“All of this is an attempt to put a serious price on lyrics that are honest not witty, shy but not weak, weary if they are and sad without apology, depression without a fight and depression with a fight.” – Jason Molina
It’s deeply reductive to classify Jason Molina’s rich back catalogue as nothing but sad songs or songs about sadness, but there’s no denying that among his many gifts lied an uncanny knack for capturing the mundane horrors of depression. Recently when down in it I’ve found myself recoiling from any music featuring easily understood lyrics, preferring to wrap myself in cacophonous guitar noise or elegiac ambient drift like old blankets. But Molina’s words still shine like beacons in the black.
“Everyone tells you not to quit/I can’t even see it to fight it/if it looks like I’m not trying…I don’t care what it looks like.”
Didn’t it Rain is a record seeped in unnamed, unshakable sadness. From the solipsistic opening title track through no less than 4 tracks with blue, that saddest of all colours, in the title it’s an album that sounds desperately lonesome from first note to last. Night is constantly evoked – the whole record seems to take place under the cover of darkness, “in the Midwest’s witching hour.” To me it plays out like a nocturnal roadtrip, under the swaying wires, past riverbanks, across the bridge out of Hammond, with the blue moon hanging above seen through the windscreen being pounded by wiper blades on Steve Albini’s Blues. It’s a lonely trip with no apparent destination in mind.
“Help does not just walk up to you I could have told you that. I’m not an idiot.”
At turns belligerent and desperate, Ring the Bell sounds like a weary trudge with it’s three note bowed double bass driving things on like the shambling gait of one who’s bones are starting to feel heavier than they’re worth. It switches between cryptic threatening imagery of ever present serpents and hounds (he might not be trite enough to colour the dogs black but it’s not a huge jump to make) and responses to some other who’s questioning his will to fight. One of the most frustrating things of suffering from mental health woes is that it’s the moments when it looks like you’ve given up that you’re internally fighting tooth and nail. And neither advice nor admonishments however well intentioned are much use. And when people tell you to try harder, well, you already are. It’s like telling someone trying to push a car up a hill they need to push harder. “Why wouldn’t I be trying to figure it out? Why wouldn’t I be trying? Why wouldn’t I try?”
“If there’s a way out it will be step by step through the black.”
He kept coming back to this theme of just keeping on, one foot in front of the other. Life as a battle to just keep on travelling. Later, on his most famous composition Farewell Transmission he sings, “The real truth about it is there ain’t no end to the desert I’ll cross. I’ve really known it all along.” There’s no end in sight, no destination to speak of, the only friend you have is a horizon that deigns not to get any closer to you. At the close of Didn’t it Rain, during closing number Blue Factory Flame, he sings directly to someone suffering under a cloud of, “endless, endless, endless, endless depression,” assuring them, “you are not helpless.” Ring the Bell gives more practical advice, “if there’s a way out it will be step by step through the black.” But what if there’s no end to the black? And what if you’ve really known it all along? There isn’t really any way out. But you have to keep going. Step by step by step. Movement for it’s own sake: a journey without any plans for arrival. A hunt with nothing to kill. Keeping on keeping on, as it were. What else is there?