Three nights ago I dreamed I was in a barn in rural Virginia filled with farm equipment with which Mark Linkhous was recording his new album. Wearing welder’s glasses and greasy white t-shirt he sang some demos and we were eager to hear how the addition of a hay bale maker and chainsaw would alter the tunes. I woke up devastated. I’ll never get to hear this album because Mark took his own life in 2010 after a lifelong battle with depression and addiction. What he left behind as Sparklehorse is remarkable, particularly in the depth of emotion that I wasn’t equipped to comprehend in the mid-late nineties.
Back then I connected with his noisy upbeat distorted vocals, and studio experimentation. Yet listening back now to 1995’s Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot and 1998’s Good Morning Spider all I hear is fragility and frustration. It’s spiritual outsider music, a personal artistic vision unencumbered by whatever was happening around him. We later learned that he laboured over his lyrics, agonised, doubted and dreaded his music’s reception. Linkhous may have re entered my subconsciousness because I recently began listening to the podcast S-Town from the makers of Serial and it’s impossible not to connect with the despair, frustration and humanity of those who can’t fit into the world around them. It’s such a waste. In Linkhous’ case he couldn’t even bring himself to record vocals on 2005’s Dark Night of the Soul because he though no one cared. Decades years later I feel like I’m only starting to understand his musical vision.