Mark Sandman, 1952-1999
I had meant to make note of it when it came around, but completely missed it. One week ago today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Mark Sandman
, frontman for Morphine. I remember exactly where I was when I heard, in my bedroom in an odd apartment in Ann Arbor, listening to WCBN. I cried a bit when I heard the news and of course, spent the evening listening to Morphine albums over and over.
It wasn't just the music- the music was amazing, that whole mixture of drums, sax (2 at once?!?) and that weird bass, with those lyrics- the beat poerty-esque riffs thrown in, amongst words that just put you in some dark bar at 3am or someone's apartment hanging out after that same bar had closed, with that weird light on the pavement outside after it's been raining since eight- that kind of thing. It was also that the band had sort of been the anchor of one of the best weekends of my life.
I wasn't- and still am not, to a certain extent- what you'd call a well-traveled person by the time I got to college. In 1996, I was working on a sitcom for a student tele-vision group at Michigan State. The group had a couple of shows nominated for awards at this national conference, in Providence, RI, so a bunch of us loaded up a couple of rented vans and headed out there. It was the first time I'd even been out of the tri-state area around Michigan, so definitely my first visit to the east coast. We hit Boston first and I loved it- actual urban denisty, buildings and parks that had been around for ages- an actual, honest-to-god city. My having to drive a van out of the city at rush hour didn't even dim my enthusiasm about it. We got to Providence late-ish and most of us were just going to just hang out in our rooms, watching tv or whatever, but Shaun McNally asked the front desk folks who was playing nearby. Turns out, there was this band called Morphine, playing at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel
(in a different location now), a club downtown. I was kind of not feeling like it, he insisted we all go and so we did.
We were a few blocks away- walking at night through Providence's downtown, I loved it- walking the streets of an old, dark city, going to some club- very hayseed-in-the-big (Providence?)-city, but hey, it was my first time. It's always exciting your first time. Then, once we got there, I one of the best live shows I've ever seen, largely because I'd never heard of these guys before and was completely blown away by them. Every song, every note, just amazing. We walked around some more afterward, hit a bar, then back to the hotel. The following night, after the banquet and award show (hosted by Jeffrey Ross, oddly enough), everyone was hanging out in one of our hotel rooms and I just decided to head out for a walk on my own. It was about ten or eleven and I kind of had no idea where I was going, exactly, just wandering over near where we'd been the night before, a few areas I'd seen during the day with bars and junk, just loving it- loving walking around this old city. There was a line at this pizza place, I grabbed a slice and that's kind of when I decided that I really, really loved this- a city. An old, east coast, dense city, with the buildings and alleys and litter and the river and the crime and the mob and everything else.
That's what kind of led to today, to a certain extent- to starting The City Desk
, to falling in love with someone who wanted to live in the same type of place, to living in Philadelphia... it was a pretty damn important weekend (ended by cutting my wrist badly on a big rock overlooking the Atlantic Ocean near Newport), thirteen years ago and Morphine looms large in the middle of it all. Oddly enough, though, I haven't been back up to Providence since going there again in 1997.
Back in 2000, they released Bootleg Detroit
, from a stop on the tour for the same album. I should check to see if the exact November 8, 1996 show is on any of the torrent sites.
I saw them one more time- 1998, at a Horde Festival stop in some Pine-Knob-type place in Northern Indiana.
On July 3, 1999, he died onstage while playing- a heart attack at age 46. It's a horrible, horrible shame that we'll never get to hear more of his amazing music, but he leaves a nice legacy- a music education fund continues
in honor of him and an intersection in Cambridge, MA was named after him. If you have some of their stuff- give a listen today. If not, here's a video of a great live version of "Cure for Pain."
So, thank you, Mark Sandman, for having existed.