viewers who are equally indifferent.

On the other hand, I love U2. Always have, always will. Since the age of 10 when I first heard “Angel of Harlem” from their 1988 album Rattle and Hum, I have been a huge fan. Don’t get me wrong, there have been moments of disappointment like Zooropa and Pop, and even the controversial blight that is Age of Innocence, and I have still remained faithful to Bono and the boys. I have even “unfriended” a person on Facebook for lambasting Bono in a comment thread on a personal post. I know many people poke fun at U2’s egos, but no matter how much you may disagree with or dislike Bono and the band’s political views you have to give them this, their hearts are in the right place and their intentions are noble.

For years they have spoken out against oppression and social injustice, whereas Jimmy Fallon has been ignorantly invading television screens across America by not speaking out against Trump like other late night show hosts have (Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Cobert, Trevor Noah, and Seth Meyers), and U2’s performance of a Trump-centered “Bullet the Blue Sky” was just what was needed and they deserve respect for speaking out against the Demagogue-in-Chief. It is one of U2’s most overtly political songs, and when they perform it live they usually do so in a manner that is heavily critical of political conflicts and violence making the Fallon performance timely.

“Bullet the Blue Sky” is one of my favorite U2 songs. It was the only song that came to mind the night Trump was elected. It was and is what a Trump presidency sounds like to me. Maybe because I knew a little history behind the song, and, now, I think it’s time that more people become educated on the meaning and background of this classic.

During the mid-80s, U2’s political awareness was growing through Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence, preforming relief concerts like Live Aid, and going on trips to Africa and Central America. It was during a trip to El Salvador and Nicaragua that Bono’s political awareness of global social injustice and human rights violations became greatly awakened.

In the years leading up to Bono’s visit to El Salvador, the country had been embroiled in decades of unrest which started after the stock market collapsed in 1929 when the price of coffee drastically dropped. This resulted in landed elite versus the poor scenario. In 1932, the Central American Socialist Party was formed and led an uprising of peasants and indigenous people against the government. In return, the government brutally suppressed the uprising in what is simply known as the “La Matanza” (“The Massacre”), with the military murdering between 10,000 and 40,000 people. La Matanza reinforced the people’s distrust and animosity toward the government, military, and the landed elite.

Fast forward through decades of more unrest and uprisings to the late 1970s when Salvadoran President General Carlos Humberto Romero intimidated voters with machetes during the election causing massive demonstrations to protest the election. On February 28, 1977, a group of demonstrators gathered in downtown San Salvador to protest the election fraud, but were met with security forces that opened fire on both protestors and bystanders. It was estimated that between 200 and 1,500 civilians were killed. The sitting government at the time of this protest blamed it on foreign Communists.

Repression continued after the inauguration of President Romero, declaring a state-of-siege and suspending civil liberties. In the rural areas of El Salvador the landed elites created and funded paramilitary death squads composed of civilians that were autonomous from the Salvadoran military until they were taken over by El Salvador’s military intelligence service led by Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, thus becoming a critical part of the government’s repressive regime murdering thousands of union leaders, activists, students, teachers, and priests.

Sadly, during this tumultuous time, the United States President Jimmy Carter was providing support to the Salvadoran military. Not unaware of the human rights violations and atrocities happening in El Salvador and throughout Central America, Carter continued to approve the funding and support of these dictatorships.

In February 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero, teacher and Catholic priest of liberation theology, published an open letter to President Carter pleading with him to stop the military aid. He warned Carter that the United States’ support would only increase the injustice and repression of groups and people who have been struggling for basic human rights. Then, on March 24, 1980, the Archbishop was shot while giving mass. His assassination came a day after addressing Salvadoran soldiers not to follow their orders to kill civilians.

“In the name of God, then, in the name of this suffering people, who screams and cries mount to heaven, and daily grow louder, I beg you, I entreat you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression!”

The next day, President Carter issued a statement condemning the assassination calling it ” a shocking and unconscionable act.”

The people from all over the world were so angered by the murder of the Archbishop more than 250,000 mourners attended his funeral mass as a form of protest against the Salvadoran government. During his funeral services it has been said that government security forces were throwing smoke bombs and shooting into the crowd outside of the cathedral killing 40 people and injuring 200. Eight months after the Archbishop’s murder, it was discovered that it had been planned and ordered by Roberto D’Aubuisson.

One of the most horrifying events of the Salvadoran Civil War occurred in 1981 when the government ordered that the countryside be swept for left-wing guerrillas. Over a three day period in December, approximately 1,000 people, almost the whole village of Mozote, were tortured and killed by the Salvadoran army’s Atlacatl Battalion who were trained for counter-insurgency warfare. It was the first unit of its kind in the Salvadoran military and trained by the United States. Men, women, and children were separated into groups and locked in churches, the convent, and various houses in the village. The soldiers interrogated, tortured, and executed men in various locations. Women and older girls were separated from their children, raped, and shot. Girls as young as 10 were raped, and children as young as two years old had their throats slit and were hanged from trees. After killing most of the village, the soldiers set fire to buildings. All of this courtesy of the United States government, who were were aware of the carnage and human rights violations, but did not care because it was all in the name of stopping the perceived threat of Communism.

The Salvadoran Civil War ended on January 16, 1992, lasting more than 12 years with violence from both sides. Throughout those years there were an unknown amount of people who disappeared, and the United Nations report that more than 75,000 people were killed. This mass killing was supported by the American dollars and military aid given during both the Carter and Regan administrations.

The United Nations estimated that the guerrillas were responsible for only 5% of civilian deaths, whereas 85% of civilians murdered were killed by the Salvadoran military and death squads.

In the Washington Post Foreign Service, Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan reported Ronald Regan “funneled $1 million a day to a repressive and often brutal Salvadoran government whose thugs and death squads killed thousands of people.” And, this cruel Salvadoran regime and civil war was not the only one funded and supported by the United States. In Nicaragua, the United States organized the contra guerrillas who fought the Sandinista regime. According to Sullivan and Jordan, “the United States spent $1 billion on them; the fighting in Nicaragua killed as many as 50,000 people.”

The reasons for the United States’ heavy involvement in Central American conflicts and civil wars was 1.) economics (bananas, coffee, etc.) and 2.) Communism. Regan explained that United States involvement was an effort to stop the influence of Communism.  As a result, the United States spent more than $4 billion in economic and military aid to the Salvadoran Civil War.

And, because of the unrest in Central America, Bono visited El Salvador and Nicaragua. It was during his trip to an El Salvadoran countryside that became a war zone that caused Bono to become upset on both spiritual and human levels. As he discussed in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “Louder Than Words: Rock, Power, and Politics” exhibit, “it upset me as a person who read the Scriptures, to think that Christians in America were supporting this kind of thing, this kind of proxy war because of these Communists.” He also went on to say that he was interested in liberation theology at that time. But, I disagree with his explanation of liberation theology. In actuality, liberation theology is a Roman Catholic movement embraced in Latin America for its beliefs and scriptural teachings that applies religion by helping, supporting, and educating the poor and oppressed through political and civic affairs.

Having a difficult time expressing his thoughts about what he had been through in El Salvador, Bono spoke to Edge about putting his experience into song. The result was “Bullet the Blue Sky” and Edge’s Jimi Hendrix-esque guitar that perfectly puts the fear of war into the hearts of anyone who listens. And, it is that missile-firing guitar and the driving bass lines that enhance and intensify the lyrics that sound as if they could be found in both the Old and New Testaments.

“In the howling wind comes a stinging rain
See it driving nails
Into the souls in the tree of pain
From a firefly, a red orange glow
See the face of fear
Running scared on the valley below
Bullet the blue sky”

Then, Bono sings,

“Jacob wrestled the angel
And the angel was overcome” (Genesis 32:25).

Bono’s usage of this scripture and the Bible story of Jacob and the angel was important and smart. In Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob wrestles with an angel and won, and because Jacob won the angel changed his name from “Jacob” which means “supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler” to “Israel” which means “contender with God” or “he who struggles with God”. While in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Bono who as a nonviolent person had a violent reaction to what was happening there, so I believe that Bono may not have only struggled with those “violent” feelings, but also struggled with God like the people in Central America were doing during that time.

In a 1987 interview with Rolling Stone, Bono told David Breskin:

“I am Christian, but at times I feel very removed from Christianity. The Jesus Christ I believe in was the man who turned over the tables in the temple and there the money-changers out…There is a radical side to Christianity that I am attracted to. And I think without a commitment to social justice, it is empty…Why are people left on the side of the road in the United States? Why, in the West, do we spend so much money on extending the arms race instead of wiping out malaria, which could be eradicated given ten minutes’ worth of the world’s arms budget? To me, we are living in the most un-Christian times.”

And, when Breskin asked Bono about liberation theology, he replied:

“I think the danger of liberation theology is that it can become a very material ethic, too material. But I am really inspired by it…If you are not committed to the poor, what is religion?”

The very question of why we spend so much money to extend the arms race and supporting governments and groups that brutalize people is personified in “Bullet the Blue Sky” with the semi-realistic caricature of Ronald Regan, who sent money to the repressive regimes and cruel groups in Central America in the name of Capitalism.

“This guy comes up to me
His face red like a rose in a thorn bush
Like all the colors of a royal flush
And he’s peeling off those dollar bills
Slapping them down
One hundred, two hundred”

If you have made it this far, then you’re probably asking yourself, “Why was U2’s performance of ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon so remarkable?”

Well, like I wrote earlier, it was an overtly anti-Trump performance on a show that usually panders to those without a political spine. Also, it’s a slightly different song with completely different dancers. The United States still place a lot of importance on the military and security, but that importance was increased by Trump’s $603 billion request for the defense budget, and just recently emphasized by the Senate’s approval of $700 billion for military spending, and all of this will happen at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens — the poor and disabled. But, not only is military spending important, America is bandstanding and showboating to create what feels like an imminent nuclear war with North Korea to cover up the Russia investigation as well as his insecurities as an inept president. So, this performance was U2’s call to react and act. “Bullet the Blue Sky” was a song originally written to raise awareness about oppression and violence and that still holds true today and was updated to hold its truth that night on Fallon.

On this particular performance, U2 changes the lyrics to allude to Trump’s warmongering, greed, xenophobia, nationalism, inexperience, and detrimental policies. The lyrics focus heavily on the building tension between North Korea and United States, but Bono also makes an allusion to Trump’s xenophobia, racism, immigration policy, and white nationalism with “Lalalalala America”, a nod to West Side Story‘s “America”, and in my mind, some connection to their song “Refugee”.

Below are the revamped lyrics of “Bullet the Blue Sky”:

“Suit and tie comes up to me
Face orange like a rose on a thorn bush
Skin as thin as orange crush
Peeling off them dollar bills
One hundred
Two hundred

I can see those fighter planes

I can see those fighter planes

WMD in their veins

Ah, the ground shakes but the children can’t weep
Vaporized in a single tweet
The emperor rises from his golden throne
Never knowing, never BEING known
The lights are on president’s home
Oh my God, I never felt so alone
Outside is America
Outside is America

Lalalalalala America

In a far off palace in a far-fetched land
Another baby plays a baby grand
Fingers on the keys of a siren song
Finger on the button of oblivion

And all I can think of is my son
All I can think of is my son
He misses his ma, misses his da
And he runs
And he runs
And he runs
Into the arms of America”

As I listened to this version, I just shiver. It’s a song that is just as frightening now as it was when it was written. The fear these lyrics create is real. The lyric that really, and I mean, REALLY strikes me is, “Finger on the button of oblivion/All I can think of is my son.” Nothing could be truer. Everything Trump is setting into motion will not only affect Americans and the world now, but the future generations. I can’t help but think about my own son and the world he will inherit, and that scares me to death…I’m getting anxiety just thinking about it…And, the question I ask myself all the time, “Will there Trump and the war obsessed, might-is-always-right U.S. government going to eventually require compulsory service for my son?” Or, “Will there be a world left with nuclear war an option on the table with Trump?”

I just hope people pay attention and realize that Donald Trump, his faux administration, and the repulsive Republicans in office are DANGEROUS! And, quickly find that their brand of nationalism and military power frightening.

To end, I would like to leave you with a couple of passages from authors and theologians whose words are more profound and intelligent than mine could ever be. The first is from theologian Robert McAfee Brown’s book, Liberation Theology:

“Our problem today is not that we as a people do not believe in God, but that we was a people have many gods from whom to choose; this lack of a true ‘center’ is one reason for our plight. Idolatry, or the worship of false gods, is perhaps the sin to which the Bible most often calls attention, particularly within the Hebrew Scriptures. If we do try to name the chief idol in our national pantheon, it is undoubtedly some form of ‘nationalism.’ What has at times been a healthy pride in our heritage and its contributions to the entire human venture has degenerated into a crabbed insistence not only that because of our heritage we behave better than any other nation but that we also have a right to determine how other nations shall behave…

If other nations refuse to accept our agenda for their future, we bash them — verbally or militarily. The often unspoken but deeply held assumption to which we feel we must cling is that we are always right; any nation can be bashed save us. In order to assume unchallenged preeminence in the bashing department, we create inordinately expensive (and increasingly superfluous) weapon systems, at the cost of the decay of our schools, our social services, our infrastructure, and, increasingly, our environment. It is a policy under which everyone loses.

As long as the god of nationalism continues to rule us we can only anticipate more of the same: false (even unstated) goals, neglect of the needy, disregard for the truth, and lack of directions for the present, let alone the future. Only through the dethronement of the false god, and our liberation from its control over lives, can we begin to turn the tide. Perhaps the greatest gift third world Christians could give us would be to share their concept of deity…rather than a god of national self-aggrandizement, a God of love and justice. The distance between the two gods is the distance between replicating a past that delivered ‘liberty and justice for some,’ and creating a future that provides ‘liberty and justice for all‘” (Brown 110-111)

And, the last quote is from Archbishop Oscar Romero, “…either we believe in a God of life, or we serve the idols of death.”

Which will it be?

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Tyler Childers: “It’s a Damn Good Feeling to Come Back Home”

A conversation between friends

Interview by Michelle Hanks

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Tyler Childers at Moontower Music Festival in Lexington, KY on August 26, 2017. Photo Taken By: Matt Wickstrom

 I first interviewed Tyler Childers in Dec. 2013 for Nine Bullets (though it didn’t post till Jan. 2014) after one of his intimate Black Sheep Burrito & Brews shows in Huntington, WV. He’s come a long way since then, having now released his third record, Purgatory, which was co-produced by Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson. Childers was on his way back home to Kentucky when we talked, preparing for his homecoming show at Moontower Music Festival in Lexington and looking forward to being reunited with his wife, Senora May.

How are you feeling now that your month-long tour out west is winding down?

Every day and every gig is bringing me closer to being back home. I’m looking forward to it. I’m not in a rush to get back home, necessarily, but I would like to see my family and friends and maybe have some time to be by my lonesome, be with Senora, and have some time to write. I’ve got a lot of things coming and going, and I’m looking forward to having some time away by myself to write. It’s kind of hard to get some time alone on the road, you know.

I can imagine. You’ve been really busy touring lately, and your career and new album are getting a lot of recognition right now. Is that sort of buzz distracting for you?

I mean, it can be, if you allow it to. You can’t lose sight that this is the time to focus and to work and a time to focus on more things than just the writing. Right now, it’s time to work and play shows. It’s “road dog” mode. [laughs]

[laughs] Sure. Well, how’s your reception been on this tour in general? I know you’ve not been out that far west before.

No. I’ve always wanted to, but there wasn’t an opportunity before. It’s been exciting to see new territory and to meet up with a lot of people from back home that have moved away. That’s been one of the greatest things. And for that I really have to thank people like Shooter Jennings for playing my music really early on on Outlaw Country on Sirius… people like W.B. Walker and his podcast [Old Soul Radio Show], being as well-respected as it is…  people like you and your work with Nine Bullets, you know, sharing my stuff on a bigger platform… You know, all these people standing behind my music for a long time and getting it out there when I physically couldn’t get out there to play it.

You mentioned looking forward to being able to get some time to write once you’re home. What does your writing process look like?

Well, I’ve written songs in a lot of different situations, from the back of the van full of equipment and bandmates and my manager to, you know, my front porch. I’ve written in all these different places, but I do look for time alone away from outside influences and distractions, a place where my mind can be free to wander. Sometimes a song comes out of nowhere, though, and needs to be written at that moment. I just have to adapt to the situation and write.

Which songs have you written that have come out of having to adapt?

I wrote “Banded Clovis” in the back of the van from Fayetteville to Huntington, but it was so loud from the hum of the road and no insulation in the van, I could barely hear anybody anyway, so it was like I was by myself. [laughs] Sometimes I get lucky and write a song in a couple hours like that, and sometimes I have to put one on the back of the shelf and come back to it years later. “Tattoos” was one that hung out in the closet for a little while before I finished it. But it’s always important to try to come back to those songs, to either fix ‘em or finish ‘em. John R. Miller said one time, “You gotta write all of ‘em, even the bad ones.”

“Universal Sound” is one that means a lot to me and seems to mean a lot to other people, as well. I envision you having written it out in nature. How far off am I on that?

That was one that kind of evolved over time. The idea started when I was out by myself in nature, yeah, and then was slowly pieced together through other experiences.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading Ram Dass, and that’s kind of where a lot of the ideas in the song came from. He talks about… I don’t know how to explain it… a kind of “God core” that we all share… that we’re all part of a bigger picture, and I like that. The lyrics “I’ve been up on the mountain / And I’ve seen his wondrous grace / I’ve sat there on a barstool and I’ve looked him in the face” come from that. He [Dass] goes so far as to say that we’re all God in drag. I don’t know if I get behind that exactly, but it’s an interesting notion as to how you should handle people and treat people and how you should respect each other and take every moment and experience and be fully in it, you know. We’re all entitled to those beliefs that get us through, whatever they may be.

For sure. What other songs have you written that weren’t on Purgatory that you intend to record on future records?

Everything I feel good about going out and playing in front of people, I intend to put down on a studio album at some point in the future. That’s kind of how I test out what I keep and what I don’t. If I sing it over and over and over again, night after night, and it still means something to me, and I can still sing it with conviction, then I know it’s got something that makes it worth keeping. We’ve been doing a lot of two-hour gigs on the road, and Purgatory is just 38 minutes worth of stuff, you know. There are a lot of things I intend to get to over time. Just one thing at a time, I guess.

That’s all you can do, really. So, I’d like to actually talk more in-depth on your parents and your home life. Your mom is a nurse, and your dad worked in the coal industry in some form or another over the years. Those are both hard industries. How did seeing that growing up impact you, if at all?

It definitely instilled the worth of a dollar in me, and, you know, working hard for what you’ve got. They both worked really hard to put food on our table. I was very lucky to have a very close-knit family, too, that helped me see that, you know, I have to do things for myself. Nobody’s going to do it for me. That inspired me to get out and get on the road and play my music, because I wanted it to be heard. I wanted to have an opportunity to pursue this for as long as I could, to see if it would be affordable and realistic to provide for me and mine. That kind of “go get it” attitude they instilled in me fueled what I needed to do, and I’m really grateful.

I bet. It also seems like you were granted a lot of freedom in your youth to pursue your musical endeavors.

Yeah, it was kind of, like, I got my license and my first set of keys, and I was able to play shows. I got a lot of guidance from both my mom and my dad and my grandparents – I spent a lot of time with my Papaw. There were a lot of rules and restrictions growing up, of course, but at a certain point, they just trusted that they raised me right. [laughs] I had some experiences after that, messed up a time or two, but I always had freedom to make mistakes, as well as their support. Again, I’m just really grateful for that and to be where I am.

Childers resumes playing shows starting Sept. 8th in Madisonville, KY and will be opening for the Drive-By Truckers in Hazard, KY on Sept. 24th. You can also catch him during his residency at The Basement in Nashville and on tour on various other dates now through Dec. 2017.

Tyler Childers: Website; Facebook; Twitter
Buy PurgatoryWebsite; Amazon; iTunes

(When Michelle isn’t helping musicians spend more time creating with her virtual assistant business, Your Gal Friday Rocks, she’s freelance writing about music on her blog at No Depression.)

Remembering Jason Molina: Grand Lake Islands’ Tribute

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As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.

I realize that I should be posting more often, but not-so-great things and stress at work have been happening, and they have just brought me down. So, I have been focusing all of my energy on the not-so-great things, work, family, relationships, etc. hoping that things will eventually turn the corner and head in the right directions. But, enough about me, this post is about Erik of Grand Lake Islands and his memories of Jason.

Below, Erik Emanuelson, the lead of the collective Grand Lake Islands, remembers a space and time in his life when Jason’s music helped him make sense of his own thoughts. His reflection of those lonely, dark nights can certainly be heard and felt in his haunting cover of “Alone with the Owl.”

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Writing about someone you never knew is always a challenge. My perception of Jason Molina is reflective of my own life. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to see Jason play, let alone meet him. Yet somehow, I can say without question, that his music and spirit, at least how i’ve projected them, have meant more to me than words can duly express.

One of the only redemptive aspects of Jason Molina’s tragic passing has been the way people have sort of come out of the shadows to express the way that Jason’s music at once clawed at and nurtured the most remote and personal places in our souls. In my opinion, Jason’s music is best experienced alone. Even though you can appreciate the talent of a songwriter like Jason, a complete communion with his work comes in moments of solitude, when you are both inward and open. Jason’s music reaches me like a dream; I can feel it, but can’t explain it. The feelings that his music evokes, the places that it touches are so real, but when I try to explain them my words seem to fail.

I first came across Jason’s music in college, but I gave it little attention and it sat around, largely ignored for awhile. After living in Brooklyn for three years years, my girlfriend and I decided to leave New York City and move to Portland. Portland is beautiful, but when I got here, the sweet summer was giving way to that fabled northwest gloom. I started to have substantial doubts about my life decisions. Aside from my fiance, Robin, I didn’t know anyone. I had quit my job as a teacher in New York to pursue music more whole-heartedly; it was a terrifying decision.

A few months in, the cold, lonesome reality of our decision was starting to show her teeth. I got a dead end job at a coffee shop chain a few miles from my house, and when I got out at night, I’d ride my bike or walk home. It was during these walks, lost in my own world, that I truly discovered Jason’s music. Starting with Magnolia Electric Co, I worked backwards and then forwards, hovering around Didn’t It Rain and Ghost Tropic. Jason’s high and lonesome quiver was meditative, but ominous. It was like driving down a straight highway in the dead of night, the amber lights in lonely buildings glowing even though there was no one inside. There was a comfort and a sadness in these feelings, a foreboding peace. I had given up my old life and my old coast, and moments of searching for affirmation usually left me disappointed. Yet somehow I knew that I had made the decision I needed to make.

I soon discovered a copy of Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go that I had completely forgotten I had randomly bought in New York. One day I dug it out of a stack of records and put it aside, eagerly waiting for the right moment to put it on. I waited until I had the house to myself, turned off the lights, laid on the floor, and played it loudly. In my life I cannot remember an album that carried the same impact upon my first listen. I was floored. A specter drifted across a big empty room singing, “Behind these eyes, a desert spirit”. The voice and the lyrics reflected someone who so badly wanted to give up but could not regress to apathy.

For me, nights like these were redemptive. Sitting on my floor staring at the rain-blurred lights of the West Hills, I drifted off with Jason’s records on repeat. With those records as the soundtrack to lonely nights when Robin was at work, I began to make sense of my thoughts. Slowly, my life in Portland started to take form.

It was right around this time that I heard the news of Jason’s death. I was at work, reading some blog on my break. I returned to work in a daze and relayed the news to a coworker. Her response was, “People die, get over it”. Seeing that we never really saw eye to eye, I should have anticipated her unsympathetic reaction. I didn’t take it well, and snapped back at her before retreating into a silent despondency for the remainder of my shift. It was if someone I had just come to know had been lost to me. From this point on my connection with his music grew even stronger. I read tribute after tribute, watched interviews, tried to get to the bottom of whatever had happened to him— as if it was something that could be understood. On tours with my own band, I waited until everyone was asleep in the van late and put on Songs: Ohia records and let my thoughts drift over the long, straight stretches of I-5.

As I type, I am sitting on a flight back to Portland from Boston. The piercing blues and whites of the half frozen Great Lakes loom below me. As I marvel at their harsh beauty, I think of all the time Molina must have spent around them, contemplating their vastness. Every time I meet someone with a strong lean towards Molina’s music, I feel an immediate kinship, as if that person had also gone to the same desolate mountaintop or sat silent and alone in a boat on the some peaceful midnight lake, experiencing the great polarities—beauty and loneliness, elation and sorrow.

– Erik Emanuelson, Grand Lake Islands

 

 

Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Grand Lake Islands: WebsiteBandcampFacebook; Twitter; Instagram

 

Best Albums of 2015

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Wow! Another year has gone by without much blogging, but I’m still listening to what’s out there. So, here are my favorite albums of twenty-fifteen, and here’s to hoping and wishing that my job will allow me to write more in twenty-sixteen… But, you know what they say about wishes.

10. Where in Our Woods, Elephant Micah

9. All Your Favorite BandsDawes

8. High On Tulsa HeatJohn Moreland

7. Coming HomeLeon Bridges

6. Something More Than FreeJason Isbell

5. WindfallJoe Pug

4. Swan City VampiresWill Johnson

3. This Is The LifeAndrew Bryant

2. Over and EvenJoan Shelley

1. TravellerChris Stapleton

Anna & Elizabeth – Anna & Elizabeth

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Lately, most things Appalachian is making a resurgence, especially the folk music. Appalachia is concentrated in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, western North Carolina, eastern Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee; however, it is important to realize that West Virginia is the only state that can be considered entirely Appalachian. So, as a West Virginian — born and raised — it isn’t hard for me to distinguish authentic Appalachian folk music or good folk music in the Appalachian vein, and I must say that Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle are shining examples of this music tradition. Combining their love of storytelling, interest in the Appalachian music, and their beautiful voices, Anna and Elizabeth do this folk tradition a-world of justice on their new self-titled album, Anna & Elizabeth.

Traditionally, Appalachian music has been centered around the guitar, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, fiddle, etc., and you can hear most of these instruments on the album, however they’re sparse embellishments that give room for the duo’s harmonies making each song sound as old as the mountains yet as fresh as the mountain air. Their honest, salt-of-the-earth vocals are indicative of the rugged landscape singing about familiar themes of the region — religion, love, death, and work. The amount of respect these ladies have shown the tradition and ultimately the Appalachian culture through these collective songs is extraordinarily reverent and sincere, and that is what I appreciate most about this album. Anna and Elizabeth are world-class preservationists without the pretension because they not only sing the Appalachian songs, they know region firsthand. They do not pay lip-service to Appalachian music simply because it’s what is in vogue, but they have lived it and loved it, and it definitely shows on this album.





Purchase Anna & Elizabeth
Anna & Elizabeth: Website; Facebook; Twitter

Remembering Jason Molina: Erin Osmon’s Tribute

Erin_Osmon

As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.

It has been a while since the last Molina tribute, so I thought I’d post one while I had some downtime at work. Erin Osmon is a music and culture writer who has written about Jason and Magnolia Electric Co.. After his death, Pitchfork commissioned Erin to write “Hold On Magnolia”, a longform piece for their print publication, The Pitchfork Review, which delves into Jason’s life and the creation of his most epic album, Magnolia Electric Co.. Erin is also in the process of publishing her forthcoming book about Jason, Riding With the Ghost, which you can read an excerpt on SPIN. Erin was also kind to write a little something about Jason and the Songs:Ohia album that has has impacted her as a music writer and fan.

Photo by Noah Kalina.

Photo by Noah Kalina.

Jason Molina’s feral trill seeded itself in my consciousness in 1997, when I was 17, and the song “Cabwaylingo” (aka “Vanquisher”) traveled via mixtape from some exotic urban locale to my hometown of Evansville, IN, where the only record store was a Coconuts Music & Movies and local all ages shows were held in church basements and dilapidated biker bars. I’d been reared on the Michael Jackson, Hall & Oates, Neil Young, Beatles and Tom Petty Records my parents preferred, and like many small-town teens feeling stifled in the grips strip malls and chain diners, I swiftly “rejected” that of my parents upon learning of alternative acts such as Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction, Pavement, The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Sebadoh and The Pixies.

Despite the cultural subjugation of our hometown, the teeny, insular creative community of my friends—the writers and photographers and painters and musicians—was fiery and churning, and always traveling (much to the dismay and/or ignorance of our parents) to absorb the largely Midwestern music scene we’d learned of via mixtapes from older siblings and friends in college, and mail-order catalogues from labels in Louisville, Champaign, Bloomington and Chicago. By the time my 16th year landed, I was fully hooked on the Midwest’s interpretations of punk and indie, the wild sounds wafting through my baby blue ’86 Honda Civic (aka “The Mini Fridge”) via cheap cassette rips of 7″ records and LPs.

I’d sojourned through The Palace Brothers’ ghostly indie-folk, but it wasn’t until these words poured from Molina’s mouth that I laid roots in what I estimated was the closest thing to my parent’s Neil Young and Tom Petty (which I’d always loved in secret) and the underground alters I bowed to:

“They come in sorry for the second vanquisher
To have so much to pretend
Themselves not so against
Though overtaken
This we’ll survive, surviving those
Against the smell of rope through pulley sing
There are fewer greater losses known
They have their affect they have their ransom
This will survive
You’re all I think, this thing set troublin’
It will not end without brevity
Against the smell of hope through measuring
There are fewer greater former ghosts
We have our affect we have our ransom
This we’ll survive”

It was the first time that punk and folk didn’t feel mutually exclusive, its no frills production meeting breathtaking and timeless lyricism in one transcendent swoop. It was a marriage made in heaven to my pubescent ears and writerly aspirations, and I saved what little remained of a TCBY paycheck to snag a copy of The Black Album, which I think I scored at ear X-Tacy in Louisville, though it might have been TD’s CDs and LPs in Bloomington, where I’d later move to attend Indiana University (and to be closer to the music scene where bands like The Impossible Shapes, Japonize Elephants, and The Panoply Academy held tenure in the early and experimental days of Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar). Turns out I’d never really know Jason, as he took off for Chicago the same year I arrived in Bloomington, but I’d get to know all of his songs. And I’d get to know his performances, where he’d mesmerize a crowd, or swiftly tell it to fuck off. He didn’t demand much, other than to work and to be heard.

Over the years I’d collect the majority of his musical output and adore much of it—Didn’t It Rain and The Magnolia Electric Co., most notably. But The Black Album and “Cabwaylingo,” with its central theme of survival amidst turmoil via beautifully cryptic Civil War imagery, would become a through line of my adult life.

“This we’ll survive” it rallied, through my roommate’s stereo, after I was laid off from my first real job in Indianapolis, IN.

“This we’ll survive” it reminded, in the midst of a horrible stint in Baltimore, MD, when the song poured out of bar speakers during my first visit to a dive called The Idle Hour.

“This we’ll survive” it insisted, through my first set of ear buds, as I was near starving and exhausted trying to carve a path to a writing career in Chicago, IL.

“This we’ll survive” it comforted, through my second (and last) car’s speakers, as I escaped the noise of a packed funeral to breathe through the overwhelming effects of the loss of my mother to pancreatic cancer in Evansville, IN.

I’m not writing a book about Jason because he died. I’m writing a book about Jason because he truly lived, unwavering and intentional, always in engaged in the creative lifecycle of song, from The Black Album to his very last days. His ethos is invariably valuable, as is the vast catalog of albums and tomes of tales he left behind.

— Erin Osmon






Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Erin Osmon: Website

Remembering Jason Molina: Jeffrey Fields’s Tribute

morningriverband

As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.

Today’s tribute comes from Jeffrey Fields, the frontman for Philly’s Morning River Band. Although Jeffrey never met Jason, he has been greatly influenced by his music and songwriting as evident in his short but reverent tribute below. Morning River Band has also contributed a raucous and celebratory version of “Whip-poor-will”, which I have included at the end of the post. Oh, yeah, and be sure to check out Morning River Band’s new EP, Abyssal Channeling, due out on May 29th. I think you’ll like it.

Photo by Amrit Singh

Photo by Amrit Singh

Few who frequent Jason Molina’s world of ringing bells, blue lights, and black crows return unchanged… some don’t return at all. Those who do emerge with the realization that Jason’s songs are mirrors. Those little, sad eyes staring back from inside the music are your own. Though the creator of that universe has passed on, his work remains. The choir continues to wail through the fog; and, so long as man has ears to hear, the double tongues will sing. Farewell, Jason. Though I hardly knew you, you weren’t hard to love.

— Jeffrey Fields






Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Morning River Band: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; Bandcamp