We went to the Mark Sandman documentary last night at The Brattle.
A lot of it made me very nostalgic. Some of it was very revealing yet there’s nothing left but mystery once the credits roll, unsurprisingly. I remember that on at least one occasion near the end of high school I snuck out of my parents’ house to go see Morphine at the Middle East Downstairs. It was my introduction to the club. People were very excited to be in a big basement and I felt the same way. Morphine had decorated the stage with tall, wispy flowers. The encores were part of the set and there were portions of the show called “poetry time” where Mark moved to the FX-microphone and, it seemed, made a poem up right there on the spot on a musical bed of light drums and saxophone. They held everyone’s undivided attention all night long with the ease of a passing handshake. Amazing.
This will come off as odd (possibly), but Morphine’s songs offered me some window into adult life. A lot of people talk about the band’s unusual lineup or unique sound, and those things are unequivocally true, but I was also taking away lessons from the lyrics of these songs as if this might be how adult life is actually constructed. I’m not sure why! For one thing, Mark was not another songwriting man-child and I certainly had my pick of those to choose from in the independent music world. He was coming from a refreshingly unusual stance of being glad to have become an adult. He didn’t seem to give it another thought or lament childhood’s passing, and I loved that about Morphine songs. In Buena he sings, “I know some people who wanna make you change / well I know how to make them go away.” Wow, ok, that’s a very adult scenario, I’d think. He seems to handle it with a cool and steady hand. Maybe there are other clues about how to live in these lyrics.
He goes out every night at 11 O’Clock.
He wants to say he see things all her way, can’t do it right now.
He searched all over and finally found someone who spoke his language.
All the women in his world have adult names like Martha Lee, Lilah, Ramona, or Sheila.
The song that ends the Yes album hit me particularly hard when I first heard it. “Gone For Good” is a simple, quiet song explaining to an ex-lover how they’ll never see each other again for as long as they live. Like, never again. Not even by accident. It was just a song but even in that format I was impressed by its willpower. I’d almost ask the song, “isn’t it tempting to check in with them though? Don’t you want to catch them coming out of their house some night?” The song’s lack of additional information functioned as a strong No.
Arriving at college in Boston it became significantly easier to go out and see shows at night. One Fall night after I had settled into my dorm at BU, Mark played a solo show at the Middle East Upstairs. He played some other kind of guitar, if I recall correctly, not the 2 string slide bass. He performed all these songs that were not on Morphine records, and were not Treat Her Right songs either. I think he introduced many of them as “new.” I was blown away by these songs and wanted to know when I’d be able to hear them on demand.
Walking out through the Middle East restaurant I saw Mark casually walking towards me, back towards the live room. No wait, I was behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. You see what memory does! I said, “Hey Mark, I loved those new songs. Are you going to record them?”
He paused for a moment to think. He looked off at the ceiling a little bit and sincerely responded, “I don’t know. You think I should?”
I’ve never heard those songs again!
The last time I saw Morphine they played an outdoor concert in Central Square. It was a perfect late summer day. They were still able to summon that Morphine mojo under the unforgiving beam of daylight. There were rumors of a new album coming together.
Less than a year later I woke up from some particularly hearty 4th of July celebration, walked to South Station with a hang over, and saw the bad news in the Boston Globe.
In conclusion, the documentary is terrific. It functions as a perfect gateway into their music or as a new way of understanding it. Yes. It’s coming to me. It’s coming to me, now.