Memo to Marshall Crenshaw

Marshall CrenshawMarshall Crenshaw

Chrysler Arts, Beats & Eats; Pontiac, Michigan

August 30, 2003

To: Marshall Crenshaw

Fm: Stephen Macaulay

Re: Benefit of a Doubt

The classic headline has it: “Local Boy Makes Good.” But you, playing a few miles up the avenue from your boyhood home in Berkley, with Mom and Dad and Bro and Other Relatives in the audience, know that the line no longer applies. And you wanted to make sure that those who had collected around the stage knew it, too. Sure, you’ll be 50 soon. Acknowledging it may be good for the soul. But when the first thing you noted was that you were getting older and so you opened up your set with a Buddy Holly tune. Yes, it was back to the days of Peggy Sue Got Married, which presumably did about as much for your career as Tucker did for Joe Jackson. And you wanted to make sure that we know you’re no longer local, too. Nice for you to give a shout out to the Detroit public radio station, WDET, by (a) thanking them for playing your new album, What’s In the Bag? And (b) noting that it is the only station you listen to when you’re in town. Former Local Boy Ages and Does All Right For Himself.

Your performance, supported by a standup bass and electric guitar, seemed distant. Somewhat uninspired. There are several reasons why this could have been the case. Maybe it had something to do with the audio system not working out well when you took the stage. Lots and back and forth with the sound engineer working the board (which, I noted, was the same equipment that was rented for Iggy Pop when he was in town, or so a piece of masking tape indicated). Perhaps, and more to point, it had something to do with the fact that when you took the stage, you might as well have been a roadie: No noticeable applause or whistling from where I stood, back by the soundboard. Something of a let down, one can only assume.

Or maybe what you were doing was laudable. Your performance followed that of Stewart Francke, a Local Boy of Nearly Your Age Who Hasn’t Done As Well As You. You contributed to the album that was released to support Francke’s medical bills after he was diagnosed with leukemia. Being a musician tends not to come with Blue Cross. Francke first appeared on disc in ’95 on School Kids Records, the label that emerged from what is arguably the best record store (now “In Exile”) in Ann Arbor. Francke’s hour in the limelight in Pontiac was actually illuminated more by his energy and enthusiasm and infectious pop styling than even the waning summer sun. Maybe you decided that it was just as well that people were more impressed with Francke.

You played a dozen songs. In addition to Holly, there was an Eddie Cochran number (yes, yes, we know that those guys were huge influences on you) and your rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Wonderful One,” which, as you noted, you had the opportunity to perform last fall at the Apollo Theater for the premier of Standing in the Shadows of Motown. While there is something to be said for a local boy—er, man—doing a Motown tune, and while your voice is smooth, you’ve got to admit that there is a huge gulf between rockabilly and soul. You’d better leave tunes like that to Robert Palmer.

Maybe, just maybe, the real problem was the fact that “Beatlemania ‘Live'” (is there any other version of that group?) was following your time on the stage and the drum kit for the group was staring you in the face every time you turned your back to the audience and you thought about your past. . . and it soured the night back home.

Glorious Noise covered another Crenshaw show two years ago: Before the Whole Thing Crumbles to the Ground.

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