You might not expect the author of such sunny-sounding pop near-classics as "Someday, Someway" to have a testy bone in his body. But there's more angst in Marshall Crenshaw than initially meets the ear.
Nursing a heavy head cold in a Dallas hotel room, the singer-songwriter chooses to open this interview with a minor diatribe against "pathetic" journalists who fail to use tape recorders (a faux pas that yours truly fortunately avoided). Later, when asked how the fall leg of his current tour is proceeding, Crenshaw replies with a hint of the self-deprecating irony that has become his trademark: "People love us. We're flooring people with our charisma and our skill."
In fact, Crenshaw has received good notices for the acoustic sets he's been performing with guitarist Andy York, whom he plucked from the rock-and-roll waiver wire this summer. York became available when his previous employer, John Mellencamp, was forced to cancel his touring plans due to a heart attack. A day after learning about Mellencamp's condition, Crenshaw phoned York to secure his services. "I figured I might as well capitalize on [Mellencamp's] misfortune," Crenshaw deadpans.
The low-key nature of Crenshaw's current show has a lot in common with Live...My Truck Is My Home, his new release on New York's small Razor and Tie label. In the past Crenshaw was known as a consummate studio artisan whose recordings were carefully polished, but Truck--a twelve-song live package--bucks that reputation. Still, Crenshaw insists that the disc was not intended to upend expectations--"It just turned out that way," he says. Compiled from concert recordings made by Crenshaw's former sound man beginning in the early Eighties, the set is a somewhat rough-hewn affair that manages to incorporate favorites such as "Cynical Girl" and "Fantastic Planet of Love." Also included are five fairly inspired cover selections, including a version of Abba's "Knowing Me, Knowing You."
If this collection seems unlikely to boost Crenshaw's profile, it should be remembered that, on several occasions, good fortune has come to him less through design than serendipity. "I never pursued any kind of acting career," Crenshaw asserts, but he also got his first break playing John Lennon in the Broadway production of Beatlemania and was introduced to a new audience through his brief portrayal of Buddy Holly in the 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba. By the same token, he hasn't tried to make a name for himself as a writer, but he says the opportunity to co-author Hollywood Rocks, a recent book on rock cinema, fell into his lap. Crenshaw identifies himself as a "film enthusiast" rather than an expert; nonetheless, his list of the top ten greatest rock movies includes the tantalizingly titled obscurity Rat Fink A Boo Boo. At present Crenshaw says that one of his favorite flicks outside the musical realm is Martin Scorsese's ultraviolent Goodfellas. He confesses that he and his crew watch the picture daily while on tour and have committed much of its dialogue to memory.
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Perhaps Crenshaw needs the emotional release the film provides. As he admits, he was "completely, utterly burned out" when the book deal came along a couple of years ago. After being pressed for more details, he concedes that he was in a fog during much of the late Eighties and felt bitter that the critical accolades frequently heaped upon his work (Rolling Stone called his eponymous first album "1982's most gorgeous singer-songwriter debut") never translated into major commercial clout.
"If I could do anything over again or redo anything from back then," he says, "I would wait a little longer to put out my second album." That disc, 1983's Steve Lillywhite-produced Field Day, was praised in some circles (Village Voice critic Robert Christgau gave it an A+ rating) but was a sales disappointment. According to Crenshaw, "I still love it and think it's a great album," but he feels that some aspects of the project suffered from the pressure to release it at a point when superstar status appeared to be beckoning.
While he says he's put disappointments like this behind him, Crenshaw sounds rather noncommittal about future plans. During the past year he has done session work for other performers, helped compile a collection by Fifties-vintage C&W pioneers the Louvin Brothers (due out on Razor and Tie in the first half of 1995) and maintained a grueling tour schedule. But once his current series of shows concludes in February, Crenshaw claims that he has no solid plans thereafter. He adds that fairly strong sales of his material in Europe and a commitment from producers who want to include "Someday, Someway" in a movie slated for 1995 release leave him feeling that he need not secure another record deal or pursue a studio album soon. Some new compositions are in the works, but he says, "I just want to make sure I am really psyched up for it and that I really feel good about doing it."
Given his occasional crankiness this day, that might be an excellent idea.
Marshall Crenshaw and Andy York, with Catfish Jenkins. 8 p.m. Sunday, December 18, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $10.50, 290-TIXS or 447-0095.