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Late Morphine Singer Treated Right

Late Morphine Singer Treated Right

Sunday afternoon, mere moments before an outdoor concert honoring
the late Morphine singer-songwriter Mark Sandman was to begin, the
skies above Cambridge, Mass.’s crowded Brookline Street grew
ominous.| Within minutes, a ferocious thunderstorm was soaking
Sandman’s adopted hometown. Eventually, after a ninety-minute
delay, a bright sun cut through the gray, and the concert was able
to proceed. Given the turbulent and unpredictable nature of
Morphine’s music, the storm seemed fitting.

The forty-six-year-old Sandman, who collapsed on stage during a
Morphine concert in Italy on July 3 and died of a heart attack, was
a fixture on the Cambridge music scene, and, on Sunday, July 25,
thousands of fans and fellow musicians gathered to pay him tribute.
In one sense, the First Annual Mark Sandman Memorial Concert was
intended to herald the new Mark Sandman Music Education Fund, a
resource intended to benefit music education in the Cambridge
public school. In another, the tribute was intended to bring a
sense of closure to the grieving local music community that had
been stunned by the tragedy.

The assortment of college kids, thirty-something couples with
toddlers in tow and aging rockers illustrated the
cross-generational appeal of Morphine’s atmospheric, noir-ish “low
rock” or “implied grunge” (both Sandman’s terms). And by day’s end,
the blank pages of the scrap-book albums that had been set on
tables were filled with personal notes and reminiscences: “Mark,
you sang some of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. How’d you
do that?” read one. “Treat Him Right Lord,” read another, referring
to Sandman’s pre-Morphine outfit, Treat Her Right.

“Treat Her Right used to be one of my favorite bands,” Mighty
Mighty Bosstones singer Dicky Barrett said from the stage as the
surviving members of Treat Her Right (which included Morphine
drummer Billy Conway, harp player Jim Fitting, and guitarist David
Champagne) took up their old positions. “This is a classic song,”
Barrett continued, “and it’s kind of sacrilegious that I’m singing
it.” With that, the band slunk into the smoky, elastic groove of
Treat Her Right’s “I Think She Likes Me.” When Barrett glanced at
his crib notes for the verses but still blew the lyrics midway, the
crowd erupted into laughter. “Thank you very much Mark Sandman,”
Barrett said at the tune’s conclusion, thrusting a fist toward the
heavens. “Sorry about the second verse.” Such moments brought comic
relief to the proceedings, transforming the somewhat disorganized
three-hour affair into a spontaneous celebration.

Another bit of levity came courtesy of local New Orleans-style
brass band Mickey Bones and the Hot Tamales, who marched through
the nearby Middle East club blaring a joyous rendition of “When the
Saints Come Marching In.” The mood in an upstairs room at the
Middle East was a bit more somber, however. A shrine of candles,
sunflowers, Morphine posters and memorabilia had been arranged at
the foot of one of the club’s stages where Sandman had often
performed. And clusters of people sat quietly on the floor watching
as a movie screen projected non-stop documentary, video, and
concert footage of the band performing for adoring crowds in
far-flung corners of the globe. “Why do you use only two strings on
your bass?” a television interviewer queried in one piece of
footage. “Well,” Sandman said, his smile shining through the film,
“I started with only one string. I had to work my way up to two.”
At that moment inside the Middle East, amid the flickering candles,
those people too laughed. And outside, despite a stubborn sun
shining down on the stage, it again started to rain.

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