ONLY NOISE: Seven Songs That Help Me Navigate Depression and Anxiety

Soccer Mommy’s “Your Dog” reminds the author that everyone deserves respect, even on their darkest days. Photo by Daniel Topete

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Lauren Rearick compiles a playlist of songs she’s leaned on to cope with mental illness.

Nearly eight years ago, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I had long suspected that my lifetime of continual worries and lingering sadness had been something more, and although receiving confirmation made me feel validated, it also made me feel afraid and alone.

The stigma surrounding mental illness continues to lessen, but there are still times when it can seem as if you’re the only one in the world going through it. It’s hard to explain to others why you constantly worry, or fear something as simple as driving to a new destination, when you don’t even understand the reasoning behind your own emotions. Additionally, it feels like mental illness is some secret that, once shared, will forever impact your relationships – it becomes this hidden extension of you.

I continue to work towards getting better, and while I have found methods of treatment that work for me, I’ve also found coping mechanisms. Along with watching endless amounts of uplifting cartoons (Sailor Moon and Adventure Time are my go-tos) I’ve turned to music, and those feelings and fears that I once thought were unique to me have revealed themselves through others’ songs. From my fear of being alone to a promise that even the most broken pieces will eventually fit together into something beautiful, here are the seven songs that helped me navigate relationships and life while contending with depression and anxiety.

“Your Dog” – Soccer Mommy

I used to believe that having a mental illness made me unable to have normal relationships. As it turns out, I was waiting for someone who practiced understanding. “Your Dog,” from Soccer Mommy’s 2018 LP Clean, is a note to demand your worth, and to accept nothing less than kindness from others. There’s a furious beauty to the song, a message of empowerment that seems so soft when presented, but is made to land with an impression. In particular, the line, “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog/That you drag around/A collar on my neck tied to a pole/Leave me in the freezing cold,” struck an immediate chord with me, reminding me that one should never be forgotten, even on their darkest days.

“#23” – IAN SWEET

The entirety of IAN SWEET’s Shapeshifter album is an ode to anxiety, with the release detailing vocalist Jillian Medford’s struggles with mental illness. While I’ve found myself connecting with the whole album, “#23” openly talks of isolation, and as it continues, Medford expresses a desire to change, but an inability to make it happen. I have so often been there; wishing I could make my emotions just disappear. When I’m feeling totally alone, I know I have others I could call upon, but sometimes just listening to this track is enough – it reminds me that someone else potentially feels the same.

“Everybody Does” – Julien Baker

The intimacy of Julien Baker’s music has connected with numerous fans, including myself. In my initial experience with depression, I had a constant fear that I would be left alone. Even without depression, I think we all have a fear that we could potentially lose a friendship or a relationship, and on “Everybody Does,” — a single which appears on Baker’s 2015 debut album — the singer appeals to that worry. The song isn’t meant to encourage; rather, it reminded me that I’m not the only one fearful of being alone, and knowing that is comforting. In particular, the line: “I know myself better than anybody else / And you’re gonna run / You’re gonna run when you find out who I am” really resonates with me, but as Baker explained in an interview with Stereogum, she’s come to realize “it’s a fallacy to believe everyone will run when you tell them who you really are.”

“TV Dreams” – Katie Ellen

Even with continuing work, medication, and treatment, I still have bad days. And for those moments when I need a reminder that it’s okay not to be okay, I listen to “TV Dreams.” This track was one of the first songs released by Katie Ellen — the project of Anika Pyle and Dan Frelly, born from the ashes of their former band, Chumped — and later appeared on the band’s 2017 debut Cowgirl Blues. It incorporates both soft and harsh moments, with confessional proclamations to be there for someone, even if that someone has since moved on. “TV Dreams” reminds me that sometimes things won’t work out, and I may never understand my every feeling, but the ensuing confusion is something others experience, too.

“Let Down” – Radiohead

There’s no telling when I’ll have good or bad days, and when I’m at my lowest, “Let Down,” from Radiohead’s critically lauded Ok Computer, has provided a small glimmer of hope that things will change. This line: “Don’t get sentimental, it always ends up drivel/One day, I am gonna grow wings,” has etched itself into my memory and heart. There’s something truly comforting in feeling as if one day, I’ll have the ability to move on from where I am now.

“Reality TV” – Remember Sports

Hidden beneath the chaotic drumming and fast guitars of this single from 2015’s All Of Something is a message of just needing someone to rely on. The line “Take my mind off the empty space in this heart of mine / and I’ll take your mind off the empty space in your bed tonight,” has always resonated with me, helping me to realize I was relying on the wrong person to get me through a tough time. “Reality TV” is a musical reminder that no one has it all figured out – sometimes we’re just passing through.

“Bus Ticket” – Cayetana

The music of Cayetana has always been particularly therapeutic for me, and this proves especially true on “Bus Ticket,” a song that explores adjusting to a new medication and finding yourself again. This track, featured on the group’s sophomore release New Kind of Normal, has a quiet rage, and it instills in me a sense of pride, pushing me forward when I’m at my lowest. From reflections on strength inspired by others to the desire to finally get some serious “shit off my chest,” I think this is the track that finally reminded me that feelings things more than others or being afraid of something simple doesn’t make me any less of a person.


There’s a calm awareness woven through singer-songwriter Mogli’s music, an overarching grace that winds its way from the first wordless track of her new EP, Patience, through the very end. It is subtle, rising and falling, a pulsing heartbeat driving each track forward at its own pace as her emotive vocals capture every twist and turn of a long, lonely path. Like the Netflix documentary, Expedition Happiness — in which she made her name as filmmaker and traveler, crossing the United Sates with her then-boyfriend Felix Starck, penning its critically acclaimed soundtrack, Wanderer, along the way — Patience is the tale of a journey that didn’t go as planned, yet one that she crafted into a masterpiece, minus the jaw-dropping views and winding roads.

Blending the ambient, driving sounds of alternative rock with deeply introspective songwriting, Mogli traces her steps through a year of depression, loneliness, healing, and ultimately, growth. Following her split with Starck, Mogli relocated from the idyllic German countryside to a fast-paced lifestyle in Berlin. “It was the right decision,” she says of the break-up and subsequent move, “but it was a lot to be suddenly on my own for the very first time. I was like, every morning, ‘What do you do with your time? Where do you go with your life?’”

The uncertainty was new for Mogli, who entered the world with a clear-eyed confidence, supported in following her own path by two artistic mothers. “In our family, it was always a good thing to learn something,” she said. “I was always encouraged, and everyone just let me have my space and find out what I wanted to do with my time,” she explains, and says singing felt the most natural. “I started to sing before I could speak. I hummed along when [my mom] either played music herself, or we just listened to music. I did that in my sleep as a baby… I still do sometimes,” she adds with a laugh. “It can be a bit embarrassing if you have a new date, and you’re singing in your sleep.”

Mogli spent her teens performing throughout Europe with an opera company, so traveling America with Starck was a natural extension of her nomadic spirit. “I was so inspired by my surroundings and the journey I made on the trip. It was beautiful. I was in the middle of nowhere in Alaska or New Mexico or the Grand Canyon, and I was so inspired by that, and how it moved me personally,” she remembers. But when it came time to settle down, the 25-year-old felt something was off – her life had become static, and it was time for a change, so off to Berlin she went, on her own this time.

Her new reality hit like a dull blow to the chest as she found herself struggling with depression for the first time in her life. “I was so overwhelmed with everything that I suddenly didn’t know what was right anymore, and where I was going,” she says. “I think I [shoved the fear down] for a long time subconsciously… then it all came down, and I think it always will hunt you down if you don’t address it.” It was a foreign experience to her, isolating and deeply unsettling. “I never had a single touch of any mental health problems before. I’m a very positive person, so I wasn’t used to it,” she explains. “I didn’t expect it at all; I didn’t see any signs. I didn’t have any energy left in me. It came as a shock to me, and I had to take time to process.” On the ethereal, piano-driven lead single from Patience, “Another Life,” she puts the experience to song, her voice heavy with the ache of loneliness: “In another life, this could have been / In another life, I let you in / I can’t seem to keep them in / I was happy, I was happy ’til the morning / This was never, this was never happening.”

Still driven by a need to create and perform, Mogli turned to friends and family, something she acknowledges as the start of the healing journey. “I asked for help for the first time in my life. I opened up to people and said, ‘I’m really not feeling well. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but I need help.’” The support she received, she says, gave her meaning again. “I was scared to be alone and to end up lonely. By opening up about that, I suddenly wasn’t lonely anymore.” Soon after, she took to the studio with two producer friends. This time, however, she turned inward for inspiration, rather than looking out over the Grand Canyon or the Alaskan wilderness with a guitar in hand.

“I started writing my album literally on the day where I started to feel bad,” she says. “It’s a documentation of the whole process I went through last year. I tried to let out what was inside of me. The topic of this whole EP is transition and change, because it was written in a time where I changed so much. I did really use music to get through it. It’s okay to make yourself vulnerable and to have fears; you give other people the chance to understand you and to have empathy, and we need more empathy in the world. I am making myself so vulnerable I am already a bit scared.”

The intensity of her vulnerability contradicts the stillness of her newfound awareness, a humming tension tucked below haunting melodies. Patience is her tell-all, a five-song snapshot of a year spent changing and growing, deeply intuitive and — ultimately — the healing she needed. Music not only gave her a way to express the loss and longing she felt, but a way to move beyond it; by naming her pain, she took away its power and transformed it into a masterpiece. The EP’s title track is a gentle but uplifting reminder that time can be the best remedy: “We should have patience to let the hurt dry out / We should have patience to let our hearts down,” she sings, before pledging to “fight the panic out;” the verse ends with the calming mantra “I’m gonna let it go.”

Even when her depression was at its worst, Mogli says she never doubted her path. “I am a very gut-feely person. I didn’t stop trusting myself. I just knew that I had to give myself time,” she says. In opening up about that process, she’s given her listeners the courage to open up about their deepest hurts as well. “I feel like my music is a way of connecting people, because whenever I have a concert and there are thousands of people in that room, and they’re all crying and they’re all listening to me making myself vulnerable and singing about being scared, suddenly, no one is scared anymore. We are all together.”

As she prepares for the release of Patience — and the full-length album to follow, which offers an even closer look into her year of growth— Mogli’s commitment to baring her soul to the world seems stronger now than ever before. Her hand is in every aspect of her music career, carefully designing merchandise, albums, art direction for her videos and live staging to authentically tell her story, a level of creative control that has earned her the title of Berlin’s DIY Ambassador. And while she’s aware of the freedom she has an an artist, she’s quick to correct the notion that she does everything on her own; she considers herself a curator, guiding a close-knit team as they assemble the puzzle pieces she crafts. Even more so, she’s conscious of the responsibility she carries as the creator of her own fate.

“I am the one that has the risk at all times,” she says. “I can control every piece of content that I share with the world. The downside is that I am the only one who has the risk, and all these people are dependent on me, so it’s a lot of responsibility. Being called a DIY Ambassador feels really nice, because it gives credit to the braveness it needs to do this job. People forget. It could sometimes look easy because it’s so much fun and I love doing it, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take courage to do it.”

It’s been a long road for the girl from Expedition Happiness. She’s felt the bitter fear of loneliness, as well as the peaceful finality she sings of in “Cryptic,” the EP’s closing track: “Cryptic mind, cryptic soul / Always wondering where to go / And I was so damn right / I was so damn right.” From start to finish, Patience chronicles the first disoriented steps of her journey, of a year spent waiting, watching, and wandering through an unknown land with no guide but herself. But she emerged, a voice in the wilderness, shouting what she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt: life can be hard and scary and lonely at times, but it’s so incredibly, miraculously beautiful.


Follow Mogli on Facebook and Instagram, and stream her new EP, Patience, on Spotify


5/3 – Washington, DC @ Songbyrd
5/7 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade
5/9 – Boston, MA @ Cafe 939
5/11 – Montreal, QC @ Le Ministere
5/13 – Toronto, ON @ The Baby G
5/14 – Chicago, IL @ Schubas
5/15 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
5/19 – Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore
5/21 – Seattle, WA @ Vera Project
5/22 – Portland, OR @ Holocene
5/29 – San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop
5/30 – Los Angeles, CA @ Moroccan Lounge

INTERVIEW: Wax Idols Redefine Their Happy Ending With New LP

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all photos by Kristin Cofer

For Hether Fortune of Wax Idols, there’s no such thing as a fairy tale ending. There’s simply life – the bleakest aspects of which have often become fodder for her musical output – and death, the finality of which she’s come to theorize may be the sweetest release. On Wax Idols’ forthcoming record Happy Ending, slated for release sometime this spring, Fortune spins another of her dark, personal narratives, with one major difference; she’s learned to give up some of the control she had over her past work and let what was essentially a solo project evolve into something she’s always dreamed it would become – a full band.

Though Wax Idols has featured other musicians in the past – nearly a dozen over the years, by Fortune’s estimate – it was always a vehicle for Fortune’s songwriting, with a revolving door policy when it came to who played along. “I’ve tried to keep things very fluid and amicable and friendly,” says Fortune when we speak over the phone. “[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Other musicians] have been involved in varying degrees and it’s always been chill. You contribute what you want, I’ll credit you appropriately, and if you can’t do it anymore it’s okay.” Her laissez-faire approach worked well enough over the course of three emotionally raw LPs: 2011 debut No Future leaned heavily on the San Francisco garage punk scene from whence it came; 2013 saw a turn toward goth-tinged post-punk for Discipline + Desire; by 2015, American Tragic placed Wax Idols solidly in the moody dreampop sphere.

That was when a permanent Wax Idols lineup began to congeal. Multi-instrumentalist Rachel Travers, who played drums on American Tragic, became a core part of the band; Fortune’s longtime friend Peter Lightning (of Some Ember) joined them, and “everything changed,” according to Fortune. “Once we started playing music together, we realized that we could do this for real, like we could write together,” she says. “And that’s something that I’ve never really had. I’ve never had a pure collaborative relationship with someone.” Travers began writing guitar parts in addition to drumming duties. And although bassist Marisa Prietto would eventually opt not to join Wax Idols full time since she lives in Los Angeles, she ended up writing the chorus for “Devour,” which turned out to be one of Fortune’s favorite songs on the LP.

“I’ve always wanted this project to be a band – that’s why I called it Wax Idols and not my name. I was always hoping that the right people would find the project and stick,” says Fortune. The result of writing her first truly collaborative album, she says, wasn’t a distillation of her sound, but cohesion. “Now it’s much more streamlined; it finally feels more like what Wax Idols music really sounds like,” she says. “It’s taken a lot of weight off of me.”

Part of the reason those first three records sound so disparate, she admits, is that she was “trying to cram too many ideas into one place with Wax Idols.” Collaborating with a full band helped her focus and define the project, and while touring behind the reissue of American Tragic, an idea for the next album began to take shape. “[The title Happy Ending] came to me when we were in the van on tour two summers ago,” she recalls. “The initial concept was meant to be this sort of fictional narrative about somebody who has moved beyond the body, a kind of tongue-in-cheek happy ending, like: I’m not stuck in this flesh carcass any more.” Wax Idols released a single, “Everybody Gets What They Want,” as an early teaser. But in the wake of a tragedy that hit too close to home, the band shelved their work in progress, eventually scrapping many of the songs and reworking others. Fortune was no longer interested in writing an esoteric concept album – because she had to rely on writing music to save herself.

“I’ve had severe depression for as long as I can remember, paired with crippling anxiety, which turned into a panic disorder over the years. In the last year or so, it got really dark, darker than it’s been since I was a teenager,” Fortune says. “I have attempted suicide twice in my life. And I got pretty close at the beginning of last year to trying again. But I was able to pull myself back. Realizing how dark things were last year and seeing how it was affecting my loved ones, and my band and everything, I just was like, something has to change.” Fortune went back to therapy. And she began writing noise-driven solo material without any self-imposed boundaries, to move past feelings of self-loathing and self-doubt. “I just did my best to quiet those voices, or even if I couldn’t keep them quiet, I tried to give them an outlet in sound.”

She realizes now that at the beginning of her career, she’d tried to project a hardened, give-no-fucks attitude, but that in the end, this wasn’t an honest portrayal of the emotional devastation she felt inside. “I think that was empowering to an extent,” she says, “but a lot of it was really me trying to hide the fact that I was ill, and was really scared of dying. I think it does a disservice to myself, to fans, to peers, or whoever, to not tell the truth, which is that I have severe mental illness, and it’s a struggle for me every day.” In one of Wax Idols’ most arresting new songs, “Crashing,” Fortune sings openly about suicidal ideation – not to glamorize it, but as a way to communicate what it’s really like for those, like herself, that have been “at the brink of death.” Fortune hopes this radical honesty will help destigmatize mental illness.

“Crashing” is one of a handful of songs that survived the first iteration of Happy Ending, along with “Too Late,” “Scream,” and “Belong.” Wax Idols played them live for the better part of a year before taking them into the studio, which Fortune says made recording them “a breeze;” to complete the album, they put together “impeccable” demos, then re-tracked them at Ruminator Audio, where Fortune says she “worked her ass off” trying out new vocal techniques and experimenting with “the fun stuff – nuanced post production things, weird sounds and textures.” Fortune says the content of Happy Ending is some of the darkest she’s put to tape – which is no small statement, given her back catalogue – but that hashing it out in the studio brought her some relief, even if the bulk of that came just from being able to complete the record.

“It was painful content-wise, but [making the record] felt exciting and we could tell we were pushing ourselves, and it was a great record to make. It was difficult but it felt really authentic, it felt right,” she says. “[This record] stayed with me for a year and half through all kinds of hell and turmoil and struggle with creating it, so I feel like I had to keep it intact. I’m seeing it through ‘til the end, seeing the idea through.” That sentiment gives the record’s title its true weight; making meaningful art out death, out of struggle, and out of our darkest moments is perhaps the happiest ending any of us can strive for.

Wax Idols plays our Audiofemme showcase at Elsewhere, Zone One, on Friday, January 12 with Bootblacks and Desert Sharks. Check out Hether’s exclusive Audiofemme playlist below – we’ll see you at the show! 

HIGH NOTES: How Ketamine Became a Club Drug

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photo: Scott Houston

At a Manhattan club in 1997, Jenna*, 42, snorted speed she was told was laced with ecstasy. A few minutes in, her body felt frozen. For the rest of the night, she alternated between paralysis and “dancing like a madwoman.”

“I would sit on the steps and wait for the feeling that my limbs were too heavy to move to pass,” she recalled. “It was scary because I was basically at the club alone.” It wasn’t until she told someone this horror story that she learned the “ecstasy” was probably ketamine.

Adrian, 28, took K while watching 30 Days of Night at a friend’s house. “I believe it only lasted an hour but felt like it lasted much, much longer,” she said. “Rather than everything feeling colorful and vibrant, as in a mushroom trip, everything felt darkened with black and blue. People’s faces started to look very cartoonish and grotesque, like masks. … Everything seemed all that much more visually horrifying, and yet I felt very removed from the horror I felt.”

Ketamine seems like the odd stepchild of the club drug family. In most nightclubs, you can expect to find cocaine, MDMA, and, of course, alcohol. But even some of the most experienced drug users steer clear of ketamine. As one psychonaut friend told me, “It’s not a drug you fuck with.” Another recounted falling into a “K-hole” — a ketamine-induced state where you lose control of your body and mind — and believing he was the carpet.

Steven Levine, MD, founder of Ketamine Treatment Centers, gives people with depression and PTSD ketamine in dark, undecorated rooms that block off sound. Noises, lights, colors, social interactions — basically everything you’d find in a club — can make someone on ketamine anxious, he says.

Given this effect, and given the scary and isolating experiences some have with ketamine, how did it ever become popular with club-goers?

Developed in the 60s as a anesthetic drug for surgeries, ketamine is now more often used in animals than humans. Its main property is as a dissociative: it makes you feel detached from yourself and your surroundings, the extreme of which is the dreaded K-hole. In medical settings, though, it often just knocks you out, so you’re unlikely to experience any of this, according to Glenn Hartelius, PhD, professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies and co-editor of The Ketamine Papers.

During the Vietnam War, soldiers experimented with ketamine used to treat them on the battlefield, said Hartelius. Some brought it back home, and though hippies’ psychedelic of choice was LSD, a few tried K in the 70s, according to Levine. But it wasn’t until the following decade that it popped up in clubs, and it wasn’t well-known until the 90s. Since then, it’s taken off in the UK, China, and parts of southeast Asia, though users in the US are still relatively cautious.

Whenever I’m out in a social setting and people ask what I do, the subject of ketamine comes out, and people say, ‘Oh yeah, I took that in the 90s in a club, and it was horrible. I was so anxious,’” said Levine. It can be a very different experience, however, in a peaceful setting, he added. In fact, when it’s been used to treat depression, 63.8 percent of people who didn’t respond to any other treatment saw relief within 24 hours, according to a study presented at the 2013 American Psychiatric Association annual meeting. 45.7 percent were still better after a week, and patients didn’t report any big negative effects.

Ketamine’s musical effects are equally all over the place. Levine said the people he treats with ketamine often develop hearing superpowers, detecting noises from across the building. But it can also make music sound garbled so that you can’t make out the notes or lyrics, said Hartelius. As with any psychedelic, the effects are extremely unpredictable, he explained. Two of the biggest factors, though, are your mindset and your environment.

While ketamine’s use may be spotty in the US, the fans it has garnered are loyal. Daniel Saynt, who runs New York nightclub NSFW and organizes the physician-led responsible drug use class “Just Say Know,” knows people who swear by it. “You just have to be careful with it and not go crazy with it,” he said.

Saynt describes the ketamine experience very differently from Jenna and Adrian: “You have warmth that starts filling your body — starts from the head and goes down. You might wobble a little bit when you walk. Once you get settled, you’re usually good with ‘I wanna dance, go party, be on the dance floor.’ … You want to explore how your body feels, your way of movement.”

Ketamine makes deep house music and “anything coming out of Burning Man” more evocative for Saynt, but techno won’t do much for him. “It’s not something for top 40,” he said. “Not something for hip hop. Anything that’s high-beat and high-energy, I’m not a fan of mixing ketamine and those two.”

With its hallucinogenic and “spiritual” properties, Saynt likens ketamine more to mushrooms or ayahuasca than molly or coke. While the latter drugs might make you more attentive to your surroundings, ketamine prompts you to turn inward. Nevertheless, it can heighten your feeling of connection to others — and maybe even the universe — particularly in smaller doses, when the risk of sliding into the dreaded k-hole is less likely. “More chanty type stuff feels really good on ketamine,” he said. “It feels like a much more spiritual drug because of how you feel on it and how it makes you appreciate slower things and slower movements.”

Perhaps for that reason, Saynt sees more ketamine use among burners than ravers. “Cocaine is a drug people tend to use when they’re younger,” he explained. “They’re new to the drug scene. You take cocaine so you have energy to party all night. K is more around that 25-35-year-old group of people who are professionals, aren’t looking to have a major hangover, aren’t drinking alcohol as much. They’re not buying cocaine because they’re a little more socially conscious, and a lot of the people I see using it are people who are fairly educated and just aware of the dangers of drugs… the intellectual drug user.”

Nadia, 36, similarly finds ketamine to be a lower-key alternative to other club drugs, since it just lasts 20-60 minutes and doesn’t give her hangovers. “As a working adult, K is a great option — in the right quantity,” she says.

So, maybe Special K is the odd stepchild of the club drug family; for some, that could be its main appeal.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Gone, But Not Forever: A Jason Molina Tribute

If a voice could be like a landscape, Jason Molina’s mirrored perfectly the Ohio in which I’d grown up – fertile though a bit bleak; not so dramatic but constant and comforting, even if somewhat mournful; tired cornstalks waving beneath gentle Appalachian foothills, meeting gritty, unglamorous industry; a landscape that presents itself casually as if to say here this is, it’s pretty much nothing but you can have it.

The fact that Molina, like myself, was from Ohio made me feel an instant kinship to the music he made, whether it had the folksy qualities of his earliest releases, the gospel overtones of Didn’t It Rain or the blues-infused urgency of Magnolia Electric Co. recordings – it all felt like sides of the same coin and it gave everything a sad, romantic twinge.  I loved that he referenced things and places I knew, that we even had friends in common (though we never met).  I can’t tell you how many hours I spent alone in a car with that voice and that same landscape spooling outside my window during trips across state to visit my parents in Cleveland while I was going to school in Columbus, or how I’d mouth the words “you can’t get here fast enough” in the throes of a long-distance Kent-Columbus relationship, with “The Lioness” on repeat.

The day I found out that Jason Molina died would have been my friend Robert’s 33rd birthday.  Robert, like Molina, had succumbed to drug addiction, alone, suddenly, and far too young.  When Robert died, I turned to Molina for comfort because we had both loved those songs.  I even posted lyrics from lyrics from “Goodnight Lover” on his facebook wall after his passing: “How will I live without you / Without your customs… How selfish for time to conclude / what would be the day / for leaving to work its charm on you”.  And when I thought of Molina dying alone in a hotel room with a single number in his phone (as reported by his friend Henry Owings on Chunklet) I again combed lyrics for comfort, and finding relevant verses was pretty much the only easy thing about the whole situation.  Every other song concerns itself with death and ghosts and depression and passage from one part of life into the next.

Later that day I was discussing Molina’s death with another friend of mine who has also struggled with depression and had found particular resonance in that aspect of the music.  He had this hypothesis that Molina’s biggest fans were all depressed to some degree, and that was why we gravitated toward it so.  It feels like a thing that could be absolutely true, but it’s also a truth I didn’t want to subscribe to wholly; I’d have to lump myself into that category.  To say Molina’s work meant a lot to me is an understatement – it feels more like the fiber of my being: roots of a family tree, blood running through my veins, equal parts biography and biology.  And yes, it has supported me through some difficult times.  But in the end I always looked to his lyrics for bits of beauty and promise.  The darkness was there but there were glimmers of light – the moon, the stars, headlights on an otherwise lonesome highway.  As often as Molina sang about endings, he sang about being thrashed by hope.  It never came off as hokey because it was bathed in this harsh brand of realism, a harshness that gave every note poignancy.  It wasn’t just in the words themselves but how he sang them.  It reverberated in every strum of his guitar.

And he wasn’t as morose as all of this makes him out to be.  He was warm and funny and extremely hardworking.  Below is a recording my roommate made at a Columbus show in 2004.  He had this to say about the performance:

The set is fun, varied, relaxed, and seems to be a transitional time for Molina as he had just switched monikers from Songs: Ohia to Magnolia Electric Company. He cracks jokes, plays Ozzy riffs between songs, apologizes to Scout Niblett for forgetting to ask her on stage during “Riding with a Ghost”, and ends the set with two covers eventually flooding the stage with people for a rendition of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.”

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By all accounts, the last few years of Molina’s life were a struggle.  He didn’t stop making music as he was shuttled around from rehab to hospital and back again, but lack of insurance and the tolls of addiction finally brought that struggle to an end.  Molina was relentlessly creative and contributed more in his short life than most ever will, and we’re lucky to have the stunning body of work he left us.  I was going to end this piece with some of Molina’s own words as they really do make the most fitting epitaph, but there was really too much to choose from.  Instead, I urge those unfamiliar with his work to explore the catalogue and find meaning within the work as it applies to living the fullest life possible, whatever beauty and pain that entails.

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