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.
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
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