Friday, November 23, 2012

Set my pulse to the Midwest's pulse

One night a few years ago, I went downtown to The Entry to see Jason Molina, an Ohio singer/songwriter who was on one of his restless highway tours of middle America and Canada. The Entry is an intimate venue that adjoins the more famous Mainroom at First Avenue, holding maybe 200 people inside its black-painted walls. 

I went alone that night, because a. though I’d been a fan for a couple years, I didn't know anybody else who even knew who Jason Molina was, and b. so I could completely sink into the experience without having to pay the slightest attention to anything or anyone else. 

I got there early, staked out my place behind the rail, and when he and his band took the stage, I tried to drink in every note he sang. Feeling as if that music was feeding my heartlander's empty places: those wide, unpeopled plains unfolding beneath a bright moon. 

The prairie and empty highways throb like a pulse through this man's songs. He casts a spell woven of stripped-down sadness, minor chords and powerful, dreamlike images: wolf-headed conjurers, thunder and crows, ghosts and dust, bluest-blue and blood-so-red and a moon that swings like a blade over the Midwest's heart.

"I know serpents will cross universes to circle around our necks
I know hounds will cross the universe to circle around our feet
They're always close, always so close
Step by step
One's beside me
To kill me or to guide me
Why wouldn't I be trying 
To figure which one out?"

"Ring the Bell" - Songs: Ohia

His songs—the ones I love best—are stark, haunting, yearning, like a soundtrack to the rare dreams that inhabit you for hours after you awake, so vivid and strange are urgent voice in a strange language that nonetheless is clearly calling you to pay attention: a vital message is being sent from your deepest dreaming.

Exquisite songs, with an elemental power rooted in sadness, and in the beauty of vast, moonlit landscapes...

Two Blue Lights

...songs of unspoken farewells...

Nervous Bride

...passionate, eerie, skin-shivering songs.

Coxcomb Red

Now you know who Jason Molina is, too.

Speaking of a recent album, he said: "So in a way, these are meditations on depression, waiting, dislocation, separation, doubt, fear, loneliness...the usual from me...but here, if I did not see redemption or even a glimmer of hope, and thought I could put that into lyrics and a simple melody, I allowed that to be the driving force of the song.... All of this is an attempt to put a serious price on lyrics that are honest not witty, shy but not weak, weary if they are and sad without apology, depression without a fight and depression with a fight."

After the Entry show, I hung around to thank the man, in a sincere but inadequate effort to express what his songs mean to me. As I spoke, his kind face lit up, he took my hand, and he thanked me for coming to see the band.

Jason Molina has been on hiatus the last couple of years, as he battles some demons. I, and many others, are hoping hard that he finds the redemption he is looking for. 


Jason Molina died on March 16, 2013, from organ failure related to alcoholism. He was 39.

We will try and know whatever we try
We will be gone but not forever

The real truth about it is there ain't no end to the desert I'll cross
I've really known that all along.

—Farewell Transmission, 2003

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