SANDMAN, 1952-99 Singer-songwriter had 'hungry mind'
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff
Mark Sandman, lead singer and songwriter with the innovative
Cambridge-based band Morphine, died Saturday of a heart attack
while on stage at a music festival near Rome. He collapsed during the band's
second song and was pronounced dead in an ambulance en route to the
hospital. He was 46.
Morphine was playing for several thousand fans at a three-day festival
Giardini del Principe in Palestrina, 30 miles east of Rome. It was the
stop on a two-week European tour for the band, whose last local show was
June 6 at the Central Square World's Fair - an event that Morphine
perennially headlined, since Mr. Sandman lived up the street and was
devoted to the Cambridge scene.
''Mark had a very generous spirit. He was very active around here,'' said
Dennison, who booked the fair and for many years booked the Green Street
Grill in Central Square, where Mr. Sandman also played with various side
''I lost a brother. I'm still in shock,'' added Josef Sater, owner of the
East in Cambridge, where Mr. Sandman was likewise a frequent performer
and patron. ''We've lost a cornerstone to our scene. He was part of the
Friends and colleagues expressed shock at the cause of death because Mr.
Sandman had no known history of heart problems or anything else that could
have led to a heart attack except that he smoked cigarettes.
Mr. Sandman, who grew up in Newton and formerly played with the
nationally known Cambridge blues-rock band Treat Her Right, was a '90s
renaissance man who loved music to the core, whether it was from Memphis
or Morocco. ''I listen to a lot of tapes I pick up at ethnic grocery stores,''
once said. ''I like things that aren't necessarily from Western sources.''
Unlike many artists who reach his stature (Morphine began as an indie band
but later signed to the Dreamworks label co-owned by Steven Spielberg),
Mr. Sandman also loved to perform as much as possible. And he loved to
play in diverse musical settings as part of Morphine and also such side
as the Hypnosonics (which he jokingly called a ''secret band'') and the
Brothers (his collaboration with bluegrass mandolinist Jimmy Ryan). He
sat in with jazz group Either/Orchestra and played at Mike Rivard's eclectic,
jam-heavy Club d'Elf nights at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge.
Mr. Sandman's anchor was the three-piece Morphine, whose sound was
beloved by college radio programmers and has been described as ''low
rock,'' ''beat noir,'' or ''noir jazz-rock.'' At the very least, it was
groundbreaking and was heard around the world on the band's five albums:
''Good'' (1992), ''Cure for Pain'' (1993), ''yes'' (1995), ''Like Swimming''
(1997), and ''B-Sides and Otherwise'' (1998). The group went from tiny
indie label Accurate Records, to Salem-based Rykodisc, then to
Dreamworks. The band also appeared on soundtracks, including ''Get
Shorty,'' and ''Beautiful Girls.''
Morphine's essence was Mr. Sandman's two-string slide bass matched with
Dana Colley's low-growling saxophone and Billy Conway's minimalist
drums. Topping it off were Beat-style lyrics from the Jack Kerouac-loving
Mr. Sandman, who also had a hipster-baritone voice that fit the music.
''We're just baritone people,'' he once noted. ''And the cumulative effect
all these instruments is that it sounds really low, but you can still hear
going on between the different instruments. It hits the body in a peculiar
that some people like a lot.''
Morphine fast became crowd favorite. After starting out in the early '90s
playing Mondays at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge, Morphine caught on
and later played a WFNX show at the Hatch Shell before 40,000 people in
1996. That same year, the band won act of the year at the Boston Music
Mr. Sandman lent a bohemian allure to the local scene. He achieved success
on his own do-it-yourself, experimental terms. He also was a famous
late-night character who would leave his Central Square-area loft (where
had a home studio) and slink quietly through the clubs to check out and
support other bands when he wasn't performing.
His nocturnal ways were immortalized on a 1997 Morphine tune, ''Early to
Bed,'' in which he wryly sang, ''Early to bed and early to rise makes a
or woman miss out on the nightlife.'' It was on the ''Like Swimming'' CD
Mr. Sandman said ''won't play unless it's 10 o'clock or later. There's
special control timer that only goes on then.''
Mr. Sandman, who worked on a fishing boat in Alaska in his younger years,
had a restless creativity. For a future album, he was teaming with Moroccan
oud player Brahim Fribgane, who was introduced to Mr. Sandman by Club
d'Elf mastermind Rivard, a close friend.
''Mark had a hungry mind and was always searching out information,'' said
Rivard. ''He was a learned man. He would always find out something about
whatever country he went to, and learn some of the language. He was an
inspiration to be around. He was a great artist and photographer, in addition
to being a great writer and musician. I hope more of his art will come
people can see just how prolific he was.''
A private funeral will be held for Mr. Sandman, who is survived by his
parents Bob and Tel Sandman and sister Martha Holmes, all of the Boston
area, along with a grandmother, niece and two nephews. Klein said a public
memorial will be announced shortly.
This story ran on page C06 of the Boston Globe on 07/05/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.