Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Rolling Stones performing Sister Morphine.
Rolling Stones Sister Morphine Lyrics
Songwriters: JAGGER, MICK / RICHARDS, KEITH / FAITHFULL, MARIEANNE
(m. jagger/k. richards/m. faithfull)
Here I lie in my hospital bed
Tell me, sister morphine, when are you coming round again?
Oh, I don't think I can wait that long
Oh, you see that I’m not that strong
The scream of the ambulance is sounding in my ears
Tell me, sister morphine, how long have I been lying here?
What am I doing in this place?
Why does the doctor have no face?
Oh, I can't crawl across the floor
Ah, can't you see, sister morphine, I’m trying to score
Well it just goes to show
Things are not what they seem
Please, sister morphine, turn my nightmares into dreams
Oh, can't you see I’m fading fast?
And that this shot will be my last
Sweet cousin cocaine, lay your cool cool hand on my head
Ah, come on, sister morphine, you better make up my bed
Cause you know and I know in the morning I'll be dead
Yeah, and you can sit around, yeah and you can watch all the
Clean white sheets stained red.
Joshua Lawrence Breslin comment:
As I mentioned in an earlier entry in this space, courtesy of my old yellow brick road magical mystery tour merry prankster fellow traveler, Peter Paul Markin, who seems to think I still have a few things to say about this wicked old world, recently, in grabbing an old Bruce Springsteen CD compilation from 1998 to download into my iPod I came across a song that stopped me in my tracks, Brothers Under The Bridge. I had not listened to or thought about that song for a long time but it brought back many memories from the late 1970s when I did a series of articles for the now defunct East Bay Eye (California, naturally) on the fate of some troubled Vietnam veterans who, for one reason or another, could not come to grips with “going back to the real world” and took, like those a great depression generation or two before them, to the “jungle”-the hobo, bum, tramps camps located along the abandoned railroad sidings, the ravines and crevices, and under the bridges of California, mainly down in Los Angeles, and created their own “society.”
Not every guy I interviewed, came across, swapped lies with, or just snatched some midnight phrase out of the air from was from hunger, most were, yes, in one way or another but some, and the one I am recalling in this sketch had a nuanced story that brought him down to the ravines. The story that accompanies the song to this little piece, Bob Dylan’s Masters of War, is written under that same sign as the earlier pieces.
I should note again since these sketches are done on an ad hoc basis, that the genesis of this story follows that of the “Brothers Under The Bridge” previously posted (and now is developing into a series).The editor of the East Bay Eye, Owen Anderson, gave me that long ago assignment after I had done a smaller series for the paper on the treatment, the poor treatment, of Vietnam veterans by the Veterans Administration in San Francisco and in the course of that series had found out about this band of brothers roaming the countryside trying to do the best they could, but mainly trying to keep themselves in one piece. My qualifications for the assignment other than empathy, since I had not been in the military during the Vietnam War period, were based simply on the fact that back East I had been involved, along with several other radicals, in running an anti-war GI coffeehouse near Fort Devens in Massachusetts and down near Fort Dix in New Jersey. During that period I had run into many soldiers of my 1960s generation who had clued me on the psychic cost of the war so I had a running start.
After making connections with some Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) guys down in L.A. who knew where to point me I was on my way. I gathered many stories, published some of them in the Eye, and put the rest in my helter-skelter files. A couple of weeks ago, after having no success in retrieving the old Eye archives, I went up into my attic and rummaged through what was left of those early files. I could find no newsprint articles that I had written but I did find a batch of notes, specifically notes from stories that I didn’t file because the Eye went under before I could round them into shape.
The format of those long ago stories was that I would basically let the guy I was talking to give his spiel, spill what he wanted the world to heard, and I would write it up without too much editing (mainly for foul language). I have reconstructed this story here as best I can although at this far remove it is hard to get the feel of the voice and how things were said. This is Peter Paul Markin’s short, poignant story, a soldier trying to turn his nightmares into dreams:
Snow was falling; at least it was falling snow in his head. A
childhood scene of cold New England winter heavy flakes swirling to the ground, some evaporating on contact others accumulating under the relentless driving swirls creating some classic Christmas card, some Currier& Ives sleigh in the snow scene. All of this fevered brain seen from safe inside a frosted front window, child’s nose pressed against the pane creating his own flakes in the always, always under-heated “projects” apartment where he grew up. That ramshackle old place of brothers gone to foreign parts, foreign then meaning a few miles away to schools, of parents frittering away their lives just keeping things together in their little hovel.
But it was the outside snow, or the fever-breaking thought of it just then, that kept him from going over the edge. To the place where he had been before, and a couple of times had almost not made it back. The falling off the edge right then being holed up, brain fevered, against a hot “bracero” tio taco room barely cooler than the one hundred plus degree outside in sunny summer El Paso on the Estados Unidos side of the Tex-Mex border. The falling off the edge part being holed up, as well, waiting for Dora to come back with the goods from down sunny Mexico way, down Sonora way. The falling off the edge being that he needed “something for his head” bad, bad as it had been for a while. And where the hell was Dora. It had been three days.
How he, let’s call him Peter Paul Markin to keep everybody on board, but his name was legion in those days along the Tex-Mex border and not always on the Tex side either. After he, Peter Paul, told his story about how he came to be in a sweat box tio taco bracero rooming house in dusty Mex-town in sunny El Paso in the year of our lord 1978 legion was just about right, I had heard it all before, just the particular circumstances changed with the stories, and even that not by much. His was a bad low- note tale. But he wanted to tell it, tell it all, just in case he didn’t “make it ”out of Mex-town alive. And he wanted to talk, sweat pouring off of him that no handkerchief could absorb fast enough from drinking that rotgut tequila (he never knew there were, like whiskey and scotch, gradations of tequila but when he got to Mex-town and was waiting, snowless waiting, he learned quickly). I was there when it all got balled up for him and he had to get out of that room for a while, get away from thinking about that snow and childhood dreams. Hell, he wanted a father-confessor or something like that although god and I were not on speaking terms. If you want to listen here it is, sweat, a couple of shakes, some frayed nerves, and all.
He had been nicked up, nicked up a little, in ‘Nam, ‘Nam around 1970, 1971 he wasn’t sure exactly on dates except that he was nicked up, and had the purple heart to show for it. It wasn’t a life or death nick, or it didn’t start out that way any way. Medevac got him (an a couple of buddies) out but on the helicopter to keep him from screaming his brains out the medic gave him a hit of morphine (he kept calling it sister morphine, every other word calling it sister morphine, saying look it up on some Rolling Stones rock lyrics like he had) maybe a couple before he got to the base hospital at Pleiku. Maybe a couple more hits there before they took the fragment out, maybe a couple more later when he was feeling some after effects.
A few weeks later, after some hospital time light duty, he went back on the line, not in bad shape, not enough for that precious discharge that most guys in those days were itching for as their ticket home to the “real world” except every once in a while he would get a pain for a couple of hours. He would go on morning sick call when it stayed for too long , they gave him some prescription stuff (some kind of zombie tranquilizer from the way he phonetically described the name of the drug used and after I looked it later). No go. The occasional pain persisted. He asked, innocently enough, for some morphine but they, the doctors on his case, looked at him like he was crazy. Hey that stuff is strictly for guys coming in off the line wounded, badly wounded. Bad stuff to mess around with.
Bad stuff was right. But this was Vietnam, golden triangle mystery dreams Vietnam, this was a busted up 1970s American army that had no will to fight, fight for anything except survival, buddies, and home, otherwise practically each guy for himself, and his own woes. He made a connection, a G.I. connection (he got foggy on that, on the network, conveniently foggy), an easily done deal, who made a connection with an ARVN (South Vietnamese Army soldier) and he got his “fix.” And got what he needed for the rest for his tour, cheap and no problem.
Toward the end of 1971 he was headed back stateside. He got nervous, no connections with that kind of stuff (hell, he was strictly a whiskey and beer chaser guy, drinking rotgut mainly except when he was in the chips, he from maybe a joint or two to be “hip,” back in the “real world”), and no way of making any stateside connection. Or so he thought then. After the discharge from the Army process was over he went straight to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles (he was from North Adamsville in Massachusetts but had meet a girl, a Mexican girl, a girl from Sonora, on the Cambridge Common, back shortly before he was drafted whom he had kept in touch with and who was coming up from Sonora to meet him there). He told one of the medical staff there his story and he was put (after plenty of snafus that he didn’t want to talk about because it only got him mad) in a “de-tox” unit. [Later in checking the details of Peter Paul’s story I found out that he omitted some stuff and had been shaky, very shaky on the timeline of events but basically he story checked out.] He dried out. And for a few years he was fine.
That fine included going back to school nights at UCLA, getting married to that Mexican girl, Dora Del Rios, and making small things happen in the world, his small world. Then about 1976 the pains started coming back. He knew right away the cause, and also knew that he was not going to get relief from what the V.A. (or civilians) was going to give him, those tranquilizer/pain-killer things that were worthless for his pains. He wasn’t going to live with the pain though. No way.
Here he backed up a little to tell about how he had met Dora. When he announced that intention I said it better be quick, and relevant. It was. See Dora, while a student, an exchange student for the summer at Harvard, exchanged from Sonora University down in Mexico, was on Cambridge Common the day he met her selling weed, righteous weed, for coffee and cakes (his expression for walking around money). That is how they met, strangely enough. What he didn’t know, and she didn’t tell him then, was that she had “muled” two kilos of weed on the trip up from Sonora for her brother. Her brother then being some “street” dealer looking to make the move up in that world. Those facts are germane because this Dora connection with her brother was what got him back on Jump Street (his name for “high, sister morphine high”. Dora begged him not to make her go to her brother, but after a few days of on the floor pain she relented. She made the brother connection, no problem.
At first, like in ‘Nam it was just a little something to take the pain away. Something to get him through the work day (he was a whiz at fixing computers up with software and stuff like that, tech stuff then just getting off the ground) and home to Dora and collapse. He then increased the dosage as a couple of hits weren’t enough. As he said you know the rest of the story, hooked bad, real bad. He couldn’t work (or wouldn’t, he got vague on this when he went through the timeline of his dosage increases), Dora was laid off from her job (and had to increasingly spend her time “feeding” him). She also had some vague immigration problems that he was also vague in detailing.
Then the brother “came through,” came through in two ways. One he offered to give the morphine “free.” [Of such small kindnesses civilizations decline, decline big time.] Two the brother, Diego, wanted he/she/ they to do a little “muling” of snow, you know, cocaine (cousin cocaine he, Peter Paul, called it copycatting from the Stones lyrics) in return for his largesse. At first they balked, no way, no way in hell, but a week, maybe ten days, without sister, without another connection, and without dough, walking around dough, and they took the ride. That was few years ago and that explains why one Peter Paul Markin, shaky like a leaf, gray, sweating tequila sweat was sitting in a stinking tio taco room in El Paso waiting for Dora to come back from down Sonora way to make him “well.”
After he told his story, leaving all gray and shaky still, tequila bottle in hand, he went back to his room. A few hours later, no sign of Dora, somebody heard a persistent low moan from room, and then no sound. [Dora, I found out later, had been held up in Sonora by the Federales who were investigating the murder of her brother by a split-off rival drug gang over some mal deal) A little later that somebody who heard moans and then no sounds, knocked on his door, found it unlocked, entered and found him on the floor face down, face down. Had he been thinking of falling snow?