On March 6, 2010 Mark Linkous – the artist better known as Sparklehorse – shot himself in the heart outside his friend’s Knoxville, Tennessee home. Mark was and remains a beloved figured in contemporary indie rock – the main force behind cult classic Good Morning Spider and milestone It’s a Wonderful Life; a producer for Daniel Johnston; and an all-star collaborator with Tom Waits, PJ Harvey and many more. News of the 47-years-young suicide sent shockwaves through the music community – especially since it came just one week after the official release announcement for Dark Night of the Soul, his and Danger Mouse’s long-awaited album (featuring The Flaming Lips, David Lynch, Julian Casablancas, Gruff Rhys, Jason Lytle, James Mercer, many other guests).
In 2012 Dave Fridmann – the esteemed producer of the latter Sparklehorse albums – began working with Marc Fuller on a tribute to Mark. Dave enlisted some of his longest running collaborators – Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips, both personal friends to Mark. In fact, The Lips twice collaborated with Sparklehorse. First they took on “Go” together for the 2004 Daniel Johnston Discovered Covered tribute album. Then they wrote and recorded “Revenge” for Dark Night of the Soul. Additionally Steven Drozd appears on the final Sparklehorse album released in his lifetime, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
In January 2012 the Lips began recording a cover of “Sad and Beautiful World” for the album. Though a posed collaboration with Sebadoh didn’t pan out, two months later lead Lip Wayne Coyne teamed with his friend Graham Colton – an Oklahoman singer-songwriter best known for “Best Days” of American Idol fame – to record yet another tribute to Mark, a cover of “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away.” The 2006 original was the opening track of Dreamt for Light Years and featured Drozd on drums amongst White Album-esque production by Dave. The new version by Graham and Wayne – recorded at Oklahoma’s Blackwatch Studios with assistance from Jarod Evans – was a bitter-sweat beauty:
As all of this happening, Box of Stars – a non-profit organization that aims “to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, increase awareness, and effect positive change” – was also planning a Sparklehorse tribute album, not only to remember Mark, but to start discussions about mental health issues. Fridmann and Fuller “were unsure of how they wanted to release [their tribute] and where the proceeds would go” according to Box of Stars. “After discussing our two projects, they decided to hand the tracks they had completed over to us to use. We decided to continue on with our album that we had just begun to create.” The two projects merged into a now nearly completed double album called Last Box of Sparklers – A Tribute to Mark Linkous.
Box of Stars officially announced they were “producing a CD in tribute to Mark Linkous” at the start of this year, along with a video teaser of Last Full Measure covering “Saturday” (above). “There will be some very notable bands on this CD, and all of the proceeds generated will go towards our efforts to start a new dialog about mental health” they wrote at the time. In July they confirmed many of the artists on a preview page at boxofstars.org allowing site visitors to hover their mouse over the contributing artists names – The Flaming Lips, Phantogram, David Lowery, or Cowboy Junkies for instance – and hear half minute excerpts of their contribution. and others. This page has since been removed but a few complete tracks – including Mercury Rev “Sea Of Teeth” and Mark Lanegan’s “Spirit Ditch” are streaming at the bottom of this page. Since the preview streams last summer three more artists have been confirmed: Joy Formidable will cover “Gold Day,” Portugal. The Man are recording “Pig” and Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) will tackle “Someday I Will Treat You Good.” [UPDATE - Dinosaur Jr were previously announced to contribute as well but "decided that, due to time constraints, they won't be contributing"]. Dave Fridmann will master the entire album to be released by Box of Stars as the launch of their pilot program raising awareness about mental illness through music.
Box of Stars revealed album details with the launch of their fundraiser at indiegogo. They are aiming to raise $50,000 by
November 20th [UPDATE - Indiegogo extended the campaign through December 14th] in order to complete the album, press the CDs and vinyl, design the packaging and build an archive of personal stories about mental health.
“So many of the musicians that we admire and are inspired by have struggled with their own mental health,” Box of Stars points out. “To name but a few: Mark Linkous, Ian Curtis, Elliott Smith, Daniel Johnston, Michael Hutchence, George Gershwin, and Brian Wilson.” Part of the way Box of Stars aims to combat the needless suffering is through a PSA campaign that tackles its stigma head on and gets people talking. “Our website and YouTube channel will serve as a repository of stories from musicians in the public eye, discussing mental health challenges they have dealt with themselves or in their personal or professional lives,” they write on indiegogo. [UPDATE - Box of Stars have already added their first two PSAs to their YouTube channel: Eric Slick - Talking About Mental Health and Eric Slick on Meditation and Mental Health.]
Stream The Flaming Lips’ “Sad and Beautiful World” cover above and five other of the album’s full tracks below – following the official trailer featuring Wayne Coyne (with a bit of The Lips’ cover of the “Sad and Beautiful World” cover that will appear on the album in the background) and candid interviews with Dr. Dog’s Eric Slick.
Visit the Box of Stars indiegogo page to make a donation.
UPDATE – As part of Box of Stars’ indiegogo fundraiser for Last Box of Sparklers – A Tribute to Mark Linkous, bands contributed perks such as a bundle of rare Mercury Rev vinyl signed by the band and a signed Mark Lanegan guitar. Now The Flaming Lips have contributed one of their “Fuck You Frogs” – a “sound recorder and manipulation frog device” originally planned for release in September but still unreleased. Perhaps this fundraiser played into the reason the release was delayed.