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Local Musicians Bid Fond Farewell to Morphine's Mark Sandman

July 26, 1999, 2:15 pm PT

At first, it seemed the weather would not cooperate with Sunday's (July 25) outdoor memorial concert for Morphine leader Mark Sandman, who died of a heart attack at age 46 while onstage during a July 3 concert in Italy (allstar, July 6).

Rain delayed the event several times, but the bands that had gathered to honor this multifaceted man and his music were determined to continue. At one point, as Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Billy Conway -- along with singer-songwriter Laurie Sargeant and Morphine tour manager Mark Hamilton -- performed "You Look Like Rain," the clouds parted, a rainbow appeared, and the rain stopped, acquiescing at last to the spirit of the day.

The concert drew several hundred people, a mix of Sandman's family, friends and fans, who came to remember and celebrate the person they loved and the music he created.

A fixture on the local Cambridge music scene, Sandman would often pop into local clubs late in the evening, holding court at his favorite table at the Middle East or playing organ with the Ray Corvair Trio at that band's weekly gig at the hole-in-the-wall Plough & Stars. The Trio performed a spectacular version of "The Other Side," the lyrics of which seemed eerily prescient.

The concert was held on the street in front of the Middle East, and, during the afternoon, fans filtered in and out of the club's upstairs room, where concert posters, flowers, and candles adorned the stage, while Sandman's music and archival video footage played in the background.

Several people in the crowd commented they didn't know whether to feel happy or sad, a dichotomy underscored by the almost cloistral hush of the indoor shrine and the brighter mood prevailing outside, where Sandman's musical legacy was played out by a wide array of established local musical luminaries and rising stars.

The remaining members of one of Sandman's earlier bands, Treat Her Right, did a reunion of sorts, with Mighty Mighty Bosstones' leader Dickie Barrett lending vocals on one of THR's signature tunes, "I Think She Likes Me."

Local hero Peter Wolf guested on a rendition of "Buena," and Russ Gershon, founder of Accurate Records, which initially released Morphine's debut album Good, performed with his band Either/Orchestra.

Proceeds from the concert, billed as the first of an annual series, were being donated to the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund, established to support music education programs in Cambridge public schools. Young musicians from the program added one of the day's many musical highlights when they performed "You Speak My Language," aided by Soul Coughing bassist Sebastian Steinberg, Colley, Conway, and others.

Perhaps the saddest musical note was struck by longtime Sandman friend and collaborator Chris Ballew, leader of the defunct Presidents of the United States of America, with a song he wrote for Sandman entitled "Gone Again Gone," which featured the haunting lyric: "He got up from the party and left us all alone."

The day drew to a close under now-blue skies, with the crowd and an all-star cast singing together on "Cure for Pain." It was a bittersweet farewell to a man and a talent taken away too soon.

-- Lisa M. Moore



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