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July 3, 2019 10:56 AM   Subscribe

20 years ago today, Mark Sandman, frontman for the low-rock band Morphine, collapsed on stage during a concert in Palestrina, Italy. The story of the man (trailer, imdb) and the band ( imdb). posted by logicpunk (45 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Can't think about this without listening to French Fries with Pepper.
posted by wellred at 11:01 AM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

Strange... I woke up this morning with "Empty Box" running through my head on a loop and couldn't figure out why. Now I know.

Can't believe it's been 20 years now. RIP, Mr. Sandman.
posted by 40 Watt at 11:13 AM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh sweet. Will have to check this out. Discovered him in his blues band, Treat Her Right, and followed on to Morphine. Great musician, and one that should have lived a lot longer and produced a lot more.

Though, as he talks about in a Treat Her Right song called No Reason, (actually can't find it on YouTube oddly enough) it's kind of a miracle we had him as long as we did. He was a Boston cab driver in the early days and somehow survived being stabbed in the heart in a robbery.
posted by Naberius at 11:15 AM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hey, I was going to say French Fries with Pepper, too. Tho Supersex and Candy are other highlights.

The band is stellar for prefiguring acts like TV on the Radio and The National, all while moving and shaking in the weird retro-punk that you saw with bands like Cake, Beck, Ben Folds Five, etc.

And, of course, Sandman's use of basses and guitars with missing strings was very influential on The Presidents of the United States of America. Both bands were Camberville MA mainstays in the 90s, and it's been a treat to catch POTUSA playing in the Boston area in recent years, and always bringing in Morphine sax player Danny Colley for a set just about anytime they're around.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:16 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Twenty years ago today I met the woman who is now my wife, and Lance Armstrong "won" the prologue of his first Tour "victory".
posted by St. Oops at 11:22 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh man. Cure for Pain is such a fantastic record.

And I can see so far away I can see so clear
You would not believe the view up here
I got a head with wings
A head with wings
Now I'm floating around up here way above the clouds
So high above the ground
And the only thing that holds my head to the ground
Is this one little skinny string

posted by gwint at 11:29 AM on July 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

Sandman's use of basses and guitars with missing strings

Apparantly there is a subculture of people who try to replicate exactly his bass modifications and sound and technique, which seems to me to very much miss the point.
posted by thelonius at 11:41 AM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Can't believe it's been 20 years.
posted by JamesBay at 11:52 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Saw them play (by accident!) in early '96. I don't remember much of Sandman because Dana Colley was fucking playing two saxophones at once and everything else faded into the background
posted by phooky at 12:06 PM on July 3, 2019 [13 favorites]

Saw Morphine at a smallish venue in Chicago back in... probably '93 or '94. Great show. Fond memory of my youth. RIP.
posted by SoberHighland at 12:15 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, it's been that long. I was a fan of Sandman going back to the Treat Her Right days and loved Morphine.

Weirdly Jim Morrison and Brian Jones both died on July 3; it's my birthday so I remember things that happened on this day.
posted by octothorpe at 12:23 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also listening to Cure for Pain right now and remembering how unique and great that band was.
posted by octothorpe at 12:26 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

So Mark Sandman would be 67 if he were alive now? We are getting SO OLD, Gen X. SO VERY OLD.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:28 PM on July 3, 2019 [18 favorites]

Doesn't seem odd to me to be curious to replicate that innovative sound. In fact, I'm grabbing a slide and re-tuning my bass right now for a little session in honor of Mark.
posted by scrowdid at 12:29 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thursdays just haven't been the same.
posted by whuppy at 12:33 PM on July 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

While Cure for Pain was always my favorite album of theirs, Swing it Low made it onto our rather hastily assembled wedding playlist for background music during the dinner/reception party.

The thing I’ve always loved about it, having listened to it a lot is that low growl at the edge of Sandman’s voice, the cadence, and then one day it hit me, if you upped that a bit, you’d have something like Macho Man Randy Savage, and man, if we could have somehow gotten Savage to just use those lyrics in a promo, I think I could just be content with things.

Given the times, I think Morohine might be one of the last groups where I actually owned all of their albums on CD. I miss them a lot.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:39 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

The saddest song.

I loaned all my Morphine albums to a former friend about a decade ago, and I don’t believe I ever got them back.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 12:41 PM on July 3, 2019

Aw man, I'm glad people remember Morphine. What a great band. Saw them in concert twice, both times incredible.

Every night about 11 o' clock I go out...
posted by panama joe at 12:41 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Absolutely adore Morphine. The Night and especially Cure For Pain have been in regular rotation ever since I discovered them (very late) just over a decade ago. My university noise rock band used to cover Thursday. As luck would have it, I've just been gifted a glass slide (after developing allergies to all my metal ones) so I might have to see how it handles on bass tonight.
posted by Dysk at 12:53 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Saw them play (by accident!) in early '96. I don't remember much of Sandman because Dana Colley was fucking playing two saxophones at once and everything else faded into the background

I saw them not too much later, and he never stopped to breathe! Kenny G did a thing around that same time for the Guiness Book of World Records, for longest note played on a sax, and this guy played a 2 hour concert like that - with 2 saxes! Just endless sax playing great Morphine tracks.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:55 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Doesn't seem odd to me to be curious to replicate that innovative sound.

Well, I would distinguish between taking it as an inspiration or starting point for playing in that idiom, and trying to turn yourself into a clone.
posted by thelonius at 12:59 PM on July 3, 2019

I knew Mark and the boys back when they were Treat Her Right. I was a freshman at Northeastern University and through an incredible amount of right place right time and the luck of the ignorant, I ended up working at WBCN and being a DJ at The Paradise and The Channel in Boston.

I was from NY and had no idea that any of the stuff I was doing completely by accident had me swimming in circles with some incredibly talented people, like Mark.

I just knew him as the guy from THT and over the years, we ended up hanging out through mutual dates and the club scene. He always acted like my big brother and when I got engaged to a guy from a band whose lead singer was with Twinemen, Mark came up to me at The Channel when I was spinning, grabbed onto the pole that suspended the turntables, causing my REM song to skip, and asked, "Are you SURE you want to do this?"

I went ahead and did it, got divorced 17 years later, and never had a chance to tell Mark that he was right; I shouldn't have married that guy. Friends from Session Americana still give me shit about it.

Always listen to your big brother.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:02 PM on July 3, 2019 [26 favorites]

Whenever I listen to Rope on Fire I still get goosebumps (and just did again even though it's hellishly hot here).
posted by vers at 1:16 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Can't believe any of you so called fans didn't link "Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:30 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh Mark. I loved The Night so hard it hurt, even before he died. Such a gorgeous onslaught of caged emotion, it never gets old. I just wish he’d had the chance to.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:43 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Saw Morphine perform in a parking lot (?) in LoDo just before Sandman’s passing. Wow! Just wow.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 1:59 PM on July 3, 2019

Brandon "TF,BB" is my all time fav.

posted by Cosine at 2:24 PM on July 3, 2019

I think the thing that's weird to me about trying to replicate his bass is that, for all his obvious skill, his style and technique and setup were all deliberately janky as fuck. Carefully imitating every last detail of someone else's jank seems antithetical to the spirit of the thing you're imitating.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:41 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I often think about French Fries with Pepper when I consider whether Sandman would have actually been disappointed with his ending. This doc is making me think, "nope."

I saw a lot of music in the 90s, so it's a little hard to pinpoint the best shows, but Morphine playing (16 Horsepower opened) some random venue in Raleigh around early '96 (?) has to be top 5. I'm pretty sure I saw them in Winston-Salem as well - they had some really nice quirky things in their set. They wouldn't leave the stage prior to the encore. If you didn't cheer enough, they'd just leave, but they thought the whole encore thing was a put-on, so why not stand there for the applause and stomping. I also remember that they did a lot of improvising with Sharks, I think it was in the drop from "swim....." Mostly I fell in love with how much fun they were having.

Dropping Swing it Low in here, as that was a favorite of mine too - they really embraced the trip hop sound on that one.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 2:59 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Having my first listen to Cure For Pain as I write - very cool music, thanks for bringing it to the fore. I was expecting a lot of distorted guitars somehow, and it's not that at all - especially like the sax on "Buena".
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 3:13 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I lived in and around Cambridge 91-96 and saw a lot of Morphine and adjacent shows. Supergroup was one configuration with Chris Ballew that was so much fun. Worked at a bookstore for a few years and Mark would often browse around and hang out and talk sometimes when things were slow in the evening. For a while they would play the Plough and Stars every Thursday night if I recall correctly, but whatever night it was, we'd all leave the shop after closing and go get transported by Morphine. I still remember checking my email quickly while students were doing a writing test and getting the news. It's a particularly vivid memory.
posted by Gotanda at 3:21 PM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

I worked at the 1369 Coffeeshop in Inman Square in the late 90s and served him a great many quadruple-shot short lattes. He was unfailingly polite, even to the relentless starfuckers who just would not leave him alone, and he tipped well—both signs of a good human being.
posted by jesourie at 3:35 PM on July 3, 2019 [10 favorites]

I'm sad he went when he did, my favourite record of theirs is actually their last, The Night, which saw the band moving in a fairly new and interesting direction (expanded instrumentation, etc.). Though, one of my favourite Morphine tunes is "Bo's Veranda" from the Get Shorty soundtrack, which can be found on the (otherwise 80% garbage) B-Sides and Otherwise.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:09 PM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was between my junior and senior years of college, and home in the Midwest with extended family for the holiday. My uncle and his girlfriend were in from New York City when the news came in. She was sitting at the kitchen table and just completely coming apart—she had known him and must have been good friends with him. She was devastated. I owned a couple of Morphine’s albums—I liked them a lot. But in that adolescent way, I couldn’t connect to her sadness or pain. I was just impressed that my uncle had a girlfriend who was friends with a famous musician.
posted by heyitsgogi at 5:27 PM on July 3, 2019

One of those bands I saw live just to witness how they did it. Started with an intro: “From Boston, Massachusetts... we are Morphine, at your service.” and then blew the house down.

I want to see Lightning Bolt for the same reason. Gibson’s bass does double duty and while youtube helps I want to see that happen.
posted by drowsy at 5:33 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you, I'm floating on a beautiful melancholic cloud of this amazing bands music.Thank you all for sharing the wonderful memories. RIP Mark Sandman.
posted by LansLeFleur at 6:51 PM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh man. I was in Germany when the news came. Didn’t get a chance to listen to The Night until I got back to the US.
So many memories associated with Morphine, so many songs mean so many different things, bring so many vivid images. Turbid dahlia, I’ll second Bo’s Veranda, such a cool swell of saxophone. Swing it Low. The Saddest Song. Yes, yes yes yes... yessss. Yes. And the mumbling, unintelligible end of The Night (the song), and that the album ends with Take Me With You.
posted by rp at 11:13 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been listening to Morphine on and off since I was very young, thanks to my childhood best friend's cool guy older brother. They've always been a favorite of mine but I haven't listened to them for quite a while until I felt the sudden urge to, yesterday (I'm on the side of the int'l date line where yesterday was July 3rd). Come to realize it was the anniversary of Sandman's death and I love small coincidences like that. I was fortunate to see them play at the Warfield in 1997, though I wish I could have been at the Fillmore two years earlier, when The Dirty Three opened. The doc is new to me, and I'm excited to check it out!
posted by deadbilly at 11:35 PM on July 3, 2019

I remember distinctly the first time I heard Morphine. It was on a college radio station while I was driving to a friend's house. I'd mostly stopped buying music by that time myself, but I was so taken by their sound I convinced my friend he had to get their album, which he did and he also loved it. There hasn't been much music that's made that kind of memorable impression on me, so when it happens it's something special.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:43 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I first heard them ca. '95 around the time Yes came out. There's something special about the way many of their songs' intros draw me in so powerfully & completely into their particular nocturnal mood even before the singing starts. Love the music - didn't know about the movies - many thanks for the post, logicpunk.
posted by misteraitch at 6:24 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

"I'm sad he went when he did, my favourite record of theirs is actually their last, The Night"

While it's not my favorite (I started with Yes and it has kept that top spot) I do love The Night. I'm a little sad that I missed twelve whole years of listening to it, though.

Per Wikipedia "Recording sessions for the album were completed shortly before the sudden July 1999 death of bass player and lead singer Mark Sandman; the remaining members oversaw the final mixing process and the album was released in February 2000" but what I heard (or somehow got into my head) at the time was that it was a mostly posthumous album and I was like, "Who would want that? They probably got a new vocalist and everything" and I just ... never listened to it. I mean in my defense it was the year 2000, you couldn't just hop onto Spotify and check it out, or listen to a preview in iTunes.

I can't remember what the reason was but at some point in 2012 I learned the real situation. I bought the album and when I listened to the title track and heard Mark sing "You're the night, Lilah" it was a painful combination of warm nostalgia and sadness and maybe even grieving. It literally felt like seeing a long-lost friend again when you were certain they were gone forever, except they really are gone, it was a dream, and it'll never be that good again. It made me realize how much Morphine was the soundtrack of a certain time of my life, and this was a time travel machine, and maybe I didn't want to go back and visit but there I was.

I suppose the 12-year wait was worth it in a way for that particular experience. I've certainly never had another album affect me in the same way.
posted by komara at 7:09 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

For fans who, like me, never saw the band live back in the day: there is a successor band, Vapors of Morphine. Jerome Deupree has recently left, but Dana Colley is still there; they play loads of great old Morphine songs, and some new ones - and Colley still plays two saxes at once.

Saw them in London last year, one of the best gigs I have ever been to - the music is just overwhelmingly great, it really is.
posted by vincebowdren at 8:03 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

If anyone is in the Boston area July 5, there are going to be two outstanding tribute shows at Lizard Lounge. Show #1 is sold out, tix are still available for show 2:

"SHOW #2 featuring Dana Colley, Tom Halter, Russ Gershon, Jerome Deupree, Larry Dersch, Jeremy Lyons, Jimmy Ryan, Duke Levine, Mike Rivard, Evan Harriman with Monique Ortiz, Ron Murphy, Christian McNeill and more!

July 3, 2019 will signify 20 years since Morphine frontman Mark Sandman died unexpectedly during a performance at Nel Nome Del Rock Festival in Palestrina, Italy. To recognize this anniversary, and to celebrate the songs, sly humor and friendship he brought to the Boston music scene and beyond, a sizable group of his collaborators and admirers will present two complete shows of Marks songs at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge MA on Friday, July 5. Shows are separate admission and will start at 8 and 11 pm. Admission is $20/ $25 in advance, with a limited number of ringside tables available for $100."
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:53 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Morphine says almost everything that can be said about the 90s in a crystalline-perfect way.

I don't listen to them very often anymore, but when I listen to Good or Cure for Pain, I'm instantly transported back to my bedroom in the Sunset in San Francisco circa 1995.
posted by blucevalo at 1:00 PM on July 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Whenever I rant about my love of Morphine I have to mention that I discovered them as the soundtrack of a very Oedipal movie in 1994 called Spanking The Monkey.

The soundtrack is basically half of Cure For Pain. THR is good but I still like Morphine better.
posted by bendy at 10:43 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

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