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.”
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: Website; Bandcamp; Facebook; Twitter; Instagram