The last time I interviewed Mark Linkous, the singer-songwriter better known to a generation of underground music fans as Sparklehorse, he spoke emotionally and directly about how his battle with depression had delayed his 2007 album "Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain" for nearly five years. At the time, he was feeling better and proud that the album had finally come out.
"I'm not saying I'm safe now--that I might never be depressed again--but it's not as dangerous as it was," Linkous told me. "You know, there's a great line in that show 'Deadwood,' where Calamity Jane says, 'Every day, you have to figure out how to live all over again.' Well, that's how I feel."
Tragically, Linkous shot himself in the heart on March 6 in Knoxville, Tenn. He was 47 years old.
Born and raised in Virginia, Linkous signed to Capitol Records in the mid-'90s on the strength of a demo. He released the critically acclaimed Sparklehorse debut "Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot" in 1996, scoring a modern-rock hit with "Someday I Will Treat You Good," and landing high-profile tours opening for Radiohead and R.E.M. While on tour, he passed out after mixing Valium with prescription antidepressants, and wound up partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for several months.
Linkous chronicled his surgeries and his recovery on the 1998 album "Good Morning Spider," and followed that with another strong effort in 2001's "It's a Wonderful Life." Often described as Southern Gothic or the darkest strain of alternative country, his distinctive sounds prompted a series of collaborations with other accomplished musicians, including one of his heroes, Tom Waits; Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, and Danger Mouse, the superstar producer who is half of Gnarls Barkley.
Linkous reportedly was working on a new Sparklehorse album and was moving to Knoxville to set up a studio to finish it. And his collaboration with Burton/Danger Mouse and director David Lynch, a multi-media project called "Dark Night of the Soul," finally was cleared after a year of legal delays causes by Burton's record label to come out some time later this year.
Though he always suffered self-doubts, in 2007, Linkous described making music as the lifeline that lifted him up. "It hauled me out of the hole," he told me, adding that he hoped it could keep him "from slipping down into the vortex again and not being able to keep my head above water." Sadly, it was not enough.