Magnolia Electric Co. – Hammer Down
Jason Molina died four years ago this week. I recently came across this news story from 2015 about a song he recorded with Alasdair Roberts, and Will and Paul Oldham. The four had gotten together at Paul Oldham’s farmhouse on 10 September 2001 to record some songs; waking up on the morning of the 11th they spent the day watching what was happening in New York. The song they recorded that evening, ‘September 11’, written by Jason, had now, the article went on to say, been posted on the website of the Secretly Canadian record label.
On that day, working at Virgin Megastores, Bromley, I watched the news of the attack on the small tv in our staff room with the people from work. Later, back on the shop floor, we passed on rumours of planes being flown from the US to London to be crashed. As silly as that may sound now, I think we were going to extremes in an imagined future to try to mediate the shock of what was happening in, as Alasdair Roberts puts it in the article, “the unimaginable terrible event” of the present.
Anyway, I’m mentioning this because it helped me, nearly sixteen years later, to understand the intensity of the song they recorded that evening. For Molina understood that exposure to a certain darkness forces you to see the beauty harder. That was, to use his words on ‘September 11’, his “offering” when he was alive, writing, touring and recording.
After reading the article I kept thinking of ‘Hammer Down’, a song recorded in 2005 for the Magnolia Electric Co. album What Comes After The Blues. I thought I remembered how Molina instilled, in this song, the same mix of darkness and hope as he did on ‘September 11’:
But listening to it, however, I began to realise it wasn’t the version I’d been thinking of. The imagery was there: the stars as “the neon lights shining through the dance floor of heaven”; but as an image I felt it was only given cursory attention. It wasn’t until I played the full band recording off the 2007 Nashville Moon album I found what I was after:
On this version Molina and the band allow the imagery in the lyrics to fully inform their recording of the song. That light seen “over the old grey town” at the beginning expands; the song, the bands playing take the listener by the hand and spin her round under it – “heaven on a Saturday night”. This was, and still remains, the talent of Jason Molina.