Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review: Riding With The Ghost the biography of Jason Molina by Erin Osmon

For those well acquainted with the work of Jason Molina, who died in 2013 at the age of 39 from organ failure as a result of alcohol abuse, it could be expected that his actual life could not be as magical, mysterious, and fascinating as his dark and metaphysical journeys through song. But, as it turns out from the research of music writer Erin Osmon's new biographical work on his life, Molina the man was just as fascinating as his large body of work.

Even at an early age, Molina showed a tendency toward a fantastical approach to life, including at the age of 8 successfully seceding from the state of Michigan (where he was born) to the Appalachian state of West Virginia (where his parents are from and where he spent his summers) and even received official documents from the Secretary of State of West Virginia  commissioning Molina as the honorary 'Captain on the ship of State.'

It was also at this time that Molina began his life long conversation with spirits and specters as a young boy growing up on the long deserted shores of Lake Erie in Loraine Ohio. Too young to orchestrate such an elaborate hoax, Molina became known as the boy who spoke to ghosts after coming home on several occasions with descriptions and details (and on 2 occasions with antique coins and trinkets as proof) of town residents that he had just spoken to but who had long past.

Osmon takes on the daunting task of outlining 40 years of a life (that no doubt ultra-fans of Molina would pick apart with a fine tooth comb) with a straight forward and often a neutral approach, only occasionally falling outside the purview of journalist to speculate on the motives and unspoken thoughts of her subject. Although, at times, Osmon relies on her audience to be intimately familiar with the last half century of rock n' roll subculture, such as explaining the nuances of a Contract Rider, but neglecting to explain why members of Magnolia Electric Co were excited to use 'the Rapeman Guitar' in a recording (The guitar belonged to Steve Albini, founder of the unfortunately named band). That said, Osmon's biography is a must read for anyone who has more than a casual relationship with Molina's work; which, in my guess, would be anyone who has heard Molina's work.

For those of us who have been searching for answers over the last half decade of what exactly happened that caused the tragic end for one of the greatest songwriters of the 21st century, Osman gives us the heartbreaking answers in a respectful and yet unfiltered voice.
For the other questions that has plagued Molina fans, such as are there more unreleased recordings? Osmon answers those too and in great detail (which is yes, and in spades) as well as answering questions we didn't know to ask, such as is John Cougar Mellencamp a rich bastard? (which is also yes).

In the end Osmon pulls back the curtain and shows us Molina the man; a man who could be the cruelest of men but who could also be the man who wrote 'In a life built out of only goodbyes, is there even room for you to try? While you was waiting for me not to call, I sent my love.'
After all, a true craftsmen doesn't need to tell us who he or she really is in their daily lives, but who we all can be in our own lives.

Jason Molina: Riding With The Ghost by Erin Osmon was published on May 15th by Rowman & Littlefield and is available here.

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