Mark Linkous passed away Saturday. Suicide. I have really liked Sparklehorse’s music for the past 10 years or so and it’s a loss for him to go before living a full life and making all the music that he could have.
Sparklehorse – “Saturday” (Live in the Current’s studio):
Linkous was a figure like none other in music today. He made both brilliant “psych-folk ambient et cetera” but also understood pop music and could write a brilliant guitar hook. That hook might be mixed with fuzzy effects and startling, baffling, lyrics, but that only reinforced the brilliance of the songwriting that could keep you coming back to a song over and over.
I associate Sparklehorse with a friend from college, Richard. He and I were liberal arts majors stuck in the same Spanish classes as part of our degree requirements. Like me, Richard had apparently procrastinated fulfilling the requirement until his last couple years of school.
Sparklehorse – “Homecoming Queen”:
We had to take the classes somewhat seriously though, because to get our diplomas we had to pass a three-part exam, not just pass the classes. I remember a few evenings at the then-nascent Triple Rock Social Club, enjoying happy hour pints with our books open, imagining we were studying. Many a college student has attempted such a feat, I have not met one who succeeded.
The reason I associate Sparklehorse with Richard is because he had a party at his house one summer afternoon. We weren’t that close of friends, really, just class buddies I suppose, but Katie and I went to the party and had a great time. Richard was a potter and his friends were both ordinary and eclectic.
Sparklehorse’s album “It’s A Wonderful Life” had just come out and it was playing on the stereo. As usual, Katie was already aware of the band because she always picks out good music on the radio before I do, and mentioned it when it came on at the party. I listened, thought it represented something that I both felt I knew very well but had never heard before, and made a note to get the album.
After we passed the language tests and were done with the Spanish classes, I didn’t see much of Richard. A semester or so later, I graduated. I believe he did too, but we were already out-of-touch.
So Sparklehorse still reignites an ember when I listen to it. The music contains a feeling that I can understand, and it crystallizes that feeling in me. I believe that is when music is best, when it makes us feel something we feel often, but with urgency and fire.
Sparklehorse – “Rainmaker”
Always, when an artist dies young, I am left wondering what songs or books or painting we will now never receive. It is related to another feeling I have about music: the joy of knowing that, every time I hear a song for the first time and it sets me on fire or fills me with feeling, I will have that song for the rest of my life. Between recorded music and written music, once a song enters the universe of human culture, it will never truly die.
But Mark Linkous is gone now. We will always have Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (the first Sparklehorse album, which is a wonderful piece of music and perhaps my favorite album name of all time) and “I just want to be a happy man,” his cover of Daniel Johnston’s “My Yoke is Heavy” and Tom Wait’s “Rain Dogs” (which is almost indiscernible from the original). But we are left wondering what music he will not contribute to Earth. Maybe it will be waiting for us after.
Perhaps it was a celestial attempt at reassurance, but on Sunday morning, just hours after learning of Linkous’s death, I was listening to Bill DeVille‘s Sunday morning show “The United States of Americana” in which he celebrates all things alt-country, country and western, blues, and so on. He’s my favorite DJ on the Current, has an encyclopedia of music in his head, and a fondness for much of the same American music I do.
I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but I heard him say that a track he had just played was from a new album being put out by the Texas Tornados. This caught my attention. I have a strong association with the Texas Tornados and my dad. It always recalls memories as a boy of Saturdays in the house on the North Hill with Doug Sahm and his various Tex-Mex projects blasting on the stereo. But you don’t hear them mentioned on popular radio too often.
Texas Tornados – “Mendocino” (Austin City Limits)
But Doug Sahm has been dead now since 1999. Freddy Fender, the other founder, passed away in 2006. They were something of an old guard, and it had been sad to see the passing. So how could there be a new album? Well, it turns out that Doug’s son Sean has taken on his father’s work and the remaining living members have teamed up to put out a record. As my dad said when I emailed him the link, I’m sure there is some profiteering going on, but I can’t begrudge them that too much. It’s a rough business, trying to make a living in music.
And Sean seems to be carrying the mantle pretty well. His energy is much like his father’s, as is his voice, and the new record doesn’t sound too bad.
Texas Tornados – Interview, performance, promo video
So, like I said, maybe this was a lesson in how the universe works. Once you put a song, or an idea, or a feeling out there, it can live forever. Go with peace, Mark. I didn’t know you, but I knew your music, and I believe it will be sung for many generations.
Sparklehorse – “Happy Man”