- 15 Apr 13
The death from alcoholism of Songs:Ohia leader Jason Molina was as inevitable as it was tragic...
The music industry loses its share of talent at a young age, to the point where it’s almost fashionable to be a member of the ‘27 Club’. Jason Molina made it to 39 and managed to record a very healthy number of albums in his short career. Still, his loss is not diminished by that fact. I never met Molina but have spent an awful lot of time with him, figuratively speaking. Over the last number of years his music has increased in importance. His travails have become a filter for my own and it’s not going too far to say that the emotional kicking I’ve taken over the last year or so has only been tolerable thanks to music. It is my solace in dark times. As often as not that music has been Molina’s, whether it be his solo records, the Songs:Ohia material, the stuff he recorded with the Magnolia Electric Co. or the beautiful album he made with Will Johnson.
Shortly after recording that LP Jason Molina, once the most prolific of writers, the most active of touring musicians, began the process of retreating from the world. It was painful to read the notice posted on the Magnolia Electric Co. website telling of his difficulties. Tragically on Saturday March 16, his body gave up the fight. Alcohol won. The ‘endless, endless, endless, endless, endless, endless depression’ he sang of on ‘Blue Chicago Moon’ was medicated with booze. Eventually his body could no longer bear the onslaught. We lose too many musicians this way. In Molina’s case I think the pain would have tracked him whatever he did in life. It was his cross and he bore it, turning his suffering into his gift to the rest of us.
People who knew Molina (rather than just his music) characterised him as a goofball, and at the beginning of the Recording Josephine documentary you can see him with his copy of MAD magazine. But for me it was always the songs, always the pain and transcendence that he wrung from every note. Always the gift of release.
My heart goes out to his family and to Secretly Canadian, his label since the mid-’90s, Since his decision not to make music any longer I’ve felt uneasy. It was his medicine as much as it was his destiny and without it I couldn’t see how he could carry on. Sadly, I was proved right.
The world is a drabber place with his passing. We must celebrate the rich body of songs he left behind, rejoice that his voice, captured on record, is there for us when we need it. Above all, we must spread the word far and wide so that his memory remains brightly coloured and vivid.
Over the course of the weekend of Friday April 12 and Saturday 13, Near Media Co-op, in partnership with Dublin City Council Arts Office, and as part of the Arts Council’s EU Presidency programme, presents a weekend of traditional European music featuring players from Germany, the Basque Country, Ireland and Hungary.
There are two free performances (although donations are encouraged), Friday night in the Clasac Theatre in Clontarf and a second on Saturday in the Unitarian Church on St. Stephen’s Green. The gigs will be broadcast live on Near FM 90.3 (Dublin), Radio Corax (Halle, Germany), Antxeta Community Radio (Basque Country) and Civil Radio (Budapest).
Featured in both concerts will be The Harz Mountain Yodelers, from the very centre of Germany, and Bidaia from the Basque region. The latter is centred around Caroline Phillips, a Californian singer who settled there in the early ’90s, and Mixel Ducau, a veteran Basque composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist.
Bidaia’s repertoire includes original compositions as well as songs in both Basque and English. Old-school Basque instruments like the alboka (a small hornpipe – played with circular breathing) and ttun-ttun (stringed-percussive instrument) are combined with other traditions such as acoustic guitar, hurdy-gurdy and bamboo clarinet. Flying the flag for Ireland will be Perfect Friction who you may have caught on the Late Late Show a couple of months ago in dresses so black and smiles so white you wouldn’t have needed the colour licence at all.
Hungary is represented by Oltan Szabó and Katalin Juhász whose performance channels the musical culture of Magyar shepherds, focusing on their work, crafts, melodies and songs, as well as musical instruments. Particular emphasis is given to the pipes, ocarina, and, especially, the bagpipes. Zoltán Szabó is an ethnographer and folk musician. He has worked at the Hungarian Ethnographical Museum with shepherd objects and the music instrument collections, has organised a major exhibition and published widely on shepherd-related matters. He is, moreover, an accomplished musician who plays several of the instruments typical of shepherd culture. Katalin Juhász is an ethnographer and folk singer. She has been collecting and singing Hungarian folk music since 1980 and conducted research on lullabies, the history of folk songs, and the link between folk music and poetry.