Oh the power of a major label marketing campaign.Â Yes,Â even an indie kid like me succumbed to them in my youth.Â In 1992 Parlophone sent me a postcard suggesting I might like the debut EP by a new band of theirs called Radiohead.Â I bought it for 99p and never looked back.Â Four years later Parlophone sent me another postcard suggesting that the debut album by another new band, Sparklehorse,Â might tickle my fancy.Â As the postcard alluded to Radiohead’s admiration for this new band,Â 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).Â Again,Â I never looked back.Â Sparklehorse and Radiohoead ended up collaborating on a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”,Â 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.Â 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.Â I still can’t quite believe he’s done it, even as I write this.Â When Elliott Smith killed himself in 2003 I felt a similar sense of shock and upset.Â 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“.Â 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.Â That first album, the one Parlophone so kindly suggested to me, was called Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot.Â Although that’s admittedly not a title that rolls off the tongue (or the keyboard) particularly easily,Â it wasn’t long before I had it committed to memory (not just the title, but virtually every note and word on the album).Â 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.Â Â Sonically that debut album sounded like he had taken Neil Young‘s Harvest,Â polished it up,Â and then tipped a load of soil on it.Â Lyrically,Â it was something else altogether.Â In the early days of the Internet,Â although I couldn’t use it to listen to music,Â I did use it to find the lyrics to all Sparklehorse’s songs, and printed them out to read while listening.Â And those lyrics were so evocative, yet so obtuse.Â Sometimes dark:
“Teeth what were sharp
Is ground down and dumb
My crooked spine becoming more brittle
What once grew straight
And tall tâ€™ward the sun
Is absorbing back down
To dirt like a sponge”
Sometimes touched with surreal romance:
“you are a car
you are a hospital
I’d walk to hell and back
to see your smile
And sometimes darkly surreal:
“The moon it will rise with such
It’s dragging pianos to the ocean
If I had a home
You’d know it’d be
In a slide trombone”
Further reading online alerted me to what an influence Cormac McCarthy‘s border trilogy was on Sparklehorse lyrics.Â So, I bought All the Pretty Horses and again, I’ve never looked back, as McCarthy has become one of my favourite authors.Â Â 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.Â 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.Â Â 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.Â Linkous went on to produce the compilation of Daniel Johnston covers, Discovered Covered.Â 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.Â That is certainly something to look forward to.Â But I will always look back on what Mark Linkous and his sad and beautiful world gave me.
Thank you Mark, rest in peace.