our Michigan Correspondent

When Rykodisk sent the university radio station Morphine’s first album, Good, it was 1992.

Whatever post-punk and college rock had been five to seven years before, they were done. Grunge ruled the airwaves but seemed increasingly to be a version of the Ramones but 20 years later. While the Ramones had taken early 50s rock, sped it up and ironically(?) made it dumber, a million bands in the US were now copying Pearl Jam (more than Nirvana) and mixing 70s arena rock bombast with affected post-punk alienation – The Wallflowers, anyone? In my world, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Nirvana were still making great music, I adored Uncle Tupelo, was discovering Billy Childish, had just been introduced to The Stairs, was falling for Vic Chesnutt (while falling out with The Fall, Pogues and Mekons), found myself smitten by Teenage Fanclub, loved Henry Kaiser and David Lindley’s collaboration with Malagasy musicians, and was pretty gaga over Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. All of which is to say that the implosion and ever-intensifying hybridization of genres that was going to set the stage for Napster to kill most of the music industry had started in earnest.

And here’s a guy with a two-string slide bass, singing lyrics in the adult vein of Leonard Cohen – totally stripped down to the most basic language – in front of a really great drummer and a saxophone, sometimes a tenor, sometimes an alto, sometimes a baritone, and sometimes two at a time. I half remembered “I Think She Likes Me,” the very minor hit Mark Sandman’s previous band, Treat Her Right, had recorded but this took the seedy-bar-at-2-am tonality of that band up an order of magnitude. There was a hint of crooner, an element of beat, underlying tragedy and struggle but, more than all that, an altogether new-to-me kind of musical and emotional space. It was the perfect music to have on while reading Walter Mosely’s series of Easy Rollins neo-noir detective fiction.

Almost every song seemed to be about loss, the potential for loss, the risk of loss… all seemingly hopeless and hopeful, lost but still fighting, beaten down but dignified. I was just starting my dissertation, the nightmare prospect of having to finally moving into a career was on the horizon and I needed adults in my musical life… or, at least that seemed to feel right. I mean, I’d already hung out at a café in Berkeley reading Nabokov, right?! I’d already worked my way through B. Traven’s book, The Death Ship, yeah? I was already weaving all manner of things through the four holes in my left ear, nowhatImean? (OK, I’m not sure I was all THAT young but, forgive me, I was young, at least young-ish, and a romantic, seeking the sublime.)

Rather devastatingly, most of the way through the recording The Night (2000), Sandman died, at 46, on July 3, 1999, on stage early on in a performance in Palestrino, Italy. There is an well-done, slightly provocative documentary – Cure for Pain: The Mark Sandman Story – that was released in 2011 that digs up some material on Sandman’s life but leaves many questions unanswered. I saw them, twice, once in San Francisco and once in a park bandshell in Boston, Sandman and the band were great performers.

My approach for this Imaginary Compilation is to provide snippets of lyrics. Read them, listen to the song, read the next set, listen… lather, rinse, repeat. I’m hoping it works.

1. You Look Like Rain (from Good, 1992)

Your mind, and your experience, call to me.
You have lived, and your intelligence, is sexy.
I want to know what you’ve got to say,
I want to know what you’ve got to say,
I want to know what you’ve got to say,
I can tell you taste like the sky
Because you look like rain.

2. Have a Lucky Day (from Good, 1992)

Now I’m sitting at a Blackjack table
And I swear to God my dealer has a tag, says Mabel.
Hit me, hit me, I smile at Mabel,
Soon they’re bringing complimentary drinks to the table.
Players win and winners play…
Have a lucky day!

3. Cure for Pain (from Cure for Pain, 1993)

And tell me where,
Where’s all that money that I spent?
I propose a toast to my self-control
You see it crawling, helpless on the floor.
Someday there’ll be a cure for pain,
That’s the day I throw my drugs away.
When they find a cure for pain!

4. I Know You (Pt III) (from Like Swimming, 1997)

Give me a kiss, hello, goodbye.
What’s the difference?
Just end everything you say with a smile
Wave goodbye, hello – with that look in your eye…
Forwards, backwards, back it down the drive,
The curtains in the window, wave goodbye,
Hello, there’s that look in your eye,
and your crazy smile…
I know you & you know me too,
I know everything that you’re going through
I know you & you know me too,
I know everything that you’re going to do.

5. Thursday (from Cure for Pain, 1993)

One of the neighbors that saw my car
And they told her yea they told her
I think they know who you are
Well her husband he’s a violent man, a very violent and jealous man
Now I have to leave this town I got to leave while I still can
We should have kept it every Thursday, Thursday, Thursday in the afternoon
For a couple of beers and a game of pool.

6. Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer (from The Night, 2000)

We’re going to a party. Our friends will all be there.
I got the directions. It’s across the river somewhere.
We rang the top floor, bottom buzzer.
Top floor, bottom buzzer. Top floor, bottom buzzer.
The middle won’t work. Ring the one under.

7. Early to Bed (from Like Swimming, 1997)

Early to bed so you can wait,
For 3 buses a trolley and a train.
I think it’s worth it for you to stay awake,
Maybe tomorrow you’ll be a little late, but
Early to bed and early to rise,
Makes a man or woman miss out on the nightlife…

8. You Speak My Language (from Good, 1992)

All around the world, everywhere I go,
No one understands me,
no one knows what I’m trying to say.
Even in my home town,
My friends make me write it down,
They look at me, when I talk to them,
And they shrug their shoulders.
They go, “What’s he talking about?”
But you…. you speak my language!
But you…. you speak my language!

9. Buena (from Cure for Pain, 1993)

Well come on a little closer let me see your face
Yeah come on a little closer by the front of the stage
I said come on a little closer I got something to say
Yeah come on a little closer want to see your face
You see I met a devil named Buena Buena,
And since I met the devil I ain’t been the same, oh no!

10. Empty Box (from Like Swimming, 1997)

In the morning, I was by the sea,
And I swam out, as far as I could swim
Until I was too tired to swim anymore,
And then I floated,
And tried to get my strength back.
And then an empty box came floatin’ by
An empty box, and I crawled inside.
Half in the shadows, half in the husky moonlight
And half insane, just a sound in the night