Underappreciated: Marshall Crenshaw
Welcome to the first post of what I hope will become a regular feature of the blog, “Underappreciated.” Most of the culture I take in, whether it’s TV, film, music, interpretive dance, whatever, tends to fall somewhere outside of mainstream tastes. Sometimes way outside the mainstream. Some of this art deserves its outsider status; sometimes it’s a foreign film, sometimes it’s an out-there avant garde musical group, or something else that by its very nature is never going to appeal to more than a very small niche of people. And that stuff’s great. The envelope always needs to be pushed, and those that lead the way usually end up falling under the radar…. But there’s another kind of unpopular culture that falls under the radar for no apparent reason whatsoever. This is the stuff that I scratch my head and think to myself “Why the hell isn’t this the most popular thing in the whole entire world?” The mainstream media force feeds us art that appeals to the lowest common denominator, art (I use the term “art” in the loosest way possible for some of this stuff) that has been manufactured to be popular with as many people as possible, and bring maximum profits to corporate shareholders.
I noticed a long time ago that the most popular things in the mass culture tends to be mostly watered-down dreck. Listen to a commercial top 40 radio station for 20 minutes and you’ll get the idea of what I’m talking about. But there’s so much more out there. The internet has opened up a world of hidden gems, undiscovered artists, films, books, music, etc. that truly deserves more attention. Again, not the freaky weird stuff, though I do appreciate that stuff, but just art of the highest quality that forever reason has fallen through the cracks of big time popular culture. One of the reasons I started this blog was to shine a light (and with this blog, it’s a microscopically-small light, but still) on this stuff. Because there’s some really damn good stuff out there, if you’re willing to dig and scrape through the thick layer of popular bullshit.
As I was running this morning, a Marshall Crenshaw song came up on the iPod, and it hit me. Marshall’s the guy to start this feature off with. Because Marshall Crenshaw, for reasons I can’t fathom, is not a superstar.
Who is Marshall Crenshaw? I’m not going to give you a dissertation on the man and his career, there’s Wikipedia for that. Music lovers know his name, but most people don’t, and that’s a crime. Most people are familiar with him from his minor early 80’s hit “Someday Someway.” This perfect little pop song embodies Crenshaw’s work. Catchy, well-crafted songs that burrow into your ears and embed themselves deep in the part of the brain that falls in love with a great tune.
And while this song was a hit, but not a big hit, none of his other songs caught on with the public at large. I’d like to think that there’s a parallel universe somewhere where Marshall Crenshaw songs are played night and day on the radio, and no one’s ever heard of Justin Bieber or Ariana Grande or whoever else the machine has put at the top of the pop charts this week.
So Marshall Crenshaw never caught on with the fickle tastes of the American Public. He is underappreciated by most. So what? Here, he’s appreciated. Here, he’s a legend. Here, he’s on heavy rotation.
If you love brilliant, well-written pop songs, then discover Marshall Crenshaw, if you haven’t yet. He’s still putting out great albums, and hosts a weekly radio show on WFUV, The Bottomless Pit, spinning his favorite tunes. It too is worth checking out. Like great music, there is still great radio out there. You just have to seek it out, but that’s a subject for another time.
But now, because it’s the perfect soundtrack for a sunny early summer weekend, let’s take a listen to some Marshall Crenshaw. This is his greatest hits compilation ‘This is Easy,’ which is essential. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.
Visit marshallcrenshaw.com for more information.