In Memoriam: Mark Linkous, a/k/a Sparklehorse, Dead At 47


So Spin magazine is interviewing David Lynch, Danger Mouse, and Sparklehorse mastermind Mark Linkous last summer about Dark Night of the Soul, their mysterious, disturbing multimedia collaboration. Typical goofy Q&A stuff: “Which animal would win in a fight: a Danger Mouse or a Sparklehorse?” etc. But there’s also this:

Spin: Ever have a dark night of the soul?

Sparklehorse: If I had some funny answer, I’d give it to you, but the stuff in my head is just too disturbing to talk about.

Anyone passingly familiar with Linkous’ surrealist, gorgeous, sweetly brutal work as Sparklehorse can confirm this is true, that unlike most songwriters who vie for a dark/maudlin/tortured affect, he came by his acute melancholy honestly — painfully so. You believed him, and felt for him, and worried about him. For good reason. Linkous committed suicide Saturday night; he shot himself in the heart. Going back to his records right now is almost unbearable, but not listening to them would be even worse.

It doesn’t help any that the best one, from 2001, is called It’s a Wonderful Life, exquisite and frail and whisper-quiet, with only occasional bursts of heavily distorted hostility to break up the almost painful bedroom-art-rock intimacy, Linkous’ voice a genteel croak as he casts off chilly one-liners like “Will my pony recognize my voice in hell?” His 1995 debut, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, flirted occasionally with alt.rock Buzz Bin tunefulness, but a slew of personal travails (another archived Spin interview from 1996 details the harrowing, drug-related incident that almost cost Linkous his legs) seemed to push him to ever darker, weirder, more discomfiting places.

What was really bizarre, though, was how much joy he could nonetheless derive from them. His last studio album, 2006’s Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, has moments of sublime, cheerful uplift: “Some sweet day you will be mine,” goes the sunniest, catchiest chorus. Playing Webster Hall with a full band around that time, Linkous was far from a manic, super-charismatic stage presence, but that didn’t make it a maudlin dirge — he was stoic, reserved, and deliberate, but clearly engaged, clearly in his element, clearly happy, at least as far any equally engaged fan in the audience could possibly tell. Which is to say we had no idea; we never do.

Dark Night of the Soul has been held up in ill-defined legal limbo for more than a year now; it leaked forever ago but will apparently finally see official, sanctioned release this summer. It’s of a piece with Linkous’ cracked-pop reputation, but the guest-star vocalists — including James Mercer, Wayne Coyne, Iggy Pop, and (gulp) Vic Chesnutt — can’t compare. Such eerie beauty just doesn’t sound right coming out of anyone else’s mouth. It never will.

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