Sparklehorse, in concert at La Cigale in Paris and recorded by Radio France on October 15, 2001.
A tragic figure, whose suicide in 2010 changed the conversation from “what is” to “what might’ve been”, Mark Linkous; the driving presence and founding figure of Sparklehorse died from suicide in 2010. Linkous whose gift was to transform the ugly and ambivalent into jewels of beauty and grace was plagued by depression his entire life, and the subject of numerous suicide attempts. But during those bouts of relative calm and peace, turned out some truly unforgettable work.
Sparklehorse’s first album, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (1995), was a modest college radio success. In 1996, while touring Europe with Radiohead shortly after the album’s release, Mark Linkous consumed a combination of anti-depressants, valium, alcohol, and heroin in a London hotel room. Unconscious and with his legs pinned beneath him for almost fourteen hours, the resulting potassium build-up caused his heart to stop for several minutes after his body was lifted up. The ensuing surgery almost caused him to lose the use of both legs and as a result he needed to use a wheelchair for six months and he required dialysis for acute kidney failure.
Good Morning Spider (1998) was recorded following this incident. Critics have conjectured that Linkous’s brush with death inspired the sombre tone of the album, though Linkous stated that much of the material on GMS had already been written. One song that did result from it is “St. Mary”, which is dedicated to the nurses at the eponymous hospital in Paddington where Linkous recuperated.
2001 saw the release of It’s a Wonderful Life, featuring appearances by Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Bob Rupe, Nina Persson and Dave Fridmann. Whereas much of Vivadixie… and Spider were recorded solely by Linkous on his Virginia farm, the new album was a more collaborative work. Linkous expressed his satisfaction with the overall sound of It’s a Wonderful Life, which was engineered by Joel Hamilton, while also claiming that he would have preferred to include more experimental and instrumental material.
Since his suicide in 2010, Sparklehorse has achieved a certain mythic status – the raw, unvarnished observations and the vision of dystopia have only solidified his growing fan base, even in his death.
If you missed Sparklehorse the first time around, this concert from the famed La Cigale in Paris from October 2001 is a nice introduction and hopefully the catalyst for more exploration of this amazing artist and his legacy.
Crank it up in the meantime. The songs fade at the end of each one, because the French announcer gets very chatty and runs dangerously close to stepping on introductions from time to time. They’ve been eliminated but sometimes it means the intro to a song is mostly missing. Still, it is a noteworthy concert from an extraordinary artist – whose vision far exceeded the norm.