CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Ex-Presidents of the United States of America
leader Chris Ballew played a new song he wrote for late Morphine frontman Mark
Sandman during a tribute Thursday at a local bar where Sandman often played.
"I would not play the songs I play, I would not know the things I know, if not for Mark,"
Ballew told a hushed crowd of several hundred people who packed into the tiny Lizard
Lounge before he played the new song "Gone Again Gone." He was joined by
Sandman's Morphine bandmates, Dana Colley on baritone saxophone and Billy
Conway on drums.
"He let me live in his house and he shared his two-string," Ballew continued, referring to
the unique two-string bass Sandman played. "He made me who I am today. I will miss
Sandman, who was 46, died of an apparent heart attack onstage in Italy on Saturday.
The tribute, the first of two planned for the popular Boston-area musician, featured music
by Club d'Elf, an instrumental group Sandman often played with during their regular
Thursday-night gigs at the Lizard Lounge. They were joined by John Medeski of the
groove-jazz group Medeski, Martin and Wood and various other local musicians.
Many of the friends and admirers who couldn't get into the packed club shared memories
of Sandman on the sidewalk outside.
"Mark was a point of connection for so many people," said Eddie Murphy, who works at
the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Murphy said he reconnected with
some formerly close friends at the tribute. "There is such a deep sense of community
here. Maybe others knew him better, but he brought us all here together tonight."
"Memories? My God, there are so many; I just wouldn't know where to start," said Russ
Gershon, a longtime friend of Sandman who played with him in a band called the
Hypnosonics and whose label, Accurate, released Morphine's first album, Good
"One thing about Mark," Gershon said. "He was funny, really funny. A lot of people didn't
know that about him."
Sandman was drawn to performing like a moth to a flame, and could be found many a
night at the Lizard, entertaining with the Hypnosonics, the Pale Brothers or some other
side project, jamming with whomever happened to be booked that night, or simply
watching, cigarette and drink in hand, friends said. And the small basement club, with
dim lighting, deep red walls, heavy woodwork, oriental rugs and candles, seemed a
fitting locale for the tribute.
In "Gone Again Gone," Ballew, who said he viewed Sandman as a teacher, sang, "All of
us can listen to his solid gold instructions, and all of us can listen to his song."
Later, Ballew said, "He was a generous, generous man. He shared his home with me.
He sold me some great instruments dirt cheap. He made me who I am today. He taught
me so much. He helped me know myself."
The tribute was coordinated by Billy Beard, booking agent for the Lizard Lounge and
Sandman's longtime friend and collaborator. The Lizard Lounge charged no cover for
the event, though patrons were encouraged to make a $10 contribution at the door. Bar
manager Jackson Cannon said some of the money collected would be used to pay the
costs of flying Colley and Conway back from Rome.
A larger concert in Sandman's honor is scheduled for July 25 on Brookline Street in
Cambridge's Central Square neighborhood. Details have yet to be announced.
A Mark Sandman Music Education Fund has been created to benefit music-education
programs in Cambridge public schools. Donations may be sent to Morphine, Box
383085, Cambridge, Mass., 02238-9998.