Mark Linkous was a come and go sort of a man whose talent, a rich and potent force, too often was hidden from view. He didn’t trail the pop world seeking for fame but blazed the heavens as a random, passing star of his own making. He liked to walk his own path. It was one that led him to achieve some spectacular results. If the phrase underground still held weight then that is where Mark existed. Left of centre perhaps, clinging to the edge certainly but listenable.
Mark had been making music for some time when I first heard him. The album that got my attention was 1995’s Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. It was an album credited to Sparklehorse but even if a band played it the only constant musician in the band was Linkous – it was effectively a solo release. It contained music that was driven, sonic and melodic with some interesting lyrics. It was a perfect antidote to both grunge and Brit Pop.
Sparklehorse was not Mark’s first musical outing that honor belongs to eighties band Dancing Hoods, a four piece that produced two albums neither of which sold well. The band broke up in 1988.
Frederick Mark Linkous was born on September 9, 1962, in Arlington, Virginia. He came from a mining community. His father was a miner, therefore, he was expected to follow down the same route. He chose music as a way to avoid going down the pit. After graduating in the early 80’s he moved to New York where he met the other three members of Dancing Hoods: Bob Bortnick on vocals and guitar, Don Short on drums, and Eric Williams on bass. Their lack of success did not deter him. It was after the band's demise that Linkous moved back to Virginia. It was then that Sparklehorse began to make music.
In 1996 whilst on tour supporting Radiohead Mark overdosed on valium, anti-depressants and a cocktail of other drugs. He collapsed back on his legs where he remained unconscious for fourteen hours. When he came to he was unable to feel his legs and was taken to St.Mary’s Hospital, London where emergency surgery was performed. He spent six months recovering in a wheelchair and although he regained the ability to walk his legs never fully recovered their strength.
I saw him at a small venue in west London some years ago, not long before he died. It was an acoustic gig, there were no other musicians on stage apart from Mark. It really wasn't Sparklehorse in any shape or form unless it was the shape and form of the man who wrote and arranged the songs. I remember coming out of the gig and being slightly disappointed. I said as much to my friend. he didn't share my opinion for he thought it was a good concert. I wish now I hadn't said anything for upon reflection it was good. It was one of the last live performances Mark would perform.
Sparklehorse’s output was fractured. The four albums produced covered an eleven year period. Their quality though was never in dispute, they were all top notch even if some listeners found the sound at times sombre. There was a melancholic feel to a lot of what was produced but also a delicate, fragile beauty. I found a haunted humanity buried in both lyrics and tunes; a frightened boy looking out on a world of delight spoiled by others; car tyres left on the side of a road surrounded by a forest; a dead elk left on the freeway having been hit by a truck; a single tree outside a tenement block. He saw these things then sang what he saw. It was a uniquely individual vision if not remarkable but then again Mark Linkous was remarkable.