Mark Linkous, the lead singer and musician for the indie band Sparklehorse, who tragically took his own life on March 6, was a thoughtful and highly original performer who had a strong and deeply personal interest in Blake’s work.
Linkous, who was born in Arlington, Virginia in 1962 and was a member of the Dancing Hoods during the 1980s, formed Sparklehorse in 1995. Although Dancing Hoods failed to land a deal, Sparklehorse released a number of critically acclaimed albums and his last, Dark Night of the Soul, recorded with producer Danger Mouse, will come out this year having been delayed from its 2009 launch after a legal dispute with EMI.
Linkous’s most explicit connection to Blake was the single, “London”, released in 1995 on Capitol Records, the label for all Sparklehouse’s work. The original seven-inch was a limited edition of 1600 hand-numbered copies, but Sparklehorse frequently performed it at gigs (it also appeared on The Basement Tapes Volume 2 compilation) and became something of a cult hit for Sparklehouse fans.
In an interview for the BBC Culture Show, broadcast in December 2008, Linkous spoke at length of his affinity with Blake as an artist working against his upbringing and background (Linkous came from a mining family and turned to music to avoid going into the mines). He was also drawn to Blake in the way that the slow and gentle atmosphere of Songs of Innocence, with its hope and optimism, gave way to darker and more aggressive themes, with which he saw parallels in his own music.
Linkous’s music is often described by the rather lazy catch-all of “surreal”, but the delightful performances in horse-heads, but Wayne Coyne (with whom he worked on Dark Night of the Soul) emphasised that he was at heart “a gentle and pleasant” man. Linkous himself said that what he most enjoyed was a performance where the audience “really appreciate the slow songs. When you can get 500, 200, 2,000 people to be totally silent, and they totally get it, and it’s not just like a social situation where everyone’s going out to drink and talk and socialize.”
Despite his obvious anger or frustration at times, then, it was also as a singer of songs of innocence that Mark Linkous should be remembered.
Interview for the BBC Culture Show, December 2008: