You could lose yourself in Mark Sandman’s voice.
Somewhere in that weathered, lowdown croon, pathos, euphoria, humor, weariness, and more could envelop the listener. There was a closeness to the sound as his voice swam alongside his two-string slide bass, Dana Colley’s saxophone, and Billy Conway’s drums in Morphine’s seductive “low-rock.”
In the documentary “Cure for Pain: The Mark Sandman Story,” playing the Brattle Theatre Friday through July 1, it is observed that there was a true disparity between how enigmatic the Massachusetts native was and how intimately listeners felt connected to him. It was a real gift and one of the many reasons it was so wrenching when Sandman passed away on July 3, 1999, while playing a gig with Morphine in Italy. He was 46.
The 84-minute “Cure for Pain” aims to illuminate the man behind the sound.
Cure for Pain:The Mark Sandman Story
Because, as the film tells us repeatedly, Sandman was a deeply private person, the portrait is hardly complete. But filmmakers Robert G. Bralver and David Ferino shrewdly work within their limitations. (For instance, a long interlude of Sandman traveling as a young man is illustrated with postcards from Alaska, Peru, and other places.) And with Sandman’s friends, band mates, family members, and girlfriend — as well as some terrific archival interviews — filling in the gaps, “Cure for Pain” is a loving and candid look at Sandman’s life and artistry.
Following a typical rock doc chronology, we watch Sandman evolve from artistic child to world traveler to innovative rocker through photos, home video, newspaper clippings, and best of all, live performances.
Fellow musicians such as Mike Watt, Ben Harper, and Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones opine on the Newton-bred singer-songwriter’s musical contributions. Band mates Colley and Conway reminisce about their brother. In the film’s most poignant passages, Sandman’s parents discuss their reaction to his unconventional life and the effects of the deaths of Sandman’s younger brothers Jon and Roger, who were also buried far too young.
Sandman himself beams out from TV interviews in all his slyly comic and laconic glory.
As Watt says succinctly in the film, Sandman was “a very happening cat.” The best thing that “Cure for Pain” accomplishes is helping remind people of just how happening, and of Sandman’s inimitable voice.