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.
Today, Butch Tressel from the roots-rock band, The Tressels, gives a personal account about discovering Jason’s music and the moment when it all made sense. It’s a tale of a bad marriage, a shitty gig, and finding comfort in Jason’s words. But, what isn’t shitty is, Butch’s cover of “Hammer Down” at the end of his tribute.
I got into Jason Molina late, I think the first song I ever heard was “31 seasons in the minor leagues” from the Hard to Love a Man EP. I always loved the line “You’re never going to win the game..” I loved how he managed to sum up the emotions of impossible situations so well. It had a lot to do with his voice, I always found it warm and comforting.
There was a night where it all clicked for me and solidified my affection for the man behind the Magnolia Electric Co. It was the winter of 2012, my band The Tressels were about to leave Philly for a gig in Manhattan in support of our American Sunset EP. We were sans van at the time and were travelling in cars. We loaded all our gear into our tiny cars and I elected to drive alone. I needed to. I was sick and I needed to think. My marriage was on its last legs and I thought the trip would give me time to get some perspective on it.
I hit 476 and turned on What Comes After the Blues. By the time “Leave the City” came on I had hit the stretch of Jersey turnpike wasteland that Jason Molina describes so well. Freightyards, empty highways, long stretches of ominous interlocking pipes, and whatever is chasing you.
Manhattan is a tough place to play. You basically have to play there to keep playing there. The venue we booked was what a middle eastern club promoter imagined what a rock club looks like. You had to walk onto the stage to get to the bathroom, and there was a velvet rope to hold back our rabid fans.
No one came. Well no one except for my friend Dan who comes to every NYC show. He bought me a beer as conciliation. I ordered a Budweiser and took a sip, and got half shit beer, half broken glass. The bottle was so old that the lip tore off when the bartender twisted the cap off. I immediately heard Jason Molina’s quavering voice in my head. “You’re never going to win the game…”
I headed home that night with Magnolia again on the iPod, and with every listen new details unraveled. As discouraged as I had been from heading from a lousy gig back to my lousy marriage, one line stuck out to me, “I’m still thankful for the blues”.
Now I still try to be thankful for the little things, even the lousy gigs are fun, and even though my marriage ended I found someone who loves and appreciates all my little insanities, so for me what came after the blues was happiness. We all know what came after the blues for Jason, but for pushing myself and other people through the hard times, the game is won
Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
The Tressels: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Bandcamp