Monday, 8 March 2010

Rest In Peace Sparklehorse - A Tribute to Mark Linkous

This is the third time I've sat down to write this post since I heard the news that Mark Linkous - to all intents and purposes, Sparklehorse - shot himself in the heart over the weekend. It seems as though every time I switch on the radio or television, every time I visit the BBC News website, every time I pick up a newspaper, there's another tragedy. Global disaster after disaster rain in on us and in the age of Rupert Murdoch, RSS feeds and incessant tweeting, death is big business. The reaper seems to loom ever larger, and for that reason, I've become sadly desensitized. Life's only inevitability, the act of dying, has become less than human as we find ourselves inundated with death lists, tolls and updates. People have become statistics. That is tragic in itself.

This morning, though, the news of Linkous' suicide left my head spinning and it hasn't come to rest all day. The strange thing is, I can't help but think I shouldn't be all that surprised. After all, this is the same guy that overdosed on Valium and anti-depressants whilst on tour with Radiohead in the 90s. He spent the next six months in a wheelchair after collapsing with his legs pinned underneath him for fourteen hours. The potassium buildup in his legs made his heart stop for five minutes. By rights, Sparklehorse should have been gone over ten years ago.

But he survived. Lately, he has spoken about how productive he's been. His services as a producer have been in demand. Reportedly, he was close to completing another Sparklehorse record. When I interviewed Daniel Johnston last year, he spoke of how he hoped to work with his friend again and they had discussed another collaboration. Like Johnston, Linkous had been plagued with mental health issues and depression for many years. Johnston spoke of him in glowing terms as a friend and a musician. He told me he was one of the most gentle and kind people he had ever met. This sentiment, for me, has always been apparent in Sparklehorse's music. There's such a delicate, vulnerable, human quality to it that starts with his fragile, high pitched voice and seeps into the lyrics and the subtleties of the melodies. I've read it written today that Linkous was "too fragile for this world". It's a statement that's constantly wheeled out whenever a tragedy like this befalls us, but in this case, I can't help but agree.

The first time I heard the music of Sparklehorse was a collaboration with members of Radiohead, a cover version of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here from the Lords of Dogtown soundtrack. I immediately fell in love with it. Today, I still think it betters the original. From then, I sought out his albums and my love affair with his music deepened. Despite most of his later records garnering greater critical praise, I think his first album as Sparklehorse, the catchily titled Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, is his best. It's one of the most underrated albums of the past couple of decades. My favourite Sparklehorse song is on this record, Saturday, which has one of the most gorgeous arpeggios you'll find on a contemporary, indie track (as mentioned in previous posts, I use the term "indie" loosely. If asked to be more specific with my taxonomy, I would probably call Sparklehorse, and particularly Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot alt-country).

For a couple of months at the end of 2008, I revisited Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. I'd gotten myself into It's A Wonderful Life and Good Morning Spider and had neglected his debut slightly. I had just moved out of a flat I was sharing with five mates and into a single room in a flatshare. I guess I must have been pretty lonely. I played the album relentlessly and it became a comfort. It is a crying shame that Linkous palpably struggled to find the same solace in his music that I, and I'm sure countless others did. He and Sparklehorse will be sorely missed. The internet is littered with tributes to him today, with everyone from Radiohead to Death Cab to The Flaming Lips paying their respects. In death, here's hoping Sparklehorse's music may have the chance to reach the wider audience it deserved in his lifetime.

Video: Sparklehorse - Saturday

Video: Sparklehorse and Radiohead - Wish You Were Here


Billy Hamilton said...

Nicely done Finbarr.

Y'know, when i heard the news on Sunday I thought the same as you: I wasn't surprised.

The man produced some of the most delicate arrangements I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. I was fortunate enough to see Sparklehorse in Edinburgh a few years ago and i've still never been to a gig as hushed in reverence as that night. Truly wonderful.

A crying shame: For him. For his family. For the music world.

Ally Brown said...

very well said Finbarr

Anonymous said...

Nice piece. Funny how Wish You Were Here is being almost universally held up as his epitaph, but I can't deny what a fine song it is. A crying shame all round.

Alexis Somerville said...

Agreed, and a very nicely written piece Finbarr. Saturday is my favourite Sparklehorse track, good to hear it mentioned.

A sad loss indeed.

Finbarr Bermingham said...

Glad you all liked it guys. It is a real tragedy and I should've mentioned his family too I guess...