RIP Jason Molina

Posted on March 22, 2013



Over recent years, high profile deaths are something we’re acutely aware of. Thanks to the frantic online treadmill that is the dissemination of information in modern times, obituaries aren’t just something you read in the back of a Sunday supplement anymore. We know when someone vaguely famous has passed on, because they get their own hashtag. And if I’ve never heard of them, I’m notified of yet another talent woefully unrecognised in his or her time.

On Wednesday I noticed Twitter was a-babble with tributes to one Jason Molina, an American singer/songwriter who had died aged just 39, from organ failure owing to alcohol consumption. I wondered who was this master of alt country, who seemed to have moved so many with his music? Why hadn’t I heard of him before? So I delved into the back catalogue. Two bands, fifteen studio albums and three solo releases.  He hadn’t even reached his fortieth birthday.

Molina’s songs are sublime. Best known for his work fronting the bands Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co, he was prolific in his transmission of nostalgia and the blues. Listening to his whiskey soaked laments on heartbreak and tragedy reminds anyone they’re not alone in their sadness. There’s something incredibly unifying about the way he makes melancholy beautiful. So many of the comments littering YouTube and the various online obituaries reference how a particular song had helped someone through a difficult time, and I can see why. Hailed as a cornerstone of record label Secretly Canadian – recently propelled to the forefront of public consciousness for housing Indie sensation Bon Iver – it’s obvious that a gifted storyteller has departed far too soon.

And if you don’t believe me, have a listen.

I know I’m not the only one to be discovering Jason Molina for the first time this week – and wondering why on earth it took death to lend his music the PR boost that brought it to my attention. This may speak more about the depth of some of our musical knowledge than it does the state of the industry, but when mainstream radio wilfully defiles my ears with One Direction and Taylor Swift, yet let me miss out on Molina’s 20-year career, something’s gone awry.

Going unrecognised by the masses in your time can be a sign of greatness. Just look at Van Gogh, John Keats or Bach. Even F. Scott Fitzgerald was once told by an editor ‘you’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character’. Usually it means you’re doing something a bit different, you’re experimenting rather than just serving up a direct hit of instant gratification. We have to work harder to appreciate this kind of creation, but it’s always worth it.

So maybe there’s something to be said for being underappreciated. But dead or alive this musician has still left an incredible body of work behind, haunted with the ghosts of past pains and a finely tuned awareness of human fragility – and I’d truly recommend checking it out.

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