All of the men I love are dead now. At least it feels that way.
After the news of Jason Molina’s death yesterday, I sat down and put on “Molina & Johnson,” stared at the ceiling, and let the knives dig in. Only the night before I was restlessly spinning Vic Chesnutt, the rain and wind beating at the window, trying to exhaust myself enough fall asleep.
It’s been bothering me: why do I insist on loving living musicians who make me worry it’s only a matter of time before they kick the bucket? What does that say about me? Am I one of those girls who chooses men who are no good for me?
Embarrassingly, I have to confess it all has to do with discovering Nine Inch Nails’ the Downward Spiral at what could be considered an inappropriately young age. I loved the obsession with textures and VH1’s heavy rotation of the “Closer” video (the director’s cut, uncensored in the early mornings before school). Even earlier, along the way to NIN, my baby brain latched onto an opera recording and decided that I needed to take lessons. I loved how powerful it sounded, but my voice was too young to match the dark layers of Berg’s Wozzeck or the blissful minor-key “Der Hölle Rache” that me and my upper range were stubbornly assigned in college. I craved dark, heavy, atonal music like narcotics. I ultimately left opera when my anxiety collided with the lack of career options. I rushed through an English degree and satisfied my penchant for noise music with shows in abandoned buildings. While studying, I listened to Prurient and Penderecki.
I spent my school years before that walking home along the railroad tracks, my Discman zipped into my black hoodie with jewel cases for the Smith’s Hatfull of Hollow and Pink Floyd’s the Wall, trying not to let my saddle shoes slip off the rusted narrow rails, lest my headphones fall off, or worse, “Comfortably Numb” skipping on its scratches. I cut through cemeteries and spent long, sunny Saturdays lying on marble benches. I missed the abundant French headstones of strangers and insular cold weather.
Funerial experiences, including the Downward Spiral, and a Russian-American conditioning makes me suspicious when everything is light, when it all balances out. I’ve had many dead pets. I’d like to believe I have exclusively dark tastes, that I embody the little goth girl archetype, and I pathologically fall for music that I know will break my heart. I can’t help but brake when they cross my path, like birds electrocuted and smashed in the road.
In the South, it’s easy to romanticize and preoccupy oneself with the number of men claimed by whiskey. Everyone’s house is in the middle of nowhere, dead quiet, the trees skeletal and destroyed by wind in the black water along the roads. Everything’s been hit by lightning or hurricane. Small houses sit alone and developments stretch the sense of isolation taller than the split hulls of trunks in the dark, freezing nights. Minibottles sit in the far backs of cupboards, and no one talks about anything, not even the weather. Even at my happiest, I’m re-reading Kobo Abe, or Orzu Dasai’s No Longer Human, playing Aphex Twin’s “85-92.”
Never did I recoil when I read Ian Curtis’s bandmates, their interview testimony where they say they never saw it coming, or his wife’s account of their relationship, or how he put on Iggy Pop’s the Idiot and Werner Herzog’s Stroszek before he hanged himself on a kitchen clothesline. Without the knowledge of his marriage’s deterioration, a little information about Curtis would lead one to believe that, on that night, he was just bored.
I embrace memento moris. Still, I brace myself each time Morrissey cancelled a date due to health complications. I hope David Bazan stays on track.
In loving tragic men, like Godard said, I would still choose grief over nothing. With my records and a half-empty glass, I mourn all the men with their sad songs that make me feel less alone. If Jason Molina is off with Sam Cooke and Vic Chesnutt, I can make peace with that.
He’s in very good company.