Mark Linkous RIP – looking backing

Mark Linkous (1962-2010)

Mark Linkous (1962-2010)

Oh the power of a major label marketing campaign.  Yes,  even an indie kid like me succumbed to them in my youth.  In 1992 Parlophone sent me a postcard suggesting I might like the debut EP by a new band of theirs called Radiohead.  I bought it for 99p and never looked back.  Four years later Parlophone sent me another postcard suggesting that the debut album by another new band, Sparklehorse,  might tickle my fancy.  As the postcard alluded to Radiohead’s admiration for this new band,  I thought it was worth a speculative purchase (this was of course before the days of the free 24/7 listening post on the internet).  Again,  I never looked back.  Sparklehorse and Radiohoead ended up collaborating on a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”,  and I think it’s a pity no smart alec at Parlophone sent me a postcard about that.

And so, I’m afraid that’s the only gag in today’s blog entry by me.  For it was with great sadness that I learnt that last weekend Mark Linkous, the heart of darkness that drove Sparklehorse, took his own life.  I still can’t quite believe he’s done it, even as I write this.  When Elliott Smith killed himself in 2003 I felt a similar sense of shock and upset.  Yet I have to admit that in the case of Both Smith and Linkous, there was a thought that ran through my mind along the lines of “it’s not a total surprise“.  But I do need to qualify that statement by saying that I didn’t know either man personally, and it is only based on what I knew of their music, on record and live, that makes me think that way.

There was something about his music that really struck a chord with me.  That first album, the one Parlophone so kindly suggested to me, was called Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot.  Although that’s admittedly not a title that rolls off the tongue (or the keyboard) particularly easily,  it wasn’t long before I had it committed to memory (not just the title, but virtually every note and word on the album).  It’s impossible to describe his music, because it’s impossible really truly understand what was going on his mind, as you could have dirty chugging guitars, the sound of a toy train set, and a sparce acoustic song all within the space of a few minutes.   Sonically that debut album sounded like he had taken Neil Young‘s Harvest,  polished it up,  and then tipped a load of soil on it.  Lyrically,  it was something else altogether.  In the early days of the Internet,  although I couldn’t use it to listen to music,  I did use it to find the lyrics to all Sparklehorse’s songs, and printed them out to read while listening.  And those lyrics were so evocative, yet so obtuse.  Sometimes dark:

“Teeth what were sharp
Is ground down and dumb
My crooked spine becoming more brittle
What once grew straight
And tall t’ward the sun
Is absorbing back down
To dirt like a sponge”

(Homecoming Queen)

Sometimes touched with surreal romance:

“you are a car
you are a hospital

I’d walk to hell and back

to see your smile

on Saturday”


And sometimes darkly surreal:

“The moon it will rise with such
Horse laughter
It’s dragging pianos to the ocean
If I had a home
You’d know it’d be
In a slide trombone”

(Spirit Ditch)

Further reading online alerted me to what an influence Cormac McCarthy‘s border trilogy was on Sparklehorse lyrics.  So, I bought All the Pretty Horses and again, I’ve never looked back, as McCarthy has become one of my favourite authors.   There is certainly at least a passing resemblance between the dark poetry of McCarthy and that of Mark Linkous.

I even went so far as to do a string quartet version of Weird Sisters as part of the arranging module of my music degree.  That’s how engrossed I was in the music of Sparklehorse.

So, ever since that first album, which has remained one of my personal favourites, and ever since first seeing Sparklehorse live shortly after its UK release, Mark Linkous remained a big influence on my life.   He never quite moved me live again as much as he did that first time, but just as Beach House do now, he brought a tear to my eye whenever I saw him sing Spirit Ditch.

One of the first Daniel Johnston covers I heard was the version of “Hey Joe” on the second Sparklehorse album, Good Morning Spider.  Linkous went on to produce the compilation of Daniel Johnston covers, Discovered Covered.  Again, I never looked back, and seeing Daniel Johnston live in Leeds 2009 was another defining moment for me.

I beleive that the Dark Night Of The Soul project that Mark Linkous produced with Dangermouse and David Lynch will finally get an official, physical, release later in 2010.  That is certainly something to look forward to.  But I will always look back on what Mark Linkous and his sad and beautiful world gave me.

Thank you Mark, rest in peace.


8 thoughts on “Mark Linkous RIP – looking backing

  1. avatarAlbert Post author

    I forgot to mention the near fatal accident Mark suffered in 1996 when he passed out and his legs were trapped beneath him, and his heart actually stopped beating. This incident proved a major influence on the second album. For a full biog of Mark Linkous, you could start in worse places than Wikipedia

  2. avatarAlbert Post author

    I also forgot to mention that, if my memory serves correctly, Parlophone initially thought there had been an error in mastering Good Morning Spider, because of the strange production noises on Sunshine and Happy Man.

  3. avatarSteve

    I have to say that I consider Good Morning Spider to be the “great” Sparklehorse record. But that’s a minor quibble! Excellent write up, I was also a recipient of those Parlophone postcards.

  4. avatarAlbert Post author

    Well, Steve, I wouldn’t want to be without Good Morning Spider, as I do think it’s excellent, but for me there are one or 2 songs towards the end of it that let it down, but I love Vivadixie… from start to finish.

    I should also say, and I kept forgetting to mention this in earlier comments here, that I wrote this blog entry in my lunch hour at the library. I hadn’t originally intended to just write about the first album, but I ran out of time, so had to draw it to a halt. I could easily have written as much about Good Morning Spider as I did Vivadixie… And I think it’s testiment to what a marvellous talent he was that both those albums have a right to be called classics.

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