There’s a moment in the 2008 documentary Man On Wire when Philippe Petit — the French street performer who improbably accessed the rooftops of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974 to perform an illegal an wire walk between the two structures — describes removing his clothing and methodically splaying his limbs about in hopes of finding an arrow — the arrow — that his confederate had shot from the neighboring tower rooftop in the dark of night, to which was tied the monofilament line that ultimately bore the cable upon which Petit would perform his feat of daring some hours later.
Finally coming to find the arrow after feeling something brush against his naked thigh, Petit discovers it perfectly yet precariously perched upon a rail at the tower’s precipice, so vulnerable that even slightest breath of wind could send it tumbling 110 stories below, and with it — Petit’s dream.
That image — of an instrument impossibly defying the natural order of things, balancing against disaster, created for pain and yet intended to deliver beauty, is the first thing that struck my head upon learning late last night of the death of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous.
While I can tell you I am an ardent fan of Sparklehorse, I’ve never read an interview with Linkous, never viewed their Wikipedia page and truly, until last evening, didn’t even know the whole tale of his previously successful suicide attempt, resuscitation and ensuing surgeries. I’d long ago learned that the more dear an artist is to me, the less known about them, the better, so frequent the disappointment has been any time I’ve met or discovered too much about someone whose creations had acquired some kind of deeper meaning in my world. Truth be told, if I were alive in the time of Schopenhauer, Hesse or Schiele, I would have avoided them with haste lest running the chance of ruining part of myself by being exposed to their assholisms (the same cannot be said for Nick Cave). Even so, I owned a vague notion that Linkous was in pain and was challenged by his own existence, and therefore wasn’t wholly surprised by the news of his death.
Though I was an early adapter upon the release of 1995’s Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, the music of Sparklehorse never became so meaningful to me as it has in the few years since Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain came out. Inside that record slept a Rosetta Stone which, once discovered, allowed me to access parts of other Sparklehorse albums previously insignificant to me. Perhaps it was in my getting older that every failed relationship stung slightly more, given the eventuality of the hourglass our lives are set against, and therefore I was learning a truer meaning of mortality, but somewhere between the near-simultaneous losses of a great love, a great friend and a parent, the warbling voice, obscured lyricism and oftentimes discordant tapestry that defined Sparklehorse suddenly felt a lot more like life to me than anything the gay buccaneers in Coldplay could ever vomit out. Even the beloved Radiohead (the British Wilco) and Wilco (the American Radiohead) started to feel more artful than truthful when measured in the context of my life. It didn’t really seem like spiders singing in the salty breeze or the pointless snide remarks of hammerhead sharks were meant to mean anything; however, looking in your face for a thousand years because it’s like a civil war of pain and of cheer certainly seemed like it might.
Many a night out of mine has begun with air-raid screenings of “Someday I will Treat You Good” and/or “Mountains” while just as many have languished to an end with” Sad And Beautiful World” and “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” (and vice versa). I pushed my ears to damage this summer after listening to a bootleg copy of Dark Night of the Soul endlessly, and just 48 hours ago, right around the time Mark Linkous composed what would be his final message to this world, “Shade And Honey” spilled from my girlfriend’s tiny computer speakers after I thumbed through her laptop for just the right song as we roused ourselves from bed and dressed in a room heavy with the cologne of our lovemaking.
It’s perhaps fitting, given the equine imagery that is pervasive in Linkous’ lyrics, to describe experiencing Sparklehorse as not wholly unlike viewing the birth of a foal — an arresting, grotesque display that ends in something awkward and beautiful. While that might not resonate with everyone as a revelation, it certainly seems more truthful than the short-attention-span, black-and-white consumerist orgy that Miley Cyrus and Jonas Brothers insist we should inhabit instead. It’s therefore no coincidence the music of Sparklehorse has found its way into misunderstood, below-the-radar indie films such as The King and Laurel Canyon; in both, Sparklehorse songs are covered by characters who are undergoing something of an awakening with no easy remedy against their otherwise storybook backdrops. It’s not so much that Sparklehorse is a alternative for the mainstream as much as it is a soundtrack for those in the minority who are struggling to acknowledge that everything might not be alright, but that in and of itself is in fact ok.
Perhaps therein lies a lesson that Linkous was too close to experience for himself. Though only his family and loved ones will truly know, it seems that whatever his pain, whatever his displacement, every moment he spent searching and creating was a victorious acknowledgement of life. That there are no more Mark Linkous compositions forthcoming to baptize our days would be disheartening if he hadn’t already blessed us with so much. Still, for the sake of all the sunlight and starlight I’ve burned listening to Linkous’ music, Sparklehorse will ever be in my mind a cloudburst of radiant if uneven watercolors, undefined by the final action of one man.
In the silver morning hollow
trembling and getting old
smelling burnt oil of heaven
about ten years, too big to hold
Truffle Jones filed this report from the set of Hardcastle and McCormick: The Movie.