No good in goodbye

Photographic memory: The late singer-songwriter Jason Molina, far right, appears with Magnolia Electric Co. Members of that band and other Molina collaborators have teamed up for a tour. Photo by Will Claytor

In the second verse of “Farewell Transmission,” one of the late Jason Molina’s finest compositions for his band Songs: Ohia, his voice starts to shake. “After tonight, if you don’t want this to be,” he sings, trembling on the word “be,” as if it’s all he can do to shape these words, to hear his voice admit the painful possibility. It’s where the song stops being a lament about regret and becomes one about resurrecting the goodness in ourselves that we inadvertently let die. Despite the self-confrontation that begins the song, it’s an early bridge that delivers it to its determined optimism. The sentiment floats in with lyrics that now feel like a haunting from the other side: “I will try / and know whatever I try / I will be gone, but not forever.”

Indeed, Molina’s death last March from alcohol-related organ failure put a stop to one of the most startlingly honest, if little-known, musical voices of his generation. But, if his friends and collaborators have a say, the loss of Molina’s life won’t also mean the loss of his music. Members of Songs: Ohia and its offshoot band Magnolia Electric Co., plus their friends Hiss Golden Messenger (Hiss frontman Mike Taylor was a good friend of Molina’s), have planned a series of memorial shows called “Songs: Molina.” That project will stop at The Mothlight on Thursday, Jan. 9.

Magnolia Electric Co. guitarist Jason Groth met Molina in 2002. The pair became so close that Groth refers to his late collaborator as one of his best friends. “We’re not calling it Magnolia Electric Co. because it can’t be that without Jason,” he says. “But, we were all part of his [musical] family. We’re there to think about Jason and try [to keep] his songs alive. It’ll be helpful for us, as friends who are still grieving, to stand onstage and remember what it was like when he was there. … [We’re] trying to do what I think Jason would feel really honored and flattered by, which is to have his friends play his songs in order to remember how much we loved him, how much we still love him.”

Indeed, Molina touched countless musicians with his craft. There were many fans shaken by his music. But there were also several incarnations of Molina-led bands. Before he developed a following for the project he called Songs: Ohia, there were other self-released recordings — Songs: Albian, Songs: Radix, Songs: Unitas. There were bands in which he played before venturing out on his own, then there was the incredible, hard-to-ignore evolution of the Magnolia Electric Co. Immediately following Molina’s death last spring, Groth and others worked to gather everyone with whom Molina had ever made music for a massive memorial concert in Molina’s Ohio hometown.

“Everyone [was there] from his band the Spineriders all the way through us in Magnolia Electric Co. and every version of that,” says Groth. “We were all able to be onstage that night playing his songs.”

But, that show in Ohio felt like an unfinished memorial. After all, Molina spent a good amount of time in Chicago. It was there where he built a band of studio players that would make up Magnolia Electric Co., and many of those players felt the memorial would not be complete without a show in the Windy City. So, they selected a date for the Hideout — an intimate 200-capacity room — for Jan. 11.

With musician friends and band members scattered around the country, the group decided to organize a short tour on the way to Chicago. The decision to include Asheville on that route was obvious. For one, it’s on the way to Chicago. But also, Groth says, Molina always relished a visit to Western North Carolina.

“We had some amazing shows in Asheville. There was one show at the Grey Eagle that I look back on as one of the best nights of my life playing music,” says Groth. “It was packed, it sounded great, and of course the Asheville people are awesome. Jason in particular loved going to Asheville.”

Then again, he says, “Every show with Jason was one of the best onstage experiences [you] could have. The songs are so good. I was always surprised that Jason wasn’t more heralded, that more people didn’t take into account what a solid, classic songwriter he was. Maybe they did and just figured he was young and he’d be around. But now [that he’s gone] it’s even more obvious that these songs need to continue to live.”

— Kim Ruehl is a freelance writer living in Asheville.

what: Songs: Molina, A Memorial Electric Co.
with Hiss Golden Messenger
where: The Mothlight,
when: Thursday, Jan. 9, at 8:30 p.m. $10.

About Kim Ruehl
Kim Ruehl's work has appeared in Billboard, NPR Music, The Bluegrass Situation, Yes magazine, and elsewhere. She's formerly the editor-in-chief of No Depression, and her book, 'A Singing Army: The Life and Times of Zilphia Horton,' is forthcoming from University of Texas Press. Follow me @kimruehl

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