Marshall Crenshaw writes top-10 hits for a radio station that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the station with loud guitars but sweet melodies, complex chords but sing-along hooks, performed by singer-songwriters with cynical minds but bottomless romantic hearts. You can create that station on your iTunes playlist but you can’t hear it much out in the world unless one of those performers comes to your town. I’d been waiting for Marshall Crenshaw for almost 30 years.
I’m not sure where I first heard “Someday, Someway.” I vaguely remember the album getting a great review somewhere, and so I went and got it on cassette. Over the years I’ve played that first album more than maybe anything else in my collection. As I found love and lost it and found it again, when I wanted quiet lyrics or big guitars, as I moved forward and reached back, it always spoke to me. Still does.
He’s put out a dozen records since then, and there’s something on every one that sounds just like that radio station in my head — “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” or “Someplace Where Love Can’t Find Me” or “What Do You Dream Of?”
Last Friday night he sat in a chair on the little stage at the Evening Muse, maybe 100 people in the crowd, and he played for about an hour — 20 songs and not a lot of small talk. He alternated newer stuff with songs from what he called “the oldies bag.” (He said “Here’s one of my obscure numbers…” before kicking off “Someday, Someway.”)
I had seen him at the bar before the show started, chatting and drinking water from a bottle, and when the show was done he stood up and sort of shrugged his shoulders and walked back over there. People came by and shook his hand, got him to stand with them for pictures, asked him to autograph their old albums. He didn’t seem to mind. But it was hard to tell.
By some measures you could say Marshall Crenshaw never quite made it. “Someday, Someway” peaked at no. 36 on the pop charts. His one top-10 hit was co-written with, and for, somebody else — “Til I Hear It From You” by the Gin Blossoms. He did three Buddy Holly songs late in his set (he played Holly in the movie “La Bamba”), and they fit right in with his own songs. But Holly died a legend at 22, and Crenshaw is playing little clubs at 56.
But here’s the thing: Every person in that little club Friday night was paying attention. It was almost too quiet for a concert. It was more like church. I don’t know how many souls Marshall Crenshaw has touched, but he touched mine, and you could tell he had touched a lot of others in that room. That’s its own form of making it.
In the middle of the show he played a new song called “Live and Learn” — click the link and you’ll see a version with a full band, but at the Evening Muse he was alone with a guitar. It sounded like it could’ve come straight off that first album, straight out of that great lost radio station somewhere. Marshall Crenshaw is still putting out the signal.