I believe in first love in the same way that I believe in gravity. I know it’s there. I’ve seen it, twice. While I admit that it’s not possible to experience something for the first time twice I’m sticking to my guns. The times were not far – a year perhaps – but both were life-changing, though I can’t tell you whether for better or worse. When I work it out, I’ll tell you all about them.
The first, first time was in a now defunct record store some time in 1998. I picked up a CD, drawn perhaps by the swallow on the cover, by intuition or more likely cold, hard luck. I knew I was blessed within a few minutes of the stereo’s twitch. I was converted within an hour and confirmed within the day. I’d found what I’d been looking for. That weird, barely noticeable itch that had seen me spend a year’s worth of educational support on a music collection had been sated. I fell in love with Sparklehorse, and why wouldn’t you, really? They were like nothing I’d heard before. Music opened up like a flower brought out of the shade.
And so, five years ago, when Mark Linkous (the man who for the most part was Sparklehorse) took his own life in such tragic fashion, I was bereft. Obviously, such an event is not on the same scale as losing a friend or a relative but I’m not ashamed to admit that it took the wind out of my sails. Looking back, the worst part is that it was my own selfishness that took centre stage. While, for various understandable reasons, Linkous was never the most productive of musicians (five albums in some fifteen years) he was out there, grafting, and there was bound to be something stunning coming at some point. Now there would be no more and I was sad. Sometimes – during odd moments of all too bright clarity – I realise I’m not a very nice human being.
So why the universe would be so nice to me I’m not sure. The other week I sat down to listen to the Happyness album, Weird Little Birthday. First point of order – it’s great, really great. Though I would say that, because somewhere in its beating heart it is Sparklehorse. Other great stuff as well, but mainly Sparklehorse.They’re not covering his music directly but the essence of so much of their output is coloured sadly and beautiful by Linkous.
And with that the stunning obvious hit me, as it usually does, right in the face, right from the direction I was looking in, without somehow seeing it there. Like a band called Happyness making me happy. Art resounds through times. It may or may not last forever but it lasts – at least as long as other people are influenced by it or influenced by people who were influenced by it. The past is a carefully constructed house of cards. You can’t remove one piece and expect it to remain standing. I’ll always hear Sparklehorse in music, new and old. He’s not dead yet.
Linkous is not alone in dying too young, too soon. The magnificent Jason Molina – he of Songs: Ohio and Magnolia Electric Company – was another troubled soul who made trembling, intemperate, transformative records.
Glen Hansard’s recent cover of Being In love (he’s did an EP of Molina covers) is easily one of my favourite tunes of the year. He’s not dead yet, either, I guess:
Finally, it would utterly remiss of me to finish this week’s entry without giving a few minutes to another we lost. Vic Chesnutt –humble and heart-breaking , resentful and rye – was a master of his art form.