By Gregory Crofton
Long rides on his motorcycle through the mountains of North Carolina brought him some peace. So did smoking cigarettes and holing up in his studio to create quiet, melodic indie rock.
“The thing about Mark, he was all heart,” says Gemma Hayes, an Irish singer-songwriter. “There was no filter. He felt everything.”
Mark Linkous dealt with depression and substance abuse before committing suicide at the age of 47 in 2010. He released most of his music as Sparklehorse, completing five full-length albums, all critically acclaimed and influential, especially with other musicians. He collaborated with Tom Waits, P.J. Harvey, David Lynch and others. His highest profile shows saw his band open for Radiohead on their OK Computer tour.
On that tour he nearly died after mixing “Mexican valium” and anti-depressants. He passed out because of all the drugs and woke in a position that had blocked the blood flow to his legs. A maid found him the next morning. Medics saved his life, but he lost the use of legs for some time and after that had to wear leg braces and was in pain.
But the dark stories of Mark Linkous are not the focus of THE SAD AND BEAUTIFUL WORLD OF SPARKLEHORSE, a new documentary that made its U.S. premiere at the Chattanooga Film Festival over the weekend. Rather the film focuses on the beauty of Linkous’ music, how each record was made, and how he affected the people around him.
The documentary was co-directed by two Brits, Bobby Dass and Alex Crowton. They met Linkous while putting together a video promo for him. “His authenticity left an impression on us,” said Crowton during a post-screening Q & A. About six years later they finished this film. “It was a rocky, tempestuous journey,” Dass said.
Interviews with David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, one of Linkous’ closest friends, and Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev, are key. So is the narration spoken and written by Angela Faye Martin, a singer-songwriter who was also a close friend of Linkous. Directors Dass and Crowton said Martin’s work is the heart of the film and was essential to its completion.
Linkous’ masterpiece is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” released in 2001, according to the film. Below you can watch a trailer for the documentary and take a listen to Sparklehorse “It’s a Wonderful Life.”