October 21, 2014

Elyria
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52°F
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Jason Molina, 1973-2013: Remembering a high school legend

I woke up yesterday and was searching the Internet when I got a Facebook message from one of my old high school classmates that sent chills up my spine.

Jason Molina, dead at 39.

Jason and I weren’t the best of friends at Admiral King High School. But our circles did cross more than once due to music.

I showed up at Admiral King in the late summer of 1989 as a sophomore with a love of sports and music, and not very good at playing either (although I got much better at playing music over the years).

As a fan of anything rock music-related, especially on the heavier side, it didn’t take long for me to become friends with the kids who wore concert T-shirts to school or played music in their garages. But the one who seemed destined to rise above all of that was Jason Molina.

Jason was a very smart student, taking nothing but honors classes, but was unique in that he played in a punk rock band.

The Spineriders were one of the best-known bands at Admiral King and always seemed to win the local high school “Battle of the Bands” competitions. All of us who were into music at King were fans of The Spineriders. I think I still have one of their demo tapes somewhere.

Jason was a big part of it, writing a lot of the music and playing an instrument that doesn’t seem to come with a lot of notoriety — the bass. However, those that play it well become legends.

Jason became a legend.

I remember my first interaction with Jason. He was sitting in front of me in a driver’s education class that the school offered in the evenings. During one of those driver’s-ed movies, I was bored and put my Walkman on and started listening to some music.

All of a sudden, Jason turned around with a quizzical look on his face.

“Is that Slayer?!” he asked, almost incredulously.

Yes, it sure was. My favorite band, I told him.

“That’s awesome,” he said. From then on, I knew we had something in common.

To say that Jason went on to bigger and better things after graduating from Admiral King in 1992 and leaving Lorain would be an understatement. He graduated from Oberlin College as a student of music and his first project, Songs: Ohia, which he formed in 1996, came out to high acclaim.

While my taste in music stayed on the heavy side and Jason’s projects, which included Magnolia Electric Co., were more indie rock, I tried to follow Jason’s career. After all, most people can’t say they went to school with a famous musician.

Fittingly, his last album, “Autumn Bird Songs,” was released under his own name last year. It was released after reports circulated about him retiring from music due to an undisclosed disease.

Jason loved to say that he wanted to become a rock star. That he did. Tragically, he died as many rock stars do — far too young and far too soon with demons — in this case alcoholism — getting the best of him.

Jason was a genius in many ways and he used his genius to make great music and live an interesting life. For that alone, he will be missed, but he was also a genuinely friendly soul.

Jason left Lorain, but his family still lives here. They are in my thoughts and prayers.

After hearing the news, I listened to two of the songs he wrote and recorded — “Farewell Transmission” and “Blue Factory Flame” from Songs: Ohia. The latter was a song reminiscent of the Lorain we grew up in. I quote a line from the former that Jason wrote and sang:

“I will be gone, but not forever.”

Rest in peace, my friend.

Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or dangilles73@gmail.com.