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 being posted to surround and 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.
As we have read and heard over the past few weeks from other songwriters, bandmates, and fans, Jason was extremely skilled at capturing place, space, and time in song. He’s probably best at this writing technique than any songwriter any of us have ever heard. Fellow Ohioan and songwriter, Wes Tirey, continues this theme in today’s memorial post. Wes, who is no stranger to the Midwestern landscape Jason so brilliantly writes about, talks about his introduction to Jason’s music, how Jason brought him closer to a girl, and the Midwest. And, if you stick around till the end, you can listen to the original song Wes wrote for Jason after his passing.
As a songwriter and performer, there’s some material that I prefer to just leave where it lay. That is, there are some songs whose power, beauty, and honesty is so raw and intense that I don’t feel worthy enough to even attempt to capture it. Instead, I observe, honor, and respect. Indeed, it’s a long list––and it includes about everything penned by Jason Molina.
I was 19 when I heard my first Molina song. A friend and band member had just picked up “What Comes After the Blues” and played me “Hammer Down” in the parking lot of Gem City Records in Dayton, Ohio. I was struck immediately by the simplicity, subtlety, and Midwestern grit that the song contained. “Sometimes I forget that I’ve always been sick/And I don’t have the will to keep fighting” sings Molina. But this isn’t the trite and boring tortured artist cliché––nor is it some kind of melodramatic existential paranoia. Rather, it’s a deep and honest confession of searching for meaning in what may be a meaningless world. “I saw the light” he sings later. A simple phrase––yet still a glimmer of hope.
On a first date with an ex-girlfriend, I asked her what kind of music she liked (original––I know). It’s easy to understand the excitement of any Molina fan when the response to that question is Magnolia Electric Co. Riding on I-75, the fractured skyline before us and behind us, the perpetual air of Midwestern-melancholia––a scene fitting for a Molina song. My point is that you don’t casually listen to anything written by Jason Molina. His songs demand attention––so when meeting other Molina fans, there’s an immediate respect that comes with it. Despite being heartbroken by the news of his passing, it was inspiring to see the outpouring of love from friends and fellow musicians across the world to honor his legacy in the aftermath.
As a fellow son of Ohio, my respect and admiration for Molina’s material goes beyond his status as a “songwriter’s songwriter.” Indeed, the Midwestern landscape––the vast and endless cornfields, the rusted out silos and old farm equipment, the forlorn highways, the abandoned factories and skeleton freight yards––makes up the better part of my conscience. It’s a world I can’t escape. “Leave the City,” another track from “What Comes After the Blues” is a song––a masterpiece of songwriting, really––that, for lack of a better word, slays me on each listen: the blue-grey toned trumpet, the stark and evocative lyrics, the heartbreaking vocal delivery.
It’s a song that I return to often, with the same kind of wonder and amazement that I had on first listen. But no matter how much the song makes me miss home, no matter how much I’m reminded of failures and missed opportunities, no matter how much bittersweetness it stirs within me––it always “makes me thankful for the blues.”
I have Jason Molina to thank for that.
— Wes Tirey
Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Wes Tirey: Bandcamp; Facebook; Dying For Bad Music