When discussion turns to great rock 'n' roll singer/songwriters, Marshall Crenshaw's name is frequently invoked. With a catalog of exquisite pop songs, he's been hailed as a "consummate pop craftsman" and "one of America's best and most durable tunesmiths." You might not find Crenshaw in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame ("I've been in there a few times, actually," says Marshall. "I can get in free 'cause I know people . . ."), but he is a walking hall of fame. He played guitar in the DKT/MC5, the reunion of surviving MC5 veterans Wayne Kramer, Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson, alongside other guest luminaries such as Mars Williams, Lemmy Kilmister, Evan Dando, Mick Collins (of The Dirtbombs), and Mark Arm. He performed with Motown's legendary Funk Brothers at Harlem's Apollo Theater. He played the part of Buddy Holly in "La Bamba" and the part of John Lennon in "Beatlemania."
Crenshaw tours selectively on what he terms the "NPR circuit," meaning he plays mainly nice clubs that are vacuumed daily with restrooms substantially nicer than those at CBGB. He also plays performing arts centers -- venues where people go to really listen to music rather than get hammered by it. And that's exactly where he wants to be in his performing career.
Crenshaw is always writing songs too, and the old ones are widely sought after for TV and film. "Someday Someway" was heard on "West Wing" last January; other tunes have been heard on "Crossing Jordan," "Ed" and "Roswell", to name a few. You never know where other songs might turn up next.
There's an unspoken law in rock 'n' roll that stipulates artists must focus on new material and new albums. Crenshaw will enter the studio when he's amassed a new body of work that he feels is on par with the classics. He's happy to tout his 2000 Rhino reissue, "This Is Easy: The Best of Marshall Crenshaw," which features 22 tracks drawn primarily from album cuts recorded for Warner Bros., MCA, and Razor & Tie from 1982 to 1996. The single CD features all the anthems that turned the most cynical girls and boys into true believers, including such favorites as "Someday, Someway" and "Whenever You're On My Mind." The cast of characters joining Marshall on various tracks includes Steve Lillywhite, Scott Litt, Mitch Easter, Don Dixon, and T-Bone Burnett behind the boards; and Peter Case, Mitchell Froom, Sonny Landreth and David Lindley. Crenshaw has always surrounded himself with quality.
But it shouldn't end there for music fans who may not know how many more "classics" there are post-Best Of, from the perfect pop songs "Television Light" and "Alone In a Room" to irresistible instrumentals such as "West of Bald Knob" -- material that stands up to, and often surpasses, his earlier, more familiar work. The All Music Guide called his 1999 album "447" "his most ambitious and perhaps perfectly realized."
So no, not a lot of earth-shattering news from Crenshaw World HQ. Instead you find an artist secure enough in his own skin to tour for the right reasons, rock out with the MC5, chill with the Funk Brothers. He's proud of his past, enjoying the present, and looking forward to the future.