Songs: Ohia – ‘Darlin…’
Jason Molina died three years ago this week. He was 39 years old. The first record I bought of his was in the early 2000s, Songs: Ohia’s bleak but beautiful Ghost Tropic. From then on I bought everything he released, all the way up to 2009’s Josephine. And in those rare small gaps when he wasn’t touring or releasing a record I had his albums, split 7″s, EPs from the late 90s to find. So this is maybe why, when his illness, then eventual death, signalled an end I was taken by surprise at the depth of loss I felt. I suppose it speaks to that certain mystery music holds over the listener that the death of human being, ostensibly a stranger to me, could have had such an effect.
At the time of his death stories were told of him. Memories were recalled. I had my own. I met him once at All Tomorrows Parties festival. It was around the same time he had taken to wearing a Stetson hat onstage (he didn’t mean it ironically you sensed), so in my story I have him wearing it. I complimented him on the gig he had just played. Asked him where he was off to next. I meant tour wise. He pointed in the opposite direction to where I had just walked from. I let the confusion stand.
But the stories people told were mainly about his music. Molina was a talented songwriter. And this was evident in the many different musicians, working in quite different fields and genres, who wrote about how much his music had come to matter to them. His sometimes simple songs (songs such as ‘Darling…’), while hermetically sealed within each album by his recurring use of images and tropes, paradoxically connected to a wider sphere.
Molina achieves this connection on ‘Darling…’ by using the lyrics to the opening of Al Green’s ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’. Set to a different time, an austere instrumentation, Molina is able to negotiate through Al Green so the sentiment becomes part of the Songs: Ohia aesthetic. An aesthetic Jason forged carefully until he retired the group in 2003, and began again with Magnolia Electric Co. And that’s probably part of the loss identified there: even though the many recordings can be gone back to, it’s now always with the knowledge he will never begin something again.