The Sad Songs

It’s best not to think about Mark Linkous, or his musical moniker, Sparklehorse, on a bright and sunny day.

Today is gloomy, the clouds are low, snow is predicted, but hail has arrived and as such, it is the perfect day to think about them.


I came to Sparklehorse by way of PJ Harvey, who collaborated with Mark on the album It’s a Wonderful Life (spoiler alert: It was not. It is also best not to think about the fate of Mark Linkous, ever, but this article in Pitchfork is quite wonderful in explaining the allure of the man and his music, of which Tom Waits said, “It’s like opening your eyes underwater at the bottom of a stream. You go, ‘Jesus, look what’s down here.’”).

I’m not one for making heroes of artists I admire. No-one makes it through life without causing pain, everyone can be held up to the light and be found flawed, but when I was in my late 20s and fairly certain my life would never recover from the mistakes I had made and that I would never correct the path I was on, I had a line of lyrics from Mark and PJ’s song, ‘Eyepennies’, tattooed on my forearm, written in shorthand because even I am not maudlin enough to face answering questions from strangers about the meaning of this peculiar little song about the weight of sadness.

I love the sad songs. My guitar teacher used to joke that I had an uncanny ability to pick songs written in strange time signatures, always in the minor scale.

In my third year of university, I lived in a share house with a high school friend and we made a mixed tape of the saddest songs we knew. The two that were by far the saddest were ‘Your Sweet Voice’ by The Reindeer Section, a song in the classic sad song canon of heartbreak, and ‘Eyepennies’.

There’s something enjoyable and bittersweet about listening to sad songs when life is fine, like maybe sometimes the heart needs to hurt a little to keep growing.

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