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Mark Sandman 
Mark Sandman
July 3, 1999
Age 46
 
Heart Attack on Stage 
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Lead singer of Boston rock group Morphine dies in Italy 

              By Associated Press  

              ROME (AP) The lead singer of the Boston rock band 
              Morphine, Mark Sandman, has died of a heart attack at a 
              concert outside Rome.  

              ''We're devastated,'' band manager Deborah Klein said 
              Sunday. ''We don't even know what to say. We're all in shock.'' 

              Sandman, 46, collapsed on stage in front of several thousand 
              spectators at a music festival outside Rome on Saturday night 
              just before midnight.  

              A doctor tried to revive him but failed, and Sandman was 
              pronounced dead in an ambulance en route to a nearby 
              hospital.  

              Sandman, known for his deep, murky baritone, played a 
              two-string slide bass, sang and wrote all of Morphine's songs.  

              ''His music was completely special and unique,'' Klein said in 
              a telephone interview from Boston. ''People loved him.''  

              She said Sandman did not have a heart condition or any other 
              major health problems.  

              Morphine is a guitar-less trio which includes Dana Colley on 
              saxophone and Billy Conway on drums.  

              It started out playing loft parties and bars around Boston and 
              Cambridge in the early 1990s and built a solid cult following. 
              Morphine released five albums: ''Good,'' ''Cure for Pain,'' ''Yes,'' 
              ''Like Swimming'' and ''B-Side.''  

              Morphine has gotten heavy airplay on college radio, and its 
              songs have appeared on soundtracks for the films ''Get 
              Shorty,'' ''Beautiful Girls'' and ''Postcards From America,'' as 
              well as on the television series ''Homicide: Life on the Street.''  

              The movie version of ''Mod Squad'' also included a song 
              Sandman recorded with a friend, Chris Ballew from the group 
              Presidents of the United States.  

              The band had recently finished a live album, due out in 
              October, and had nearly completed work on another project, 
              Klein said.  

              Sandman died on the second day of a three-day music festival 
              at the Giardini del Principe in Palestrina, 30 miles east of 
              Rome.  

              Festival promoter Flavio Maniri said Sunday's performances 
              would be dedicated to Sandman.  

              Palestrina was to be the second stop on a two-week European 
              tour, but band members were returning to Boston Sunday after 
              Sandman's death, Klein said. They were supposed to start a 
              two-week West Coast tour on July 19, but it was immediately 
              unclear if those plans would proceed.  

              She said funeral arrangements for Sandman, who is survived 
              by his parents, were pending.  
 

 
NY TIMES
 
 Mark Sandman, Musician Who Led the Band Morphine, Dies at 47

          By NEIL STRAUSS 

          Mark Sandman, the leader of the idiosyncratic Boston rock trio 
          Morphine, died on Saturday during a performance at the Giardini 
          del Principe in Palestrina, near Rome. He was 47.  

          The cause was a heart attack, according to The Associated Press. 
          Sandman collapsed in front of several thousand fans during a 
          performance on the second day of a three-day festival that was a stop on 
          the band's two-week European tour.  

          There were few groups in the rock world like Morphine. Instead of 
          playing guitar, Sandman played a slide bass with only two strings. He 
          sang in a near-monotone baritone while his band mate Billy Conway 
          played delicate percussion. The third member, Dana Colley, often played 
          two saxophones simultaneously.  

          Despite such a limited palette, the band's songs were memorable, 
          evocative and accessible.  

          Morphine's slow, smoldering albums often sounded like soundtracks 
          written for pulp-fiction novels, and its concerts reflected Sandman's 
          devilish, dry humor. The group's music appeared on the soundtrack to 
          many films, including "Get Shorty," "Spanking the Monkey" and 
          "Beautiful Girls."  

          Before forming Morphine in the early 1990's, Sandman was a taxi driver. 
          He also played with the Boston group Treat Her Right, throwing the 
          occasional minimalist pop song into the band's blues-based repertory.  

          Once in Morphine, he was signed to the leading independent label 
          Rykodisc and then to Dreamworks, releasing five albums, including 
          "Good," "Cure for Pain," "Yes" and "Like Swimming." Favorite songs 
          among the band's cult, college-aged audience ranged from those with silly 
          lyrics delivered in a deadpan voice to those with Sandman's more 
          insightful beatnik-style poetry.  

          Sandman also formed several bands as side projects, including the more 
          upbeat Hypnosonics, the country Pale Brothers and the sarcastically 
          titled Supergroup, with Chris Ballew of the joke-pop band Presidents of 
          the United States of America.  

          Sandman is survived by his parents.  
 

 Boston Globe
MARK 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 at the 
                  Giardini del Principe in Palestrina, 30 miles east of Rome. It was the second 
                  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 Lilli 
                  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 
                  bands. 

                  ''I lost a brother. I'm still in shock,'' added Josef Sater, owner of the Middle 
                  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 
                  Middle East.'' 

                  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,'' he 
                  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 bands 
                  as the Hypnosonics (which he jokingly called a ''secret band'') and the Pale 
                  Brothers (his collaboration with bluegrass mandolinist Jimmy Ryan). He also 
                  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 of 
                  all these instruments is that it sounds really low, but you can still hear what's 
                  going on between the different instruments. It hits the body in a peculiar way 
                  that some people like a lot.'' 

                  Morphine fast became crowd favorite. After starting out in the early '90s by 
                  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 
                  Awards. 

                  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 he 
                  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 man 
                  or woman miss out on the nightlife.'' It was on the ''Like Swimming'' CD that 
                  Mr. Sandman said ''won't play unless it's 10 o'clock or later. There's a 
                  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 out so 
                  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.  
 

 
 
 
       
 

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All-Music Guide
         
Morphine is a rarity -- a bluesy, bare bones rock & roll without any guitars. Instead of guitar riffs, the trio relies on sliding two-string bass lines, raucous saxophones and wry, ironically detached vocals. During the mid-'90s, Morphine gained a sizable cult following in America, primarily due to good word of mouth, heavy college airplay and positive reviews.  

 Morphine was formed in 1990 by bassist/vocalist Mark Sandman, who had previously played with the bluesy alternative rock band Treat Her Right and Dana Colley (tenor and baritone saxophone), a former member of the local Boston group, Three Collers. Sandman and Colley added drummer Jerome Dupree to complete the lineup. The group released their debut album, Good, on the independent Accurate-Distortion in 1991; it was reissued on Rykodisc Records in 1992. Good received substantial airplay on American college radio stations, as well as favorable reviews in alternative publications across the country. After the release of Good, Dupree left the band and was replaced by Billy Conway, who had previously played with Sandman in Treat Her Right. 

 The positive reception to Good set the stage for 1993's Cure for Pain, which received good 
 reviews from a variety of music and mainstream publications upon its spring release. Morphine supported Cure for Pain with an extensive American and European tour that lasted throughout 1994, which helped the album sell over 300, 000 copies -- an impressive feat for an independent release. In 1995, Morphine released their third album, Yes, which also received favorable reviews and helped the band sustain their large cult following.  

 The success of Cure for Pain and Yes also attracted the attention of major record labels, and in late 1996, Dreamworks bought out the majority share of Morphine's contract from Rykodisc. Like Swimming, the group's debut for Dreamworks, was released in the spring of 1997 to generally favorable reviews, yet it failed to break the band out of cult status. -- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All-Music Guide

 
Philly City Paper
Zoom Interview
 

                       I try to keep my chat with Morphine's aptly-named leader Mark 
                       Sandman light and airy.  

                       It didn't work. To say the least. 

                       "I was kind of a dreamy child - a Curious George baby," says 
                       Sandman, the singer/lyricist/two-string bassist of the band. "As a 
                       child, people told me they thought I'd grow up to be a poet. You 
                       have to wonder what kind of kid someone would say that to." 

                       Morphine's sound is as dreamy and uneasy as Sandman's 
                       childhood recollection - heavy, thick and resonant. With taut 
                       rhythms and barreling blues, Morphine is aggressively pensive, 
                       "Spy Vs. Spy" Muzak best played late at night. Sandman himself is 
                       most comfortable at that time.  

                       "You know in kindergarten when they make everybody lay down 
                       and close their eyes even if they're not tired," says Sandman from 
                       his Boston apartment, sitting in a squeaky chair. "That's the most 
                       ideal context to listen to us." 

                       You can't help but be mesmerized. Over the course of three 
                       albums - Good, Cure For Pain and Yes - and several 
                       contributions to like-minded cinema (Get Shorty, Things To Do 
                       In Denver and the TV show Homicide), this noir jazz-rock trio of 
                       Bostonians make danger fun, make restlessness desirable and 
                       make love sort've worthless in the face of desire. As musical unit, 
                       Mark Sandman's heavy blunt vocals and self-made bass guide 
                       Morphine's Dana Colley on baritone saxophone and Billy Conway 
                       on drums. Their weirdly shaped blues stems from Sandman's big 
                       start with Treat Her Right on RCA records. 

                       "We weren't conventional blues. We didn't do the da-dum da-dum 
                       fossilized cliches. But some of the dynamics of Treat Her Right 
                       carried over into Morphine, like not worrying about fancy 
                       arrangements, doing things intuitively." 

                       But no sooner than they "got away" with Morphine's sound, 
                       Sandman's lyrical punches took hold. Inspired by the hard-boiled 
                       density of writers like Jim Thompson and James Ellroy, Sandman's 
                       writing (and singing for that matter) is full of bitter laconic types not 
                       happy unless they're not happy.  

                       "I was always a big reader. Books are like a silent soundtrack to 
                       your life. People like Thompson and Ellroy put social history into 
                       their work. They give you a sense of what it might have been like 
                       to be operating in a different period of time. Makes things real." 

                       Real bad. His characters - be it lascivious lovers caught in the act 
                       in the song "Thursdays" or thoughtful marauders in "Murder For 
                       The Money" - are desperate, but full of the vigor best associated 
                       with people running away from something.  

                       "My people. They roam from town to town. Recurring. Not 
                       recurring." 

                       On their newest effort, Like Swimming (Dreamworks/Rykodisc), 
                       Morphine creates a glistening, dizzyingly loud work that 
                       reverberates with moist anticipation. This fever pitched, 
                       broken-down sound is also accomplished by Sandman's 
                       trash-picked, self-made instruments like the two-string slide bass 
                       or the half guitar/half bass of the Tritar.  

                       "It's all about trial and error. I start with really cheap instruments. 
                       Almost all my stuff's under $100. My microphone cost me $5. I 
                       like things broken that look interesting." 

                       This creaking, clackety ideology only feeds into Morphine's 
                       darkness. 

                       "I think people are tired of the larger than life - in movies, in 
                       books. It's escapism. Everyone knows what defines realistic 
                       behavior. When people are trying to be good and they wind up 
                       being bad the sin becomes greater." 

                       Before we go, I ask Sandman if he thought any of his previous 
                       pre-musical incarnations prepped him for life as an artist. Sandman 
                       told me he worked in a fish cannery.  

                       "I sorted halibuts. It taught me that halibuts are really big."

 
 
  
 
 

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The Mark Sandman Music Education Fund.
These funds will be used to help children in the
Cambridge public school system pursue their
music education.

Morphine
PO Box 382085
Cambridge, MA 02238
Checks can be made payable to:
Mark Sandman Music Education Fund
 
 

 
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