I remember the first time I heard Sparklehorse. The track was Saturday, and there was something in it I needed to hear. I was sick at the time, long months into a physical illness that would last, in the end, for years. I hadn’t known depression before that, but it had come along, and I was getting to know it the only way you ever really do. I was desperate and casting around for something to cling on to, and what I found was this music, Mark Linkous’ lyrics full of pain and beauty, with anger flaring from time to time, a destructive instinct that would sometimes try to pull the songs themselves to pieces, given over to distortion and noise. That album kept me alive. Even just the sense of release I felt on hearing Heart of Darkness helped lift something from me each time I heard it. I must have played that track a thousand times, and I still get the same shock from it when I hear it now. After that, Sparklehorse were a part of my life for good. I trekked to gigs, I hid his lyrics in my stories. When one of the tracks fetches up on my mp3 player on random, I still skip back to listen to it again and again.
I guess enough’s been said about the link between suffering and creativity, and I’ve nothing to add to it here. Linkous – like David Foster Wallace – was one of those geniuses in whom you couldn’t separate out what was blessing, and what curse, because they were part of the same thing. Both, of course, chose the same end. Suicide is rarely irrational, and never a romantic gesture. It’s just the act of someone who is desperate for their suffering to end. The suicidal fantasies that accompany periods of drawn out suffering tend to come with relief, as a reminder of control, that if ever the pain were too much to bear, you could choose to end it. Aside from what is widely known – after all, he was someone who died once before, already – I don’t know precisely what pain Linkous lived with. I know he bore a lot of it, you can hear it poured into his songs, transformed into beauty. You can even hear the quiet moments it lets up, leaving the music momentarily untrammelled, the whispered lyric fragile, barely daring to feel hope.
Mark Linkous, you saved my life. I’m devastated that you’re gone. I’m relived beyond measure that you’re no longer suffering. Rest in peace.