THE UPSIDE with Shane Whitbread: THE TRUE DEPTH OF THE BLUES

I don’t listen to a lot of blues; I have maybe 3 blues records in my collection. Right now, a desk full of empty Miller Genuine Draft bottles and the resulting hangover stand as a testament to my trying to review real blues albums last night. Maybe if I could transcend space and time, and transport myself back to 1960s Chicago, I would have a better understanding or perspective on it, but that isn’t happening any time soon. I failed. I just don’t get it.

So that’s it for me and conventional blues. Now, Jason Molina: that’s my blues. In those spots in life where I need something truly sorrowful, I reach for Songs: Ohia or Magnolia Electric Company, Molina’s two main vehicles. Actually, sorrowful is downplaying it; Molina is the beauty in miserable, unending depression.

I was a little late to the game, discovering Molina around the time Soulseek was the big thing in music sharing. Around the same time, I had a nervous breakdown from an overly stressful job, was broke, broken, unemployed, and practically unable to
enhanced-buzz-1683-1363648436-3leave the house. I’d bribe my roommates to go get me smokes and diet RC cola (my only remaining vices at the time) at the corner store. I was completely delusional, paranoid and medicated; I couldn’t handle media anymore, so I just stripped it all away. I watched little TV (all i could watch without freaking out was Star Trek), no movies, participated in no real social activities beyond a show now and then (and only if I took Ativan before); I barely communicated with anyone that wasn’t my girlfriend, my roommates, or my mother.

This is when I moved from noise to ambient music, and began to focus more on brooding singer/songwriter stuff. I was randomly googling slow/sadcore bands (slowcore is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: miserable music by miserable people), and Songs: Ohia came up. I queued up their latest record, went off to pour a glass of soda, lit a Belmont Mild (regular size, because they taste better), and hit play.

FAREWELL TRANSMISSION by SONGS: OHIA

The second his voice hit, I was fucking floored. I am not one for singers: I have lists of bands who I wish would drop vocals on their recordings, and that they often ruin more music than enhance it. This was the complete fucking opposite. Beyond the voice, there were the lyrics, a version of depression, darkness, and self-loathing that spoke directly to me; the themes, metaphors he used all resonated.

My mom got sick in 2005. The day she went in the hospital, I bought two new releases for the drive to Kingston: Horses in the Sky by A Silver Mount Zion and What Comes After the Blues by Magnolia Electric. Both are fantastic albums with huge amounts of meaning for me. My friend Jay used to drive me to and from Kingston often before I gave up and semi-moved back.

HAMMER DOWN by MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO.

We probably listened to those albums 100 times, driving the back roads through Smith Falls and North Gower back to Ottawa. We’d just leave it on repeat. Talking was optional. we’d been friends for so long that it was just fine to sit and watch the world go by while listening to a man singing about how “no one had to be all right all of the time”. I was anything but all right. I was fucking falling apart. Trying to have a girlfriend and apartment in Ottawa and an entire second life in Kingston, spending 8 hours a day in a hospital, and drinking till 4 a.m. every night took its toll. I fell asleep to this record on many late, sullen, drunken nights. My mom died in April 2006, and the image of her in her last week of life still fucking haunts me.

I CAN NOT HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT by MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO.

In March 2013, I woke up to get ready to work, picked up my phone and saw a text from Davey. All it said was “RIP Jason Molina.” He was homeless and couch-surfing and, when they found him, all he had on him was a bit of cash, some picks, and a burner cellphone with only his grandmother’s number on it. He drank himself to death. He fell apart in the last few years.  His life had fallen apart.  His marriage had gone to shit.  He was in and out of rehab for alcoholism all the time, and had all but stopped doing music. If you listen to the later Magnolia Electric Co. live shows, you can really hear the booze taking over in his voice. Those shows are trying.

I’m not the type of dude who cries.  I’m especially not the kind of dude who cries when someone he has never met dies. I sat down, put “The Lioness” on the turntable, made a cup of coffee, lit a smoke, and cried for someone I’d never met beyond shaking his hand and thanking him. – SHANE