Sunday, 7 March 2010

Remembering Mark Linkous

Sparklehorse never bothered my radar much, beyond me listening to their records a few times and attending one or two of their gigs. I have a strong memory, though, of Mark Linkous sprawled flat on his back on the stage of Bristol's Fleece and Firkin, delivering his songs with eyes fixed to the ceiling. He was either too lethargic or too depressed to stand up with his bandmates. He just lay there, his limp hand occasionally bringing the mic just close enough to his mouth for his cracked voice to be heard.

The tortured soul. Seen a few of these over the years. Most are entertaining or enthralling. 'E' from Eels manages to tick many boxes by turning his stupidly unhappy family background into great music, gushing with humanity and soul. It's a pleasure to empathise, to learn.

Depressed performers make great art but how sad it is - how very, very sad - to lose one. Musicians and music fans have always seemed like family to me, in a way, and when somebody like Mark Linkous is moved to take his own life one cannot help but wonder if there was anything one could have done.

Mental healthcare and attitudes to depression have come on leaps and heaps over the last half a century. Prescription drugs, meditation, counselling and self-help techniques can all help to keep people alive until they can figure their own way out of their abyss.

You would think that music would have a cathartic effect, and maybe it does. But while artistic expression might sometimes help to purge the heart and soul of self-destructive thoughts, it can also leave an unhappy person that much more open and vulnerable. When you set yourself up as a tortured troubadour ('the dog that ate your birthday cake' as Mark would have it), how easy is it going to be to find a happy course through life?

I'm very sad that Mark Linkous decided to take his life. Staying alive is very tough for some people. While many find it easy to find joy in living, some people need to summon up enormous amounts of courage and determination to get through each day. If you know somebody like that, please do what you can to help them.

It's a wonderful life, for some. Damn that black dog. Damn it to hell.