Track Review: "September 11th, 2001" by Jason Molina
*Note: I hesitate to call this a "Hot New Joint," given the sensitive subject matter...
Because it’s Jason Molina, and because it involves September 11th, 2001, I knew what I would be getting myself into with the aptly titled “September 11th, 2001,” so despite every urge to listen to the Soundcloud link that was shared on Wednesday while I was at work, I waited patiently until I got home.
And I’m pretty thankful that I did.
For some reason, this song has been unearthed recently by one of the players on it—a musician named Alasdair Roberts. In the fall of 2001, he found himself in a farmhouse with Molina, singer/songwriter Will Oldham, and Will’s brother Paul. It’s easiest just to copy and paste the text that Roberts shared when the track surfaced online—
Jason woke me at about 10am the following morning with the words: ‘Ali, you should come downstairs. Something really bad is happening.’ My initial thought was that perhaps someone in the household had been injured or had fallen seriously ill. And so I went downstairs to confront the new global reality. Most of the rest of the day was spent watching the television news in numbed disbelief; in the evening we dined and talked together with some other members of the Oldham family. And then it seemed that the only thing to do was to carry on as normal – to pour ourselves a large Highland Park each and to make rock and roll, like we were born to do. So that’s how this piece of music came about – it was a spontaneous response from Jason’s soul to the unimaginably terrible events of that day…
The song itself, recorded in one take, is incredibly raw—lyrically, Molina’s voice only belting out sketches and idea, often repeating them. Musically, there’s some hesitation from everyone when trying to follow Molina’s chord changes, specifically coming from Paul Oldham’s Nord synth notes, also doubling as a bit of a bass line to the song—though a little distracting at times, the hesitation, and the sometimes off notes, only adds to just how urgent of a moment this was for the group and how off the cuff this song was.
But that’s Molina though, right? His lack of preparing his band and musicians became well-documented two years later during the recording of The Magnolia Electric Company.
Clocking in at over ten minutes, “September 11th, 2001,” comes off as pure catharsis—four people lost in an awful moment that we can all remember ourselves being lost in. Me, I was 18 at the time, a freshman in college, only like, two weeks under my belt. I woke up after the first plane hit, but before the second. The guys on the floor of my dorm were going nuts. Nobody understood what was going on. We went to class anyway, and that’s all we talked about—our first year writing instructor giving out an assignment based on our own connection to the day. My other classes were canceled, and we just sat and stared at the various televisions on campus, attempting to make sense of what was happening.
“That’s all, and look what it got us,” Molina quietly sings as the opening line as the accompaniment shuffles in behind him. With the sprawling running time, obviously not intended to run 10 minutes, but also not intended at any set length—the song, from the very first note, fees like it’s going to build towards something incredibly powerful, and Molina, truly a gifted songwriter, does not disappoint.
It’s within the final two minutes when Molina tells everyone to cast their offering, giving each musician a moment to pour their heart out through their instrument—and it’s here where Roberts really shines. Through the entire song he’s bowing a mountain dulcimer—the sound itself walks the tightrope between beautiful and hideous, trying to find some kind of sense and reasoning within the ugliness of the day, and it’s during these final moments that it almost becomes too much—the noise, and the emotion buried within the few, simple repeated phrases. It doesn’t reach a cacophonic peak, but it’s damn near close.
“September 11th, 2001” is like a punch in the stomach. It’s a reminder of whatever you felt on that day…that everyone was feeling the same thing.