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Morphine – Journey Of Dreams

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Morphine - Journey Of DreamsFor me, Morphine was one of the most important alternative bands to come form the USA in the Nineties. Their sound was unique and it is not often that can be said about a band, particularly a three-piece coming from the thriving post-punk and independent scene of Boston. A lot of the bands sounded alike, but Morphine, with their line-up of two-string electric slide bass, baritone sax and drums made for a compelling, resonant and sexy sound with songwriter and vocalist Mark Sandman‘s baritone adding the icing on the cake.

Mark was a mystery to most journalists as he didn’t like to talk of his early life and the travails it contained. This led to all sorts of assumptions being made, normally negative, and this lovingly produced film from Mark Shuman goes a long way to putting these right and painting a portrait of a loving, loyal but committed artist, intent on producing the music as he heard it in his head, without any sort of external input.

And what music it was; the band produced five albums in their time together before Mark’s untimely and tragic death at an Italian music festival. There were jazz elements, noir-ish storytelling, a little darkness — but a literate, sensual darkness — and as I say, nobody sounded like them; which makes the band’s demise all that sadder. Anyway, instead of using some sort of voiceover narration, Shuman has chosen to edit together interviews with the remaining band members and immediate loved ones to tell the tale and dispel a lot of myths along the way.

Famous fans like Henry Rollins and Steve Berlin add their thoughts and the whole thing runs seamlessly from the start, where Sandman’s half dozen bands on the Boston scene, including the signed to RCA Treat Her Right, collide with Jerome Deupree, Dana Colley and later Billy Conway to form the band that became Morphine up to the fateful day in Italy where Mark suffered a massive heart attack.

In a lovely gesture, the narrative is interspersed with readings by Dana from journals he kept all the way through his time with the band. These little intermissions lend some on the road grit and reality to what can become a romanticised image of a touring band. Live footage is used along with historically fascinating film of previous incarnations, plus the bands that are currently keeping the legacy of Morphine and Sandman’s memory alive.

The wealth of participants involved goes someway to showing how close-knit and warm the family surrounding the band is, and when the point arrives where the subject of Mark’s death is discussed and the circumstances surrounding it, I would recommend having a tissue to hand. The sadness and disbelief is still obvious and the reaction of their manager, former Taang! person Deb Klein, is still heartbreaking.

Thankfully, the band’s music live on and if you are at all a fan, I would thoroughly recommend purchasing this. I learned a lot and it is definitely the sort of film you could go back to, particularly if you felt like evangelising to friends. It is a first class effort and does all the folk involved great justice.

-Mr Olivetti-

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