Ten years ago today, Mark Sandman
died on stage during a Morphine concert at the Giardini del Principe in Palestrina, Italy. His music and its impact has not always received the type of attention normally given to rock stars tragically struck down in their prime, let alone one this brilliant.
Sandman’s legacy is hard to measure
, although some have tried
. Frontman of both Treat Her Right and Morphine, as well as many side projects, he always seemed on the cusp of making the leap from critically acclaimed darling of college radio to major recording star (watch a live performance of Cure for Pain here
). Treat Her Right (listen
) toured with Bob Dylan, although once signed to RCA, never quite made to mainstream success (as Sandman put it “"RCA decided that if our little basement tape could do so well, why not spend fifty times more money and it will be fifty times better!”). Sandman died touring in support of Morphine's latest release, The Night, released by Dreamworks, the latest attempt by a big label to promote the band (listen
Sandman’s music continues to impress, including a collection of his previously unreleased solo work issued after his death (selections can be heard here
). Somewhere between proto-alt-country and swamp rock, one major aspect of Sandman’s work was innovative usage of bizarrely tuned basses, including the use of a two-string slide bass, an instrument of his own creation and one later used by collaborator Chris Ballew in his other band Presidents of the United States of America (who would write Gone Again Gone
in Sandman's memory).
Perhaps more important than his musicality, Sandman’s lasting influence was the development of a local music scene in Cambridge that continues to this day. While the Pixies may be the best-known band to come out of the Boston/Cambridge scene in the 90s, as measured by their impact nationwide, Morphine may have been equally if not more influential locally. Sandman’s own record label, Hi-n-Dry
has become the home of many local artists, including local favorites Dennis Brennan
and Session Americana
(featuring Treat Her Right harmonica player Jim Fitting, as well as others who’ve played with Sandman over the years. See them at Hi-n-Dry here
). Furthermore, Sandman regularly promoted shows at the Middle East, helping develop the space from a neighborhood restaurant that occasionally rented out a stage into a major venue. Indeed, the intersection of Mass Ave and Brookline Street in Central Square, the location of the Middle East and TT The Bears has been officially named Mark Sandman Square.
Even these landmarks don’t do justice to the community that he fostered and which continues to this day. Finally, Sandman was also a graphic artist, creating a comic called The Twinemen, which would later become the name of a band named in his memory
Every week, Hi-n-Dry
is offering downloads of Sandman's compositions. Or, if you're in the neighborhood, stop by any of Sandman’s old haunts, such as Toad
and Lizard Lounge
in Porter to the Middle East
, Plough and Stars
in Central. If you’re lucky, or if you do your homework, you’ll find a band of old Cambridge regulars, playing roots standards, with a few Sandman hits thrown in.