Now I guess I’ll never see you again, Marie
July 3, 2009 6:35 AM   Subscribe

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, TT’s, 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.
posted by allen.spaulding (51 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I have only cried over the deaths of two famous people - George Harrison and Mark Sandman.

I can't believe it's been ten years.

posted by Lucinda at 6:49 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I remember when he died. Morphine played a lot of shows in Greater Boston, and neither I nor my friends ever bothered to go see them because it always seemed like something you could do any time.

As our own yerfatma remarked at the time "How horrible is it that a man is dead, and my first thought is 'It's like the time I could have met Mr. T at the mall...'"
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:51 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well, that was a series of free shows in Cambridge. The only thing that kept me from them was laziness and fear of the Mass state line.

I hate this post. 10 years ago I was an adult, having long since moved out of my parents' house, which means that 10 years later I'm an old person.
posted by yerfatma at 6:55 AM on July 3, 2009

I hate this post too, but that's because I borked all the links.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:57 AM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

I love Morphine but I didn't know that much about the man himself. Many thinks for this.

Ten years? Really? Lord.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:00 AM on July 3, 2009

Brilliant, thank you very much.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:03 AM on July 3, 2009

I remember reading an article in which Sandman summarized his 'thematic preoccupations' as follows:

"perseverance, disadvantage, lust, despair, international love, self-delusion."

I've hit all of those. I wish Sandman were around to tell us what comes next.
posted by logicpunk at 7:05 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

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.

Thanks for this post. I liked Morphine quite a lot, although I eventually got a bit sick of them after listening too much. I wasn't horribly affected by Sandman's death, although I was surprised and disappointed.

I've got to quibble with your opening statement, though. Sandman wasn't big enough to generate the type of attention given to "rock stars." He was essentially an indie star. He's the type of guy whose work will be rediscovered and reevaluated 20 years after his death. He may well become a cult figure at some point, as his music definitely has something about it that draws people in. It doesn't surprise me at all, however, that he died without much major attention.
posted by OmieWise at 7:27 AM on July 3, 2009

Today, it's been ten years and two days since I discovered Mark Sandman. I still listen to his music every day.
posted by aint broke at 7:33 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Few concerts have been as transcendentally moving as seeing Orchestra Morphine at The Masquerade in Atlanta. Part funeral, part wake, part tent revival, it was undeniably a religious experience to witness the collected musical efforts of Dana Colley, Billy Conway and so many friends of Mark and Morphine. All of them gathered to remember Mark in the only way that mattered.

I know there are bigger and better Morphine fans than I, and still the very thought of Mark Sandman makes me so very sad for his absence and equally happy that he was here at least a little while.

That's it. Cure For Pain. Let's go ...

"Come on a little closer, wanna see your face ..."

posted by grabbingsand at 7:39 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

"Swing it Low" came on my mp3 player randomly as I was reading this post. Mark works in mysterious ways. Thanks for this post.
posted by ikahime at 8:00 AM on July 3, 2009

Morphine was, and continues to be, one of my favorite bands. Ten years. Damn. Time flies. Nice post.
posted by dortmunder at 8:02 AM on July 3, 2009

Yes. On vinyl. Really, there are far worse ways to spend $25.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:04 AM on July 3, 2009

I have records from Morphine and Cure for Pain LP is regular on playlists, but I never bothered to find any visual reference. From sound I always imagined Mark Sandman as something easygoing like Jeff Bridges from Big Lebowski, not at all like that lanky, twitchy person on YouTube video. Well played you lanky, twitchy person.
posted by Free word order! at 8:15 AM on July 3, 2009

That everything2 article linked by mkb is a nice read, but I would disagree that The Night is the best Morphine album.

But this isn't really the place for that debate. Great post. RIP, Mark.
posted by CRM114 at 8:19 AM on July 3, 2009

Swing Low was one of the songs we played at our wedding. God, I miss Morphine. So many fantasticly powerful songs, musically, matched by the stunning lyrics (Gone for Good, All Your Way, just to name two favorites). Even if Like Swimming didn't grab me like Cure for Pain and Good did, it was still a stunning record.

It's hard to believe it's been ten years. The man went out like many of us only dream we could, reaching toward the thing we love, and what gives the most joy to those that love us.

posted by Ghidorah at 8:37 AM on July 3, 2009

There's an interview with him on the "Sandbox" boxed set that always amused me. They were playing a big festival in Europe (maybe the Netherlands), and Mark was trying to explain to the interviewer that the two-string base was much easier to play since it was so much harder to play the wrong note.
posted by Horselover Fat at 8:54 AM on July 3, 2009

Morphine were one of those bands that, like E.S.T. I unfortunately didn't discover until after their last work, but I'm so glad I did.
Haven't listened to them in a while, but this answers the question of what I listen to next.
posted by opsin at 9:07 AM on July 3, 2009

I "discovered" Morphine when a track of theirs was used in - god help me - the Martin Lawrence-Tim Robbins comedy Nothing to Lose. I immediately got every Morphine album I could find, and admitting to my friends where I first heard it was just . . . grotesque. Thanks for this post.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:15 AM on July 3, 2009

I remember Morphine.

When it seemed like all of American music in the mid-nineties seemed to be floundering in commercial-grade grunge rock and goth techno pretension, Morphine seemed at once, steady and sure, clean and clear, and yet the darkest, smokiest, grungiest, most desparate, nasty in the pack. The first thing I heard from them was "Scratch" and I pulled over the car to listen to it so I wouldn't miss anything. I called the radio station to find out who it was but I didn't the album name, so I bought Good, then later, Cure for Pain, and then later yet, Yes. When I finally heard "Scratch" a second time I had pretty much forgotten about it and somewhat let down because I was so blown away by everything else.

Cure for Pain is full of amazing stuff. Are their other albums in some way, less full, less amazing? I don't even know. I've always taken whatever they've done very seriously. These guys knew what they were doing. Whatever they did, if it came out that way, that was the way it was. If it didn't happen to find me where I was, at the time, I knew somehow I'd find my way to it. I don't even live the kind of dissolute, desperate life he often sang about, and yet some sounds are just the sound of things whatever they are. Morphine made a lot of those sounds.

It's not the tenth anniversary of Mark Sandman's passing I'm going to acknowledge, it's October 10, 2010, 11 years later still don't don't know any better. The summer he died, my brother pointed out to me that Mark Sandman never did make it to 9/9/1999. We didn't have a back porch, or red wine to commemorate, I don't even think we made the exact date either, but we did find some french fries somewhere and ate them with pepper. Singing ...
posted by wobh at 9:54 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Goddamn it Spaulding. Sandman's death was my first brush with randomness of death. You could be talented as hell and that still wouldn't save you.

Saw Morphine play at the 8x10 in Baltimore once. They killed of course, solid and invigorating to a crowd of sweaty teens. I think two or three people fainted that night, people were packed in so tight, because hey, it was was Morphine.

Heard a critic say "You could always tell a Morphine song from the opening bars" and he didn't mean it in a nice way. Don't remember the critics name, but Morphine has moving with me from iPod to iPod, years later.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:11 AM on July 3, 2009

Ten years, holy crap. I wish I had gotten the fortune some of you did to see them live. Thanks for the post.
posted by blucevalo at 10:25 AM on July 3, 2009

A lot of the "alternative" music of my generation bored me to tears, but there was always something great about Morphine, who somehow got shoehorned into the same category by a lot of music stores and radio. Mostly what got me was the two-string slide bass, which is where Sandman really shined. Their music brings back memories of working in a textbook store near the university, because we played Morphine all the time during work.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:29 AM on July 3, 2009

posted by the luke parker fiasco at 10:57 AM on July 3, 2009

Man oh man. Morphine.

I first heard them on a MUCH NEEDED break from the Coast Guard in mid-winter 1993. Mary Prankster and I drove to Key West, and listened to Cure for Pain again and again and again.

Over the next few years I saw them play live five times, and then the Orchestra Morphine tour, where they had a guy singing that looked like some random fratboy but sang JUST like Mark.

Every time I felt like they were playing directly to me. I'm sure most of the other people in the audience felt the same way.

One thing about Morphine, when they said "Goodnight folks, you've been great!" that meant you were pretty much at the half-way point of the set.

Sexiest, coolest, and classiest band ever. Ever.
posted by chronkite at 11:00 AM on July 3, 2009

Huh, interesting. I must admit to never having heard of Morphine, although I remember that Treat Her Right song being on the radio in Baltimore. From listening to that, I always pictured him more as a bluesy, bar-band George Thorogood kind of guy.

But I guess he had a lot more range than that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:11 AM on July 3, 2009

(not that there's anything wrong with being a bluesy, bar-band George Thorogood kind of guy. I don't want to anger the spirit of jonmc.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2009

Wow, I saw Treat Her Right open for someone (Robert Cray?) back in the late '80s, and hadn't thought of them since. Thanks for the post.
posted by Knappster at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2009

every night
every night
every night about eleven o' clock
every night
every night
every night about eleven 'o clock
i go out
i ... go ... out ....
posted by Afroblanco at 11:38 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Treat Her Right opened for Rosanne Cash in the late '80s at Nightstage in Cambridge. Was there.
posted by andreap at 12:22 PM on July 3, 2009

I listened to Cure for Pain constantly in 94-95, but never thought to find out more about the band. I didn't even realize he had died. It is strange to see what he actually looks like, but even stranger is that in my head he looked exactly like that sax player. It's probably because I assumed he was southern, and every musician in the south looked like that at the time, but still. How'd a Boston boy get so much soul?
posted by team lowkey at 12:45 PM on July 3, 2009

Mark's legacy, the Mark Sandman Music Project, encourages budding musicians to create outside of the box.

Saw them in Hartford, CT at the Webster Theater. I'm sorry I never had the chance to see them again.

posted by contrariwise at 1:27 PM on July 3, 2009

"If I am guilty, so are you/
It was March 4, 1982."

I distinctly remember seeing Morphine perform on the Jon Stewart Show. I don't recall what song the band performed, but given the timeframe it must have been something from Yes.

I was a high school freshman at time, gawky and socially maladjusted and, like every high school freshman, desperate to be cool. And suddenly there's this lanky, mysterious guy on my television playing a kind of music I'd never heard on an instrument I'd never seen. He was singing about drugs and women and hotel room assignations and all sorts of things I could only dream about. (Also, his name was Mark Fucking Sandman. How cool is that?) I went out and bought Yes that week, and thus began my apprenticeship of cool. I started to learn more about the kind of jazz that obviously influenced the band. When a reviewer described "Sharks" as something Jim Thompson would write, I started reading hard-boiled fiction. I dressed in black. I affected an air of cynical indifference. I was, like every high school freshman, completely insufferable.

Fifteen years later, I'm still not cool. In fact, I'm arguably less cool than I was in high school. (The high school me would not have been able to comprehend such a thought.) But Morphine? To my almost-thirty self, Morphine remains just as cool as it did to my fifteen-year-old self. There aren't many things that I can describe that way.
posted by Rangeboy at 2:30 PM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

i never met mark but saw so many shows @ tts and the middle east during those years. thanks for the music and the fond memories, great post.
posted by quarterframer at 3:40 PM on July 3, 2009

10 years ago? Seriously?

I rediscovered some Morphine clips on youtube just t'other day. 2 string slide bass, drums and baritone sax. Nope, not much else in the world is going to sound like that. What a talent, what a loss. I only saw them the once, but Sandman was a terrific showman, and the band looked like they were having a load of fun. RIP.
posted by tim_in_oz at 4:07 PM on July 3, 2009

I knew Mark Sandman. I even introduced him to my old dad when we ran into him at Rein's Deli in CT. He was on his way to NY and we were on our way back to Boston, and I think that was the last time I saw him. People come and people go, but he was a good guy.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:48 PM on July 3, 2009

I used to live not far from The El Mocambo in Toronto, back in the mid-nineties. Around '95 or '96 I saw a concert listing for a Monday night set featuring Morphine, for a measly two dollar admission. For whatever reason (apathy, lack of info on the band, something on T.V. that same night) I didn't bother to check it out.

Now and again, I still listen to Cure For Pain, but I still kick myself for not getting off my arse and walking four blocks to spend a toonie that one Monday night. Of all the shows I've missed out on over the years, that one pisses me off the most.

/R.I.P Mark.
posted by spoobnooble at 5:37 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I saw Morphine play with a substitute drummer at the cafeteria at Vassar in 1996 with a friend who was visiting from Illinois. We had to leave early so I could get to my shift at the radio station. Even in that terrible venue, even without the full regular band, they were wonderful. Thanks for the post.
posted by newrambler at 7:45 PM on July 3, 2009

I love Morphine and Treat Her Right. The more I read about Sandman and his legacy the more I love him. I saw David O. Russell's Spanking the Monkey in 1994 and the soundtrack to that movie was basically Cure for Pain. I saw the name Morphine in the credits, looked up the album and have been hooked ever since. I still feel like Mark Sandman is the only person I've never met whose death significantly impacted me.
posted by bendy at 8:54 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sandman would be pleased that I discovered Morphine because of a woman. She was a strong-willed kind of lady with a good sense of humour who liked to party, managed a restaurant, worked at a nightclub and was engaged to a big macho yet artistic type guy - but she was also interested in me. And I was very interested in her. For a while, we hung out quite a bit. I did my best to charm her out of her relationship and it almost worked. She asked me why she should take up with me instead of her current man and I told that I was the nicest guy she'd ever meet. She instantly asked if nice guys truly tried to pick up women who were engaged and I said, no, only the ones who didn't want to be engaged. She smiled a little....

Somewhere during that time period she came in to work with Cure For Pain, saying that it was the best cd ever. Tons of people have said that about tonse of cd's, some of them even deserving it, so usually I just ignore that kind of statement, only she said it in such a way that I believed her. She had that ability to make you think that what she was saying was important and true. The next day I had my own copy and shit, she was so right. Her musical smarts only made her that much more desirable to me and probably tipped me over into infatuation.

Needless to say, it didn't work out between us. But I had Cure For Pain to ease me through the disappointment of it all. A wonderful legacy to an interesting time of life.

10 years, in spite of me. huh.

thanks for the post.
posted by ashbury at 9:11 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to drive hours to see Morphine play live. Each and every mile (minus the time my heater core blew in downtown Hartford at 2 am) was worth it.

Thanks for the post.
posted by a22lamia at 9:24 PM on July 3, 2009

Morphine was one of those bands I couldn't listen to for a long time because they reminded me too much of a specific person that I didn't want to be reminded of. I picked them up again a year or so ago. I'm still stunned by them. No one else ever sounded like that.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:29 PM on July 3, 2009

Morphine were the greatest three-piece rock band since the Minutemen.

It's hard to believe it's been ten years since he died.

Also, the song "You Look Like Rain" is the most effective panty-dropper since Barry White and quaaludes.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:26 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

I wish, I wish I would have known about them when. I was in high school when the whole grunge thing was happening, and as far as I know, I never heard Morphine once. Only years later did a friend play this awesome, bass-ful song I'd never heard, with a low, mournful voice to match. Still in regular rotation, especially Good.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:54 AM on July 4, 2009

I think you'll find that Palestrina never existed. It was always Israolo.
posted by Wataki at 6:18 AM on July 4, 2009

A pretty nice remeberance from HuffPo
posted by timsteil at 1:18 PM on July 5, 2009

Wow, 10 years...

I bought a ticket to a Morphine show at the metro in Sydney in the mid 90's. I was underage, the Metro is an over 18's venue. Suffice to say, I couldn't get in and tore up my ticket in a rage.

A couple of years later Morphione came back to the Metro, I was over 18, and did not have to tear up my ticket in frustration. On the way to the show, my friends and I parked next to a giant bill poster for the gig, plastered on a concrete pylon. I managed to tear most of it off the way, and it hung in my bedroom for years.

I still rate it as one the best live shows I've ever seen. Sandman had the most amazing stage presence, you couldn't help staring in awe, even amidst the pensive silences that they punctauted their songs with...delicious tension before the drums, bass and sax flew back into their groove.

I bought a tshirt, and wore it to death, and when it could no longer be worn, I had it stretched over a canvas and it hangs in my study even today.

I can tell that you taste like the sky, 'cos you look like rain...
posted by robotot at 8:15 PM on July 5, 2009

I saw Morphine at least four times, maybe five. The first was on the HORDE tour where they were playing the ultra-side stage. There were <10 of us there to watch them at around noon on a blazing hot day in Portland, totally surreal for music that seemed best listened to in the dark.

I saw them again maybe six months later playing at either the Roseland or the Crystal Ballroom, late at night in the winter, the venue packed full of sweaty bodies. Both times Mark was a consummate showman.

I remember being shocked at his death, even more so when I found out how old he was. I suppose it helped explain how he was able to transfix an audience to know that he'd been doing it for a very long time, even if he didn't look it.
posted by togdon at 8:17 AM on July 6, 2009

I always liked Morphine, and it became love when I saw them do "Thursday" at a Central Square World's Fair. RIP Mark, you were the coolest.
posted by whuppy at 10:46 AM on July 6, 2009

You ever think back to that moment when you first hear a band and you always remember that time and place, for Morphine and I it was tending bar at the Trolleyman Pub at the Redhook Brewery in Fremont...the bartenders always got to bring in their own discs and play what they wanted, my coworker brought in Cure for Pain and played it during one of our mutual shifts. I remember hearing it above the din of a weekend crowd, the very first song that came on was like WOW then the next song was like HOLY SHIT then it started getting good. I absolutely loved Morphine then and now and have had the honor of introducing a few people to his music...over a Belgian beer at Brouwers years later (at the very same intersection as Redhook amazingly enough) I was talking to a guy about how much I loved Morphine and he said you might like this band called 16 Horsepower which led the same insanely powerful reaction from the very first time I heard them, which led to a Woven Hand addiction. I never got to see Morphine play, in fact Sandman was already gone by the time I first heard them but love for him has led to discoveries of other wonderful music. Thanks for this great post.
posted by vito90 at 2:15 PM on July 7, 2009

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