The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, April 6, 1995 - 3
Morphine delivers sax, drugs and rock 'n' rol like a shot
By Jennifer Buckley
Daily Arts Writer
Anyone in rock music can play
guitar. But not everyone wants to.
For Morphine, you see, rock 'n'
roll is all about sax. Sax and sex.
Seedy, smoky nightclubs. Red lights
and cheap hotels. Cigarettes and alco-
hol. Slippery, sleazy sliding on singer
Even before the wildly popular
"Win a Date with MelRose" contest,
* I had a foray into the personal ads. I
know, I know, you can't believe that
I would go there. "Don't go there,
girlfriend," you're saying. Well, I
went, and I survived, and I'm here to
tell about it.
The idea to place an ad came from
my dear friend and former Weekend
editor/columnist Darcy Lockman. She
suggested trying it strictly for column
*purposes. Hey, I could make fun of
"the losers who respond, and I might
even meet someone.
So in November and December I
ran an ad in the Metro Times Ro-
mance Connection. It read:
Bright, attractive SWF, college
student, seeks intelligent, goal-ori-
ented male for friendship and pos-
sible romance. Must know how to
laugh and how to cry. My interests
include the arts (theater, film), litera-
ture, gourmet cooking and exercise.
Only letters, please; photos a plus.
From that ad I received around 90
responses, some 30 letters and 60
phone replies. Immediately I ruled out
everyone on the phone, because -
hello? - it read "only letters." Lit-
eracy is a must for me.
I was tempted, however, for the
briefest moment by a guy named Phil,
who said that on our first date he
would take me to Cancun. A tempting
offer in late November, but I was
deterred by Phil's offer to buy me
some "nice summer clothes," and his
5-foot 5-inch height, even though he
offered to wear boots. (My residents
were rooting for Phil, but I suspect
that's because they wanted to get rid
of me for a few days.)
So here is a sampling of the letters:
'The Mozart I am listening to as I
Write this is moving me to tears."
That's the first line of Dan's five-
ge, hand-written on looseleaf pa-
per in fountain pen letter. This letter,
as I read further, was proof that I can
attract gay men anywhere and any-
time - even under the heading
"women seeking men."
"I read as far as your add, and read
nofurther.Idon'toften write letters"-
and it shows, believe me - "but I hope
this is al least adiquit." This is from Jed
(real name, I'm not kidding), who lives
in western Southfield on a "buetifull
three-acer plot." Inbred UJed also in-
cluded a picture of him and his white
trash roommates holding beers. Just a
tip: If you're going to send a picture,
make sure your friends aren't better
looking than you.
Then there was Trevin, hospital
worker by day, techno musician by
night, who described himself as "usu-
4aly 'nice."' Trevin sent me three pho-
tqs: his BAD high school senior pic-
tgre, a photo of his cat Lucy, and a
photo of him and his best friend, who
is "currently incarcerated." Just a little
more information than I needed to
know. The cat wasn't bad, though.
"How bright are you?" wrote
David. "Are you a 50-watt halogen
lamp in a world full of night lights?"
David works for UPS, though he wants
to be a pro-golfer. (This golf motif is
becoming a trend with my men, and
it's starting to worry me.) He also
enjoys the outdoors - "Mother Na-
ture. God, I love that bitch." - and
cooking toast on the tailpipe of his
car. David appealed to the shopper in
me, offering free dinner and 30 per-
cent off my next purchase if I re-
sponded to him. I'm waiting for him
to go on clearance.
"I'm safe, sane, and not some
wierded out scummy guy in this sys-
tem." This is coming from a guy who
decorated his letter with rubber-stamp
representations of his face.
"Sometimes I forget what it was
like to be a child. A child just happy to
be with his friends riding his bike or
catching frogs. A child with no anxi-
ety and only curiousity." This guy
cl nj'npd a onirlfrenci - he ne.'Ck
Mark Sandman's rumbling two-string
bass. Backbeat courtesy of Billy
Conway's bare-bones (snare, bass,
high hat) drum kit, and holding it all
down, the saxophones of Dana Colley.
"The saxophone is a pretty scary
instrument," said Colley, "because, I
think, it's really close to the human
voice. It can stir something inside,
because it's registered much like our
But if Colley's saxes could talk,
what would they say? Perhaps such
things are better left unsaid. What
better way to insinuate than to release
a brilliant third album seductively
There aren't many. "Yes" shows
Colley and colleagues vastly improv-
ing on the laid-back jazz-rock of their
two previous efforts "Good" and
"Cure for Pain," offering a filler-free
album of 12 smoldering, heavily
swinging rock songs with titles like
"Free Love," "Super Sex" and "Whis-
While Sandman's bass lines pre-
viously anchored Morphine's "low-
rock" sound, Colley and his saxo-
phones step into the spotlight on
"Yes." The richness of his booming
baritone more than compensates for
Morphine's lack of guitar. Indeed,
Colley utilizes the sax much like the
electric guitarists he worshipped as a
youth, turning "Yes" into a full-
fledged rock album.
"Growing up ... I listened to gui-
tarists - Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gib-
bons, Jeff Beck. They were my he-
roes," admitted Colley. "The fact is
that I didn't play guitar, I played saxo-
phone. It was a constant desire of
mine to be in a band, doing what the
guitar players were doing in rock
music, but to do it on a saxophone.
And the baritone, because of its tonal-
ity - the texture of its tone - simu-
lates that better than any other instru-
Colley began experimenting with
and exploiting this quality years ago.
"When I first started playing, I used a
wah-wah pedal and played through a
guitar amp. It was mostly an attempt
to compete with all my guitar-playing
He soon found a way not only to
compete with, but to surpass them by
extracting sounds resembling chords
from his low b-flat baritone. Colley
explained, "I'm able to simulate some
of the guitar's sound by playing one
note and by overblowing in a certain
way, accessing amid-tone and a higher
tone all at once. So it becomes chordal.
It starts to take on a distorted sound."
And to make things even more
difficult, Colley occasionally picks
up a tenor sax as well, and proceeds to
play both instruments ... simulta-
neously. Billed as "doublesax" in the
liner notes for "Yes," this combina-
tion of tones engulfs the listener in a
rich, resonant swirl of sound.
While certainly an eye-popping
sight to alternative rock audiences,
this neat little trick isn't easy. "It's
more of a physical problem than any-
thing else," Colley revealed. "First,
you have to try to hold the (instru-
ments) properly, finding the best angle
(to work with). Secondly, you have to
learn how to divide the air flow so that
you can manipulate both mouth pieces
"Other than that," he said cheer-
fully, "it's just like surfing. You just
get up on the wave and let it happen."
The inspiration for Colley's
doublesax feat came from "a great
jazz master by the name of Rahsaan
Roland Kirk, who played three at once.
He created two instruments called a
strich and a manzello. He constructed
them from a dream that he had, with
the help of a New York City saxo-
phone repair man," related an awe-
filled Colley. "He was blind, and he
played three at once. A tenor, the
strich and the manzello. He was the
But while he credited a jazz musi-
cian as an inspiration and acknowl-
edged that his band will play jazz
festivals in Montreaux, Copenhagen
and Belgium this summer, Colley in-
sisted that Morphine is "definitely a
rock band. Although jazz is some-
thing I listen to a lot, it was never
something I played. I played rock,
right from the start."
Labeling Morphine as a jazz band
is an understandable mistake. They
look like a dressed-down jazz trio and
in fact, most of Morphine's music
does have a undeniably swinging,
"I like to take the idea of jazz -
the process of thinking - and incor-
porate it into the rock format" in
Morphine's music, Colley said. Be-
sides, he explained, "Jazz (created)
the encyclopedia for the saxophone.
That's where most of the inspiration
for the instrument comes from."
Sandman also seems to have found
his vocal inspiration in jazz with
"Yes." His lyrics range, as Colley
puts it, "from narrative to tone-poem
to free association." His phrasing,
especially in songs like "Honey
White," "Super Sex," "Sharks" and
the title track, seems improvisational,
giving the songs a spark woefully
lacking on "Cure for Pain" and
"Good." Indeed, his flat, bored vocal
delivery on Morphine's previous ef-
forts was the band's greatest liability.
Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream.
On "Yes," however, Sandman
transforms that annoyingly detached
demeanor into a sinister amorous-
ness. "Don't worry/I'm not looking at
you/gorgeous and dressed in blue/I
know it drives you crazy when I pre-
tend you don't exist/when I'd like to
lean in close and run my hands against
your lips ... so whisper me your num-
ber/I'll call you up at home," he sings
All of this paints a darkly sensual
streak through Morphine's music, giv-
ing "Yes" a smoky, noirish atmo-
Not exactly the easiest atmosphere
to recreate in St. Andrew's Hall, but
Morphine will surely accomplish this
admirably on Thursday night as they
set out on their first "real get-in-the-
bus, on-the-road tour," Colley hopes.
When asked if he had anything to
add, Colley replied, "How about a D-
chord?" and proceeded to strum one
on ... an acoustic guitar?
"See, I'm not just a sax player. I
don't play the guitar live because I
love it. But I figure I'll do all the
guitar players in the world a favor and
keep it under wraps."
Good decision. Who needs a gui-
tar when you've got great sax?
This Is Morphine. Watch out for the needle, they're nearly as addicting as Arby's Beef and Cheddar.
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