Remembering Jason Molina: Olentangy John’s Tribute


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 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.

Olentangy John (a.k.a. John Atzberger) explains the personal importance of Jason’s songwriting and their mutual Ohioan roots. John has also included a heartfelt cover of “Whip-Poor-Will” produced by Drew Nix. Keeping within the original context of the song, John like many of us is sending up these prayerful words begging Jason to “sing it one more time” for those of us who “ain’t doing very well” and “got left behind”. Jason, we hope you’re not too busy ringing that bell and enjoying a peaceful existence wherever you are.

Photo by Wes Frazer

Photo by Wes Frazer

I came to Jason Molina’s music through a songwriter I was backing on banjo in 2007. At the time I had just moved to New York and was starving, literally and artistically. Ed Gorch is one of my favorite writers and he saved my life in many ways. He’d also feed me and give me beer at rehearsals which made them a pretty important part of my early city life. At some point he threw a version of “Lioness” into our set. I could tell that the song was something different, structurally and in it’s dark language. It struck me as almost prayerful in it’s intimacy, but still full of such strong narrative and imagery. It’s a shining example of what a song can be. Personal, simple in structure but simultaneously expansive in the world it creates.

Even after that it took me a year or two to fully begin my investigation of this songwriter. Jason Molina is from a town over from my Dad, a part of Ohio that I spent a lot of my holidays and day trips going to. Jason’s imagery for me is rooted in that Cleveland landscape, “ghostly steel and iron ore” but includes such rich rural tones too. It speaks to me deeply as Ohioan and thereby more broadly, American. Jason’s music is a testament to what songs can be. Knowing that Jason was out in the world making songs in the corners of the country was calming to me. It was proof of the idea that one might survive being a songwriter. Needless to say his death is a tragedy and honestly, it scares the shit out of me. I often wonder whether the work is worth it. And through Jason’s example, and his body of work I come back to the conclusion, that there isn’t a value judgement applied to it. We write songs because we can’t not write songs. Jason Molina taught me that. Ed Gorch teaches me that. Jason’s songs are way-points of one gone before. They serve as guideposts for me in my work. They are something that makes the work feel less lonely no matter how hard it gets. We should all strive to write as personally and singularly as Jason did, at all costs.

— Olentangy John

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

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