The first time I met Jason Molina was at a community center on the east side of Lorain. Some metal band was playing. By metal, I remember them playing a cover of a song off Def Leppard’s first record during sound check. My friend Jeff was talking about how cool Jason was for days. When I actually met Jason I expected him to be six feet tall. At that time, we all had mullets. It was around 1988, so it was a time period for bad haircuts. Jason was genuinely a great guy from the second I met him. He commanded the room. In this case, it was the sterile hallway of a community center in Lorain, Ohio. Now that I look back, I see he was the same in meeting new people and showing his love of music. Every time I saw him at shows, he had the same demeanor. It was as if he knew the venue by heart, leading me around to show me how things worked. It could have been a high end concert venue or a dumpy bar.
One could say Lorain created the Spineriders, but that would be too poetic. It would give the Rust Belt a glory that is doesn’t deserve. The Spineriders were more a result of the culture. It was a factory town, and there were unspoken rules. These guys were young when they started, barely able to drive. It was as if they knew what they wanted before they could express it. Once, when Jason solidified Magnolia Electric Company, I said the band looked like they rolled out of bed ready to rock. It sounds cheesy, but the Spineriders were like that. They had this amazing ambition to create something new.
So, they started something new, only they were really good at it. I could go on about their punk and metal influences and even how Jason introduced blues folk to everyone. However, going on about influences takes away from the music that these four kids created on the rusty shores of Lake Erie.
It’s almost 25 years since they started playing together. Things get hard to remember after that long. However, there was this almost ridiculous love of music that we all passed between each other. Everyone who heard the Spineriders wanted to start a band. In Lorain, that was about 15 of us. They played high school talent shows to 15 raving fans and hundreds of pissed off teenagers yelling for them to stop. I always got the idea that they did the high school talent shows on a lark. They all seemed to have smirks on their faces as they played.
Jason Molina was the shortest of the lot. When he wasn’t playing his bass, it looked bigger than him. When he played it, he refused to use a pick, considering it insulting. Others in the band nicknamed his playing style as the “fist method.” Often he’d have this smirk while he played.
Todd Jacops played a white Stratocaster with a black pick guard. He was lanky. And when you heard him play, you realized he was born to play. He is a damn good guitar player. But he had this smile and this laugh. You can see it when he plays.
Carl Raponi had a huge kit. And many of us thought, “Why does he have such a huge kit?” Yet, he used every piece in a show. He would beat that kit until you felt it. He was the most social of the lot. I will always remember him inviting everyone to gigs.
Mike McCartney was older than the rest of the band. He was in college and would come back into town and practice. There were more shows in summer and breaks. He absorbed all the music he could. At parties, he seemed to know damn near all punk songs by Black Flag and Circle Jerks. The last time I saw the Spineriders, his guitar playing had evolved. I was blown away. He seemed to understand it more than anyone in the room.
But back to how they made a name for themselves. They played some Battle of the Bands around Cleveland. They won a couple of them, with the benefit of winning studio time. From there they met Chris Keffer, a judge at one of the battles. He introduced them to the studio, essentially being the fifth member of the band, showing them how to record and arrange their music. He introduced them to the studio process and helped make their music even better.
Their demo got them gigs at some of the dumpy clubs around Cleveland. They even rented a community center in the area with other bands from the battle of the bands contests. Somehow, they managed to get a decent enough crowd to cover the costs of a P.A. and the room itself.
As they got older, their music got better, more intense. They set the standard for the Lorain scene. All of us that were in bands knew we would never be as good. Really, the Spineriders taught us to own the sound you create and be proud of it but never rub it in others’ faces.
I can go on for hours about how Lorain, Ohio is a shit town, but I won’t. Jason and I would talk about how much we hated it, about how we never wanted to go back. When I listen to the Spineriders now, I remember that as such a creative time for the band and for everyone involved in the scene. Going to their shows and listening to their music gave me my best memories of Lorain.
April 25, 2013